I counsel employers, broker/consultants and service providers on HR and benefits administration technology and outsourcing options. I do so with a commitment to guide decisions on systems, processes and partnerships that all stakeholders feel good about…and still feel good about following the first open enrollment. I’d like to say this is the outcome each and every time, but that would be a lie. The truth is I spend more time responding to problems; most of which could have been avoided.

When I talk to clients about technology, process and communication best practices, I see their eyes start to glaze. Best practices are not very exciting. So instead, I’d like to share some worst practices – bad behavior (knowingly or unknowingly) by broker/consultants, employers and service providers. In sharing these, my hope is you avoid similar scenarios by eschewing worst practices.

Over promising; under delivering  

In final phase of platform selection, the client requests a specific feature. The service provider says ‘no problem.’ Months into implementation, the provider determines they can’t do it without adding substantial cost. The client won’t pay and the provider won’t incur the cost.  

Over-promising and under-delivering are equally egregious sins – most often committed in good faith, promises can later be found difficult to deliver. Worst is promising something to get the job, believing the capability can be developed or that the client need can be altered. The result is typically a broken relationship.

Service providers should focus on their core competencies. Look at third-party integration options and let clients know providing services outside your area of expertise can detract from performance of the primary service. Better to lose a client than your reputation; it’s a small world.

Stopping the conversation
Client with a problem can’t reach their account rep and escalates matter to senior management. Management promises action, but nothing happens and soon stops returning calls. Work proceeds but the problem continues. The client is unhappy but there’s no resolution because no one’s talking to each other.

Small problems get out of control when people stop talking and medium-size problems can become nightmares. A broker/consultant can help by facilitating a conversation about expectations at the onset of the relationship. Is there a hierarchy to follow? What’s a reasonable time to expect a return call or follow-up? Do you want weekly meetings during implementation to cover issues? What are the criteria for flagging a matter as “serious?”

Lack of solid groundwork

Client provides requirements which service provider meets. But client failed to identify all needs up front and now wants additions at no cost. Broker pressures provider to accommodate client and the relationship sours.

Nothing hurts team spirit like changing the rules mid-game. It’s unfair to expect the provider to handle new requests at no cost. Needs will arise and most providers do their best to accommodate. Broker/consultants can avoid this situation by facilitating a detailed review of the requirements prior to service provider selection.

The forest versus the trees

Client is overly concerned about minutia. The service provider spends so much time tweaking system cosmetics (fonts, colors) that a major process flaw goes unnoticed until open enrollment. Employee is suing.

HR systems are complex so it’s easy for employers to focus on what they understand — often minor details. Keep a list of small requests. Tell the provider you’ll want changes but let them prioritize and focus on the big picture.

The disappearing and reappearing broker

Broker is heavily engaged at project onset but steps back once service provider is selected — until there’s a problem. The broker re-engages, takes action and steps back again. Problem escalates and broker re-engages but lacks understanding of the situation.  

Problem or not, broker/consultants who step in and out (and in and out) of a relationship potentially do more harm than good. Regular conversations with all parties will keep projects on track and eliminate problems stemming from poor communication or mismatched expectations.

Beating up those trying to help

During open enrollment, minor things go awry and the client beats up on broker to “get this fixed.” The broker beats up the account manager and the account manager beats up the support team. This scenario is repeated until the support team stops trying, the account manager resigns, and the relationship with the provider turns toxic.

Everyone was trying to help the client but, ironically, the client suffers most. Next time there’s a problem, no one is squarely in the client’s court. While the client initiated the bad behavior, the broker should have managed client expectations and reactions in proportion to the severity of the problem. Is a little “beating up” ever called for? Maybe; but if that’s the norm, what’s your option in a real crisis?

There you have it; real-world scenarios my team witnessed because we’ve been called on to help resolve resulting problems. And while we appreciate the business, we much prefer to earn our pay by facilitating strong business alliances that deliver effective and well-functioning systems and processes that support the client’s goals.

Rhonda Marcucci, CPA, is a partner and consultant with Gruppo Marcucci, an HR and benefits administration technology outsourcing consulting company.

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