As a broker, you may or may not be aware, but most employers dislike the benefits renewal process. How do I know? My colleagues and I have talked to hundreds of CEOs, CFOs, HR leaders and benefits managers, and the general consensus was that each year, they dreaded their benefits renewal.
Renewal season is in full swing, so it’s the perfect time to take a look at your own renewal process, and see if it can be updated to better serve and support your clients.
What’s wrong with the renewal process?
As we talked to employers, it wasn’t hard to understand why they were so frustrated with their benefits renewal. Here’s what the traditional renewal process looks like from the employer point of view:
1) The broker comes in and presents a few plan options, including their existing plan (and the new rate) and other alternatives, along with the total cost of each plan.
2) Generally, this presentation is done using a chart or spreadsheet, making the data hard to decipher, understand and compare. One employer even told me he struggled to read the numbers at his last renewal because his broker printed everything so tiny to fit it on the page.
3) As the broker talks through the plan design options, everyone in the room is flipping through the pages of data, making it hard to have a collaborative conversation.
4) If the client wants changes to one or more of the plan designs, to see how that would impact the numbers (changing the deductible or adding an HSA, for instance), the broker must schedule another meeting and prepare another presentation with that new data. The process is often drawn out over multiple meetings and several weeks.
5) Even though the total cost of each plan was presented early on, that’s not really the important number to the employer. They want to know how much they will pay — and premium share is rarely discussed until a plan is chosen. Once the plan is chosen, the employer has to figure out how to pay for it, either by eating the costs themselves or passing them on to the employees.
6) By the end of the process, many employers aren’t confident they are making the best decision, because they are overwhelmed with all the data and didn’t know what they would pay until the end.
Now, I’m certainly not saying this is the broker’s fault, or that the broker is trying to frustrate their client. Most likely, that broker is just conducting the renewal the same way everyone at their agency has for years.
But when you look from this perspective, it’s easy to understand why employers don’t love their annual renewal meetings.
What can brokers do differently?
There are a number of things brokers can do to make the renewal process easier and less frustrating for their clients. Some are changes that you can implement for this upcoming renewal, and some you may want to add to your 2017 planning.
1) Ditch the spreadsheets. If you’re still using spreadsheets to present renewal options, you may want to consider changing your approach. Across the board, employers we interviewed hated being presented so much data in confusing spreadsheets. Instead, work to make your presentation a more visual one, where you can easily compare plans side-by-side, and help employers make decisions confidently.
2) Start with the budget. As I mentioned above, traditionally a plan is chosen and then premium share is discussed, so employers don’t know what they will pay until the end. However, there’s no reason it has to be that way. If that’s your typical process, think about switching to focus on the budget first. Allowing your client to set a budget up-front gives you both framework to create a plan that fits their needs.
3) Think outside the box. We all know health care costs aren’t going down anytime soon, and your clients will likely feel the impact at their next renewal. Start with determining their budget, as discussed above, and then explore creative plan design options to make it work. For instance, maybe a particular client should consider self-funding, though they’ve never thought of it before.
Also see: “30 must-follow benefit pros on Twitter.”
Renewal season is an overwhelming time for everyone, brokers included. Implementing some of these strategies will not only make your clients happy, but also streamline the process for you. (Not to mention increasing loyalty and boosting retention.) Set yourself apart from the pack and give employers the renewal experience they are looking for.
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