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Rita Harris September 4, 2018 5 min read

5 Tips for Designing a Memorable Employee Experience for Annual Enrollment

When it comes to creating a powerful customer experience, Starbucks nails it. The door swings open, and you’re greeted by a flood of rich coffee aroma. Your eyes land on artful displays of merchandise and delectable pastries. Your ears tune in to the Starbucks language (“half-caf, extra hot, no whip, skinny, dry, venti, with extra room”). And then, finally, you grab your beverage (featuring your possibly misspelled, hastily scrawled name), slipping the cardboard sleeve around the renowned mermaid cup, and enjoy the first sip.

That, my friends, is no accident. It’s the result of a carefully crafted customer experience, designed to connect us and create loyalty to the brand. Let’s face it. You can get a cup of coffee anywhere (and probably pay less). So why do so many people choose Starbucks? It’s the experience.

A Starring Role for Benefits Professionals

Employee Experience is key #8 in our 10-key framework for success with benefits communication. (You can read all the details in our 3-part ebook series, Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication: A 10-Key Framework Every Organization Needs to Get Results.) Book II is all about taking a marketing approach—which includes creating the employee experience. We explore the concept of benefits professionals as architects of employee choices, with the ability to influence decision making and promote company values.

To help you get started, here are some pointers for aligning reality with the experience you want to create, especially during annual enrollment.

5 Tips for Creating Your Employee Experience

While the term “employee experience” gets bandied around a lot lately—with a variety of meanings—we think of it as the systems, processes, and communication that build connections between employees and their benefits and, by extension, your organization. The employee experience starts when a prospective candidate first decides to leave her current job to join your organization, and it doesn’t end until her last day of work with you.

Think of yourself as a master planner with tremendous ability to influence employee actions, choices, and long-term outcomes. These tips will help you do that by following a few tried and tested methods.

1. Map the entire employee benefits journey, starting with new hires.

What’s the step-by-step process employees will experience as they evolve from candidate to new hire to first-year employee to seasoned worker? How easy (or hard) is it to learn about, enroll in, and use benefits? Mapping each step of the process will give you valuable insight into what questions will pop up and where people might get stuck and disengage. Apply these same techniques to the rollout of new benefits and programs.

Tip for annual enrollment: Follow the path, and go through all the actions you’re asking employees and their family members to take. Where might they get stuck or confused? Are websites intuitive and simple? Be on the lookout for any processes that require lengthy instructions. That’s a red flag that something needs to be simplified.

2. Get personal: Incorporate personas into your communication strategy.

Go beyond general demographics of age and salary to better understand your employees, what they do, their preferences, the challenges they face, and other relevant information. This becomes your blueprint to connect individuals to the right benefits at the right time. For example, meet Sean. He’s a 34-year-old male who earns $65,000 a year. He’s recently married and covers his new wife on his health plan. He has some student debt, so he’s balancing paying that off while also saving for a home. He’s interested in programs that can support those needs.

Tip for annual enrollment: Compare your personas to your annual enrollment changes. How will each “person” be impacted? How are they likely to react? What can you do to answer potential questions and make his or her experience better?

3. Make day one stand out.

Give benefits a prominent role in your new-hire orientation kits, but beware of information overload. Focus on the immediate actions new hires need to take (e.g., enrollment deadlines and knowing about your benefits website), and send reminders to take critical actions so they don’t miss out on anything important.

Tip for annual enrollment: New employees who start in the fall often get tripped up because they need to both enroll for coverage for the rest of the current year and for the following year. Take a quick spin through your new hire materials. Are people who join during annual enrollment going to understand what they need to do?

4. Design easy choices.

Automatically enroll employees in programs you know are good for them—like your 401(k) plan. As your benefits offerings evolve, keep the “easy” choice in mind as you roll out and drive adoption of new programs to employees.

Tip for annual enrollment: Annual enrollment is an important time to design choices, especially around your medical plan. Review your plan designs to make sure the pricing and naming is consistent with where you want employees enrolled. And think carefully about your default plan, especially if you’re making big changes. For employees, your default plan will be perceived as the “right” choice or best choice.

5. Put employees’ needs first.

Market your benefits offerings by illustrating how they solve a problem or support a need in employees’ real lives, versus simply promoting the features of a particular program, hoping people will make the connection to their lives. Present scenarios, such as “when life gets messy,” “as my family grows,” and “when I need extra support for my health.”

Tip for annual enrollment: Make sure all your communications speak from the employees' point of view and that you’re illustrating the ways your programs are supporting their goals.

Employees Are the Heart of Your Business

Make sure the experience you create reflects that. Create programs that meet their needs by bridging the gap between what you want and need employees to do (get and stay healthy, save for retirement, get out of debt) and what they have the capacity to successfully accomplish. Be sure to line up the right resources to support the significant behavioral changes that employees are being asked to make.

For other insights on engaging employees with effective benefits communication, read the full ebook series. Book I: Foundation teaches you how to get your benefits communications up and running by creating a comprehensive strategy, a strong brand, and a website where employees can find all their benefits information. Book II: Marketing covers how to take a marketing approach to your communications by collecting and using employee feedback, simplifying your communications, targeting and segmentation, and using a variety of channels to communicate throughout the year. Book III: Resources emphasizes the importance of choosing the right partners, and it empowers you to make the business case for getting the budget and resources you need to make it all happen.

We're proud to work with large employers who recognize the business value of engaging employees in benefits. If you want to learn more, contact us.

Rita Harris

Rita Harris, VP Senior Consultant, is known for her ability to break down complex benefits programs into their essential parts, so employees can quickly assess “what’s in it for me.”