IS SELF-ENROLLMENT HERE TO STAY?
Finding the key to boosting voluntary benefits participation for your clients
By Joe Goolsby
We’re all aware of how much the benefits world shifted during COVID. Perhaps nothing changed more than benefits enrollment—specifically voluntary benefits enrollment. Starting in 2020 when COVID first hit, employers didn’t want employees or vendors on-site, of course, in order to stop the spread of the disease. As a result, many companies migrated to a self-service approach.
However, now that the pandemic is waning and employees are returning to the office, you would think the enrollment process would go back to in-person. For many, that simply has not been the case. Many companies are still embracing the advantages they saw in the self-service approach over the last few years.
Why? Because they don’t have to monitor employees and schedule meetings with vendors; that took a lot of work off HR teams’ plates. And now, brokers and vendors are looking at how they can maximize the value of self-service enrollment, helping drive employee engagement and participation in the process.
The trend towards self-service isn’t entirely driven by the pandemic. A study by customer-experience firm NICE found that 81% of consumers said they wanted more self-service options when it came to benefits enrollment. Employers are on board, too. According to a 2002 Willis Towers Watson report, 70% of employers are expanding the tools they have that can help employees make smart enrollment decisions. And 84% of employers plan to expand these tools in 2023.
So, we know that employees want more self-service options. And employers are quickly realizing this trend and looking for tools to help them meet those changing needs.
Steps to success
What do you need to consider before talking about self-service enrollment with your clients?
First, you need to make sure you get commitment from your HR partners and other stakeholders up-front. Any program that doesn’t have support from HR and the employer is fighting an uphill battle from the start. Any solutions we discuss, whether it’s the technology used to enroll or the communication to employees, starts with employer buy-in. Having a conversation up front and reinforcing the need for employer support from start to finish is a must if you want to drive results.
Next, you need to ensure that the technology solution you choose is as simple to use as possible. For your client—and employees! The most successful technologies I’ve seen used for self-service enrollment so far include:
- Personalized enrollment experiences for employees
- Streamlined enrollment so employees don’t get lost in the process
- Integration of all benefits into a single platform—no hopping between systems
- Targeted messaging so employees get the information when and where they need it
- Easy access to support for trouble-shooting (chat, call center)
- Valuable insights and data to HR teams so they can evaluate and improve in future years
Some of these benefits can also be achieved with product design and carrier selection. Using a carrier that can offer products that are easy to administer will save you time on the technology side. In addition, if you can simplify the benefits themselves by limiting the number of variables on the product or offering them on a “high/low/no basis” (i.e., a high benefit amount, low benefit, or the employee waives the coverage) you can simplify the process.
Anyone who simply wants to push the benefits online and leave employees to
fend for themselves won’t see the results they, or you, want.
An employee who is confused about the product is unlikely to enroll. In a self-service environment you must simplify the technology and the product offering to make sure employees can understand what they’re purchasing.
Finally, you need to ensure there is effective communication with employees about the new process, products and tools you’re introducing. This is perhaps the most important step, and it means using all channels at your disposal—from emails to text messages to microsites and brochures.
This is also where that employer buy-in we discussed is so important. Most important, try to be as clear as you can in all communications about how to use the technology to sign up for voluntary benefits.
Most likely to engage
The obvious candidates for self-service are companies whose employees are either hybrid or working from home.In general, dispersed workforces make good candidates. Now, we’re painting in broad strokes, but employers that skew towards a younger demographic may have higher self-service expectations.
Not to sound like a broken record, but the ideal candidate for self-service is one that understands the importance of communication and technology and will support the implementation of a successful self-service enrollment.
Anyone who simply wants to push the benefits online and leave employees to fend for themselves won’t see the results they, or you, want. In those cases, I recommend pushing back towards a more traditional method of face-to-face or call center enrollment to make sure employees get the education they need.
The world has changed a whole lot since 2020—and that includes the voluntary benefits enrollment process. Where appropriate, it’s worth exploring new options for your clients that could end up saving them valuable time, while offering a service and option that many employees are increasingly seeking.
While we may have lost a measure of access that we once had, it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice on results for our clients.
Joe Goolsby has been with Trustmark Voluntary Benefits since 2017. His ex-tensive insurance experience lets him work with clients to develop effective benefit solutions that support employer goals while maximizing protection for employees. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. For more information, visit trustmarkbenefits.com/voluntary-benefits.