A few years ago, executives at NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield, Calif., decided they wanted a place on the Fortune “100 Best Places to Work For” list. That's a lofty goal for a small health care system. But as they saw it, there was much to be gained from the effort. Health care employers can experience high turnover. To combat that—and build a high-quality workforce—NorthBay began looking at employee compensation and benefits packages.
Ken McCollum, NorthBay's vice president of human resources, started researching the vast array of benefits offerings in order to build a package that would not only land NorthBay on the Fortune list, but more importantly, offer benefits employees value and change the way they perceive their employer. As part of his research, McCollum began looking into concierge benefits.
“Improving the quality of work-life balance and the quality of work experience is a big part of recruiting and retaining quality health care staff,” McCollum says. “Anyone in our business focuses on what you need to do to keep employees happy and engaged.”
McCollum eventually found ACI Specialty Benefits, an employer assistance program provider based in San Diego, Calif. McCollum and NorthBay signed up for ACI's concierge benefit, which is marketed under the “Leverage” brand.
As he looks back on it, McCollum says, the move paid off. Concierge is one of NorthBay's most popular benefits offerings.
“We've built the utilization to where it's extremely popular,” McCollum says. “It's easy to use. It's online 24-7 so nurses and staff on the night shift can put in a call in the middle of the night. They love the convenience of it. What they really like are the discounts—we all like to save money and ACI has a discount program for things like amusement parks or concerts. Discounted movie tickets are one of the most popular things.”
Benefits brokers and agents would be wise to pay attention to NorthBay's success with concierge benefits. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has the power to change the lives of every American, but it also will deal a heavy blow to the benefits industry—especially to brokers who rely on health insurance for a significant portion of their incomes.
In order to survive, brokers and agents must adapt—and getting educated about benefits such as concierge can provide an income stream or help attract new clients.
“It only makes sense for a broker to have more things that will please a potential customer,” says Ann Clark, CEO and founder of ACI Specialty Benefits. “It's another reason to call a customer, so I think it's an excellent foot in the door. And it's low cost.”
And, says Jonathan Edelheit, executive director of the Voluntary Benefits Association in Palm Beach, Fla., only a small percentage of brokers currently offer the benefit to clients.
“[Brokers] should be looking at how to bring new products and services to their employers,” he says. “There's some agents that have buried their heads in the sand, and a lot of those agents could disappear, and then there's the ones learning about PPACA and bringing new services. Those are the brokers and agents that are picking up a lot of new business.”
Concierge benefits aren't difficult to comprehend. Most people in the industry begin by explaining that the benefit's foundation is very much like what people see in a fancy hotel. While people who work in corporate concierge aren't stationed at a desk in a bustling hotel lobby, they do a lot of the same things.
They procure tickets to concerts, shows, sporting events and movies as well as make reservations at restaurants and spas. As concierge has grown into a work benefit, providers have added a host of services that make overworked employees at employers without the benefit envious. Concierge providers connect clients with dry cleaning services, meal delivery, travel arrangements and more.
Concierge services can locate a plumber, electrician, repairman or landscaper. Other services include finding house sitters or finding eldercare. One service that ACI offers NorthBay is on-site car washes, one of the most popular concierge services at NorthBay, McCollum says.
Some concierge providers serve American workers overseas, connecting them with English-speaking hospitals, doctors and lawyers. And as the world economy sends more and more people to work in other countries, concierge service can help employees ease transitions, avoid scams and navigate a foreign country's services.
Industry watchers say concierge has taken off as a benefit in the past five years—with the health care sector leading the way in terms of utilization. But that doesn't mean other industries are ignoring it. Concierge increasingly is finding a foothold in corporate America with more than a handful of Fortune 500 companies incorporating it into their benefits packages for employees or executives.
“We'll have a large company and they'll say ‘We want to give back to our employees—they're working 60-80 hours per week; what can you do for us?’” says Dustyn Shroff, chief operating officer of One Concierge in Boca Raton, Fla. “We're providing services to employees that don't have time to fulfill them … Basically whatever an individual doesn't have time to do themselves, we do it.”
Shroff says his corporate clients have asked his concierge service to do a number of things, including picking up groceries or exchanging merchandise. Currently, Shroff's company doesn't use brokers and agents to drive business. But, he says, he's open to start a conversation with them.
Using the concierge service, for employees, is simple. They either call a phone number or visit a website. A growing number of companies provide an on-site concierge. Some companies provide the benefit to all employees while others narrow the benefits' availability to executives.
“The feedback we get is amazing,” Shroff says. “Sometimes, we get asked if we can expand coverage hours or can we expand to other locations. The value is something the company realizes right away. We're giving employees back their time.”
Benefits professionals who want to look into adding concierge benefits to their line-up of offerings should start by contacting their EAP providers. Because concierge service helps reduce employee stress, it's a natural fit with EAPs. In fact, some vendors seamlessly blend concierge along with EAP services.
Other vendors create separate, branded platforms, such as ACI's “Leverage.” Still other companies, such as OneConcierge, specialize in providing concierge services only, and offer it as a corporate benefit alongside more traditional clients such as hotels, resorts and high-rise condos. Some concierge companies bundle services into a package or they allow their clients to select what services they'd like to offer employees.
One company that incorporates concierge into its EAP is Physician Wellness Services of Minneapolis, which specializes in providing EAP services to doctors and physicians. Mitchell Best, chief executive officer of PWS, says the concierge service helps doctors and physicians reduce stress by helping them balance their professional and personal lives. PWS has helped doctors and physicians with everything from planning a vacation to dry cleaning.
“There's literally a lack of time to get things done,” Best says. “And that contributes to burn-out and stress. It can be things like getting plane tickets or getting a car cleaned. We talk to them and we do the legwork. If you want us to schedule this or that for you, we'll do it. Then, the physician can focus on their work.”
Best's company also helps a lot of foreign doctors who find themselves working in an American hospital. Working in a big city such as New York or Los Angeles may mean a little less culture shock but many doctors work in smaller cities or even rural settings. “We're there to help them bridge the gap between, say, Montana and India,” Best says.
Indeed, several factors have converged to bring concierge to its big break-out as a benefit. A push by employers for employee retention combined with open-armed vendors should make brokers and agents see the value of the benefit.
“This is the sexy benefit right now,” Clark says. “This is the benefit everyone wants to retain talent. Everybody is hanging on to every employee they have, and concierge can make the difference.”
Illustrations by Jesse Lefkowitz
Nathan Solheim is a Denver-based freelancer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.