Owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses have plenty on their plates. Their focus is on running their businesses, and employee benefits are usually not their area of expertise. Often lacking the resources to employ full-time staff to keep up on frequent health benefit changes, small businesses need outside help to navigate the evolving world of benefits.

[Monica Major]
[Monica Major]

Agents, brokers and producers — the advisers — deliver real value to smaller employers by helping them find the right budget-friendly benefit packages that meet the needs of their employees. Doing so requires that advisers have more than a salesperson’s mindset. To succeed and strengthen the customer bond, advisers must interpret and simplify rules, explain product offerings and the numbers behind them, and decipher and advise on regulatory matters.

1) Translate. As a seasoned adviser, you know the value of listening to employers, learning about their business and understanding their workforce. This helps you identify a benefit package tailored to the unique needs of your clients. However, it can be a challenge to explain all the detailed options and various products in simple, easy to understand terms.

Many advisers find their clients appreciate seeing the financial impacts and compare options in a simplified format, such as in illustrations or one-page collateral materials. It’s helpful to invest time into preparing FAQs on topics you know perplex many employers. And remember to use your website and social channels as educational tools for employers and their workforce.

2) Explain. Today’s benefits arena is complex — really complex. Depending on the company and situation, tax benefits or fines come with offering or not offering coverage. Larger employers may need to restructure benefits in the future to avoid fines tied to the “Cadillac tax.” Smaller employers may decide to take advantage of tax benefits by using the Small Business Health Plans Option Program Marketplace. Other employers may determine they want to use a private exchange, like CaliforniaChoice.

As an adviser, you need to understand these options and be ready to explain them to prospects. Know the rules, the regulations and the acronyms, and spell out each of them so employers understand the implications and considerations. Your goal is to bring resources to the table to engage employees and meet their needs, while making sure employer costs and administrative responsibilities are managed properly.

3) Streamline. When the rubber hits the road — once a customer is signed on — your role as an adviser is to make the employer’s and their employees’ lives simpler. This task will be easier if employers choose health plans that offer members user-friendly online tools and portals to manage their benefits.

Digital engagement is increasingly important, especially for millennials now looking for coverage. Millennials — and a growing number of older but digitally inclined individuals — want easy access to both benefits and health care services. They like online tools and mobile apps. Deliver them.

Finally, deliver education tools that improve the customer experience. Engage regularly with easy-to-digest information — perhaps through an e-newsletter, blog or other social media platform — about new or changing state and federal laws, industry shifts and other relevant topics. Make sure they understand their benefits, properly budget and plan for the future, and aren’t caught off guard by changes.

Simplifying the benefits process — from start to finish — will lead to healthier and happier employees, and makes for more satisfied employers. Best of all, it establishes you as a credible, trusted adviser your clients will turn to year after year.

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Monica Majors

Monica Majors

Monica Majors serves as vice president of strategic sales and marketing at Sutter Health Plus, a not-for-profit HMO in Northern California.