Worksite Marketing Is Evolving To Meet Changing Customer Needs Employers have become facilitators of benefits rather than mere purchasers

By Steve Howard

When it comes to a successful worksite marketing initiative, employers want solutions that offer the least amount of headaches coupled with the most valuable benefit alternatives for their employees. After all, many companies not only are dealing with the escalating costs of employer-sponsored medical insurance, and added complexity in benefits design and administration, but they also are faced with reductions in the HR staffing levels needed to implement these programs effectively.

Meanwhile, the days of the employer being the sole decision-maker on all employee benefits, and employees merely “checking” boxes to enroll, are largely over. With employees increasingly paying more of the premium for core programs, and voluntary benefits accounting for a larger percentage of the package, employers have become facilitators of benefits rather than mere purchasers. This means employers increasingly will look to intermediaries and insurance carriers that provide voluntary benefits solutions to provide turnkey administration, service, enrollment and communication capabilities that enhance the employers core benefit offerings.

Given this predicament, worksite producers who present only product solutions to their clients often will encounter resistance, which often manifests itself in the following ways:

–Resistance to onsite employee meetings.

–Low perceived value to the employer in addressing benefits concerns.

–Low perceived participation by employees.

–Perception of “administration overload.”

–Confused employees.

Given these perceptions and the ongoing challenges companies continue to face with their core programs, its not difficult to understand why many employers can be overwhelmed by the concept of worksite marketing. But what if your client discussions demonstrated knowledge of their challenges and provided turnkey solutions that supported their needs as facilitators and administrators of the program, as well as competitive benefits solutions for their employees? The result in most cases would be much greater receptivity by the employer and a greater willingness to explore voluntary benefits solutions fully with you. So, just what are the specific administrative, service, communication and enrollment services that employers require to support their role as facilitators of benefits?

Administration and Service

Administering the payroll deduction and reconciling the billing for voluntary benefit deductions is critical to a seamless process and reduced employer time and cost. The producer must understand this and screen voluntary benefits providers to ensure adequate focus, staffing and accountability for these activities, while taking measures to ensure that once the enrollment is implemented there is proper linkage between the insurance carrier and the clients payroll department. All insurance carriers are not equal when providing this level of service, so do your homework!

When evaluating client service, make sure the carrier of choice has a dedicated representative who can answer questions before, during and after the enrollment, and is able to assist with case setup, underwriting questions, paper flow and billing issues. Having these service capabilities in place provides the employer peace of mind that the process is being effectively managed, problems are uncovered and handled promptly, and distractions are kept to a minimum. Emphasizing this in your client discussions builds the credibility you need to offer the solutions that matter most and have them embraced by your client.

Communication and Enrollment

Many companies indicate that employees arent fully aware of what their health plan does not cover, let alone what alternatives they have to fill those gaps in coverage. In addition, as weve discussed most companies are not staffed to facilitate employee enrollments of voluntary benefits effectively, and many employees are unaccustomed to making more complex benefits decisions. This is why effective communication and enrollment capabilities are a must. When properly executed, these capabilities help educate employees about their existing benefits, any limitations in that coverage and provide additional voluntary benefit choices that might strengthen their core program. Ideally, employees are not “sold products” but make a voluntary informed decision to strengthen their benefits package.

Arguably, the most productive and successful approach to voluntary enrollments is through individual employee meetings where there is active dialogue between employee and enroller, and a more thorough needs analysis. However, this often is not practical for many large companies and companies with small concentrations of employees at scattered locations. In these situations, a call center or Internet enrollment may be the most effective approach. In any case, a key component to delivering an effective voluntary benefit solution to your client is enrollment capacity and flexibility. Whether you are an agent representing a specific carrier, or a broker attempting to offer the right voluntary solution to a client, the quality of the enrollment process is a critical piece in meeting your clients expectations.

In looking to the future of employee benefits, much is uncertain. However, if trends continue companies will continue to shift more costs to employees, placing them in a greater decision-making role when choosing their benefits. In the meantime, companies will expect more service from their brokers and agents, and increasingly will demand solutions that not only effectively meet employee benefit needs but do so while minimizing any indirect costs to the bottom line.

Steve Howard is chief marketing officer for workplace solutions, AIG American General Inc., Houston. His e-mail address is steve_howard@aigag.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 24, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.