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As brokers and employers gear up for another busy openenrollment, chances are many of them will rely largely ontraditional communication methods, like enrollment meetings andbenefit fairs, to provide benefit and enrollment informationface-to-face.

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“High-touch” interactions like these certainly have value as acommunication channel during open enrollment. But to complementthat, many are exploring more high-tech ways to reach anincreasingly mobile, more “on-demand” audience that support theirbenefits decision making.

Maximizing technology at the “point of impact” andbeyond  

For brokers and employers, it's critical to take a closer lookat that decision process, including the “point of impact”: thewindow of time in which the employee is actually selecting whichbenefits he or she wants. Keep in mind, the average employee isonly going to spend a grand total of roughly 15 minutes selectingall of their benefits for the entire year — decisions that willimpact their whole family. The question becomes how to help prepareemployees for that pivotal final enrollment decision, effectivelyextending the point of impact.

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Related: Confusionand risk-aversion driving poor benefit choices

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Employers find themselves trying to communicate with a diverseworkforce that has equally diverse communication preferences.Different technology skills and mobile adoption rates are drivingHR to modify employee communication based on age demographics. Forexample, 85 percent of millennials say they use social media,compared to only 57 percent of baby boomers who, while increasinglydigital, still like print. And the newestentrants to the workforce, Gen Z employees born in the mid-1990s tothe mid-2000s, want information on-demand and have a tendency touse multiple communication channels and toolssimultaneously.1 It all suggests that for today'semployers communicating with employees, no single channel or mediumwill cut it.

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To extend both the communication moment of impact and employeereach, employers are offering a combination of the tried and truecommunication (newsletters, flyers and face-to-face meetings) andthe integration of emerging tech-enabled and on-demand solutionssuch as portals, comparison tools, social media, text messaging andmobile apps. These can all help educate employees and prepare themto make benefit decisions in the ways that work best for them. Thechallenge is striking the right balance for your organization.

Employers are exploringtechnology 

To learn more about how employers balance that mix betweenhigh-tech and high-touch employee communication during openenrollment and beyond, we conducted a qualitative survey of 35human resources professionals to get their take on the types ofcommunications they employ during open enrollment. Here's what wefound:

  • Not surprisingly, almost all the respondents use an online platform for enrollment — and themajority enroll all their benefits (including voluntary) on thesame site.
  • Calculators were cited as a popular tool, and employers alsoused videos and microsites.
  • Some employers cited benefit fairs as a communicationchannel.
  • Although most of the respondents cited the use of traditionalcommunication methods (e.g., emails, intranet articles, postcards,etc.), several mentioned the use of video chat options, like Skype,Google Hangouts or webinars.

While the use of online enrollment platforms and supportingtechnology are widely used, respondents'

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comments ranged from using an online portal as a repository(“Through our health insurance provider, we have an online portalcalled a health digital access platform that houses all of ourinformation”) to those who have not fully embraced technology (“Ouronline presence is basically non-existent now. We normally have abrochure that we distribute to our positions.”)

Engage employees beyond enrollment

Employers have gotten comfortable with giving employees moreproducts to choose from and enabling them with the technology thatmakes it easier to enroll in those products in the benefits choiceprocess. And technology providers that build the benefitadministration systems are enabling HR to do a better job ofcommunicating to employees, educating them about the benefits andproviding choices among products. Here's how you can you look forthose kinds of opportunities to provide the right types ofcommunication, in the right medium:

  • Review what technology is in place (or not present) to guidethe decision-making process during the employee's benefits-decisiontimeframe. Start by looking at your existing technology anddetermining if you are taking full advantage of itsfunctionality.
  • Gather information and learn. Form employee focus groups, talkto other human resources professionals and industry experts.
  • Look at social media and text messaging as potential channels.Now that most of the U.S. population owns a smartphone, this represents anadditional — and often direct — line of supplementalcommunication.
  • Consider the potential for applying artificial intelligence —like a few of our survey respondents have done by including achatbot as part of their enrollment communication.
  • Look at ways to guide and personalize the employee enrollmentexperience. For example, offer an online quiz that guidesemployees, based on their responses, toward what types of benefitswill best help them.
  • Our research also suggests employers should work with planproviders and brokers. These product experts have researcheddifferent ways to reach employees with different communicationmethods.

Finally, realize that face-to-face communication is still a veryviable way to add value by providing employees the chance to askquestions of benefit plan experts. But also look at the costs andtime involved versus the level of exposure and engagement itdelivers to ensure a return on the investment of time andresources. Maybe face-to-face communication continues to be a partof the communication mix, but just delivered with a new look, in adigital format (e.g., Skype or webinars), that better meetsemployees' on-demand communication needs.

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Overall, ask if current benefit communication methods arechanging employees' level of understanding of how their benefitswork — and more importantly, are they effectively guiding themtoward an informed enrollment decision.

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Asking these questions will help you balance out the humanaspect of benefit enrollment communications and the technicalaspects of it, as for many employers it remains a combination ofboth.

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About the Author

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Dennis Healy is a member of the ARAG® executiveteam. Dennis is a passionate advocate for legal insurance becausehe has seen firsthand how it helps people receive the protectionand legal help they need. He has more than 25 years of insuranceindustry experience, with a primary focus on the sale of groupvoluntary benefit products to employer groups of all sizes throughbrokers, consultants and employee benefit exchanges.

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