Tailored benefits, personalization seen as remedy to tech blind spots

Apps.Bloomberg.jpg

HR and benefit professionals have become so captivated by digital technology that some may be falling short on delivering meaningful service to employees, industry experts say.

Case in point: While the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics estimates there are 165,000 health-related apps on the market, few of those solutions will ever actually lower costs, cautions Scott Haas — a USI Insurance Services benefits adviser, who advises greater attention to achieving cost-effective outcomes for clients.

The only way to do that, he explains, is with healthcare services that are reasonably priced and transparent and with employers that address the underlying question of why health plan members don’t engage in wellness or make better benefit choices.

There are several caveats to consider when assessing the usefulness of various healthcare apps. It’s important, for instance, to determine how structurally or logically sound the user interfaces are, as well as to mine data to validate whether or not the apps are even achieving their purported goals, Haas notes.

He also cautions that nuances will always arise that require more human touches.

“We have an account here in Oregon that has about 30,000 workers of which we’ve identified 22 different languages,” Hass says. “And so, one of the things that we’ve learned very quickly in trying to work with that population is that if you do not have culturally sensitive support mechanisms, it all just crumbles.”

“Self-service is an oxymoron,” says Ron Kleiman, CEO of BenefitVision, whose firm is part of U.S. Retirement & Benefits Partners and specializes in benefits communication and enrollment. “If you’re doing it yourself, it’s not service.”

Kleiman lauds self-service tools but frets that without a high-touch approach they don’t help much with benefits enrollment decisions — especially with permanent life insurance, critical illness or accident coverage.

Because systems are confusing to most people, all employees should have one good orientation on benefits through a call center or worksite interaction and employers should offer self-service, or other choices, for future open enrollments, he says.

In the case of two of Kleinman’s clients in their second or third year of enrollment involving 10,000 and 2,500 life cases, respectively, more than half of employees wanted to talk with someone.

While that level of communication could command a high price tag, Kleiman suggests that carrier commissions for benefits enrollment firms could pay for benefit counselors and help ensure better decision-making.

Leading companies are finally figuring out that technology combined with personalization and flexible benefits is the best solution, according to Rob Whalen, CEO of PTO Exchange.

Tailoring benefits to generational needs “reduces the friction for access, allowing employees to act on priorities that matter or support them,” adds Whalen, whose firm’s SaaS solution allows employees to convert unused paid time off into tangible goods and services.

As much as $65 billion of PTO is forfeited by employees and ends up simply lining shareholder pockets, he reports. For example, one client’s employee in his early 30s earmarked two weeks of unused PTO to his 401(k), which amounted to nearly $6,000.

“Meaningful conversations will produce insights that can be very difficult to extract from data,” adds Brian Nishi, vice president of people operations at GoSpotCheck, whose software serves mobile workforces.

“You have to know what data will drive action to produce positive changes within your organization,” he says. “Simply gathering data without tacking on a clear plan of action is deflating for employees.”

For example, Nishi suggests that conducting employee reviews with quantifiable performance metrics must trigger action, whether it’s a performance improvement plan or pay raise. His firm leverages data in many aspects of its HR operations, including recruiting metrics, engagement surveys, attrition and retention analytics and compensation and demographic audits.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.