Soft perks or concierge services represent a key differentiator for brokers and their employer clients in a commoditized marketplace involving traditional benefits, several observers say.
They often have a high impact at little or no cost for employer customers, explains Sue Lodemore, senior director at NFP Corporate Services. But she says the trick is tailoring these programs to culture and demographic for a more personal and meaningful connection that has the potential to generate tremendous positive feedback from employees.
She’s constantly on the lookout for innovative offerings and strategies to help clients engage employee populations, round out the total-rewards package and gain a competitive edge. They include onsite oil changes, as well as mobile eye vans and routine dental cleanings at the office. Such efforts also can ease the sting of higher group medical insurance premiums and rising out-of-pocket costs, she adds.
Lauren Coven, a senior consultant at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., suggests offbeat programs that facilitate a supportive culture and work-life balance alongside traditional benefits and paid time off trends. She says this is especially true in the demanding biotech and high-tech spaces, which seek to reward dedicated employees.
Prospective clients frequently ask her in initial meetings what the latest and greatest benefit offerings are that will allow them to stay competitive. “If you can answer that question with examples of successful perks and implementations, it shows not only that you have a finger on the market, but that you know how to take action,” she says.
It also helps to actually walk the talk. For example, Coven mentions her own office promotes well-attended meditation sessions with MedWorks, massages through Knead and financial seminars given by HomeBenefitIQ.
Demand for, and curiosity with, a myriad of different benefits have risen with greater awareness of what offerings are available and what competitors may be doing, according to Alexa Baggio, co-creator of the PERKS Convention. Her annual event, which takes place on May 9 in Boston, features 75 to 100 exhibitors of unusual soft perks or concierge services.
“If health insurance and 401(k)s have become table stakes for a business, perks and soft benefits are where a company can truly differentiate and shine,” she says.
Dave Kerrigan, a former licensed benefits broker, is perfectly positioned for nontraditional benefits or soft perks. As founder, principal and managing director of Sante Nasc, LLC, he helps midsize brokers find service providers that are doing impactful things for their employer clients.
Called BenefitPitch, he has built a database of early-stage, mid-stage and established vendors that sell products and services to self-funded employers, benefit brokers and consultants. One recent discovery involves an employee burnout tool with a coping app that initially targeted physicians, though he’s trying to launch a pilot program with a law firm. Another hot prospect would turn a tool that examines chronic autoimmune conditions into a larger benefits offering.
The idea is to approach innovative brokers with employer customers that are willing to test out something new, according to Kerrigan. He says early stage companies “don’t have the bandwidth to chase every customer. They know that many times going through the benefit broker or consultant is a way to get to the self-funded employer market.”
One of his favorite soft-perk categories is caregiver services, which resonate particularly with employees who are part of the so-called sandwich generation involving responsibilities for both young and old family members. There also are disruptive innovators such as the maker of a Bluetooth toothbrush that tracks how often teeth are brushed uses the data as an underwriting tool to price dental plan coverage.
Promoting the softer side of employee benefits offers brokers and advisers opportunities to broaden their reach. Baggio believes they need to “become a thought partner and differentiate themselves when discussions about basic benefits are over and the client has other needs.”
More than ever, Coven says it’s important that brokers and advisers proactively suggest various nontraditional perks as one viable component of a total and comprehensive strategy. And by agreeing to most of the implementation and communication legwork, she notes that producers can help HR departments appear heroic to employees – and thus, strengthen client relationships.
“We have visibility into the market and see what creative solutions are effective and have resonated most with employees,” she says.