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Isabelle Englund-Geiger May 1, 2018 5 min read

3 user experience takeaways for benefits leaders

It used to be that benefits managers thought of user experience as that thing designers, product managers and developers do. But today it’s becoming something everyone talks about—and rightfully so. User experience—positive or negative—plays a huge role in benefits, from plan design and administration to communication.

Here are 3 things every benefits leader should know about user experience.

1. User experience happens, whether or not you pay attention to it

The exact definition of User Experience (UX), as outlined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is a “person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and or anticipated use of a product, system or service.”

More simply, it’s how you feel about every interaction you have with what is in front of you as you are using it.

UX is about the emotion and connection a person feels when using a digital or physical product or service. How they connect with it and intuit why and how to use it.

What’s important to remember is that user experience is happening, regardless of whether or not you’re paying attention to it. This means you can’t afford not to pay attention and create intentional experiences.

2. Good UX design makes good choices easy

Remember the botched launch of Most people couldn’t log in. For those who could, pages loaded very slowly. Those issues are very much a part of a user’s experience.

Even worse— lacked clear, easy-to-access information, which increased anxiety and distrust. Text- and link-heavy web pages that offer no clear direction are a burden. Users should not have to work to figure out what to read, where to go, or what to do next. There’s a reason that one of the most important books written on the topic of website design is called “Don’t Make me Think.”* did feature clear call-to-action buttons, but inconsistencies within the page design for the application process confused people who were trying to apply. Overall, the site had too many buttons and too many options, all of which overwhelmed and confused users.

The key takeaway here is that more is not necessarily better. It’s important to design easy choices. Guide people through a process. Step back from what you are trying to accomplish (to get people signed up for health insurance) and think about what the user needs (to figure out how to get health insurance at a cost they can afford). This requires empathy, which leads us to the third point ...

3. It’s not about you; it’s about them

Sometimes, user experience (UX) gets confused with user interface (UI)—the look and functionality of a web page or mobile app. It’s easy to confuse the two as they are connected. You can’t have UX without a UI, but you can have an interface without a full experience. Before I lose you, this is actually a very important distinction. UI without UX is just a pretty façade.

To make sure you consider the full user experience—beyond just what looks good—ask yourself some basic questions, such as: Can they use it? Can they use it easily? Can they find it? Does it meet a need they have? Do they want to use it? Do they find it valuable? Do they trust it?

Keep these questions top of mind as you research and create, and then test and measure any product, service, or communication. How do you do this? Make sure you understand what they need, and communicate to that, instead of focusing on what you want them to do.

This is tricky for most of us. We often find ourselves at the center of our own universe (come on, admit it!). We relate to others on the basis of our own experience. We forget that we’re benefits “experts” and that others don’t share our knowledge, confidence, vocabulary or goals. We’re solely focused on accomplishing our goals. Here’s an example of how this could play out in the benefits world:

You’re thinking:

I need to get 25% of employees to sign up for the HDHP plan with an HSA. It’s simple! It allows them to save money for retirement, costs way less than a PPO, and it’s a better deal for everyone. It shouldn’t be that hard for people to do!

Your employee is thinking:

It’s been a long couple of weeks. I am really overdue for a vacation. My tank is running on fumes at this point. I am scrambling to get things done, so I can get out at a decent time to bake cookies for my daughter’s softball game picnic. And you want me to consider what? I have a doctor I like already—will she be in this plan? Things are working fine now. Something gets taken out of my paycheck every two weeks—I’m not sure how much or anything—but it all works. You want me to be managing my health costs, too? I can’t handle one more responsibility!

Your goals and your employees’ needs are often not aligned. People wonder, "How can I fit into my skinny jeans?” Not, "How can I exercise more and lose weight and change my diet?" Most people don’t actually shop for a hammer. They just want to hang some art on the wall.

To get out of your own way, think about everything from the user’s perspective. Ask people what they need. Conduct surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups. This can be as easy as stopping people in a corridor and asking for their candid opinion.

When it comes to driving engagement with benefits, it’s crucial that employees find it simple to access information and easy to get things done. User experience is a key part of that. User experience is something that happens the second you let something out in the world and people start interacting with it. It’s up to you to make sure that experience is a positive one— and it's as easy as trying something, even something small, to start and see how it goes.

For more on our thoughts about user experience and benefits communication, see key 8 in Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication. Book II: Marketing.

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.


* Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think, New Riders, 2014.

Isabelle Englund-Geiger

SVP Communications Leader