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Improve the Benefits Experience for Everyone—One Person at a Time

Prashant Srivatava November 14, 2017

The well-worn expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees,” is invoked to suggest an excessive focus on details at the expense of the bigger picture. In the world of benefits, we might need to turn this familiar phrase on its head and talk about not seeing the trees for the forest.

Let me explain. Many companies invest heavily in benefits programs that they hope will appeal to the widest audience and then send generic communications to all employees to promote them, making it easy to lose sight of each individual person.

And why not? Hasn’t this approach—grouping and targeting based on demographic factors like gender, generation, geography—been a marketing best practice for decades?

Indeed. But in a post-demographic world, we can easily look beyond the traits of groups. Big data enables us to think about communication in terms of individuals rather than clusters of people. This approach is new for many industries, and like them, human resources departments are just beginning to put the power of big data to work in their organizations. Companies have unique, individual employees who have equally unique benefits needs—just as other industries have unique, individual shoppers seeking products that meet their individual needs.

Why, then, shouldn’t we tailor our messages to each of them?

While Amazon, for instance, may recommend more specific products to customers based on past purchases and searches, companies can now do the same for employees when it comes to benefits, based on what the employee interests and values. Consumers have come to expect highly curated experiences everywhere—whether they’re buying a sweater or selecting a health plan.

In addition, as the labor market grows more competitive, HR professionals are returning to the concept of “total rewards” to present a more attractive proposition to employees. But for the value proposition of total rewards to really appeal to an individual, the employer should present information about benefits that are specifically relevant and valuable to that individual.

Choosing the total rewards components

In order to leverage the post-demographic mindset, employers should first identify what to include in their total rewards package, beyond monetary compensation, to make it an attractive offer for their employees. What do their employees really care about? What will engage them? By offering a portfolio of benefits that are of value to different individuals in the company’s workforce, the employer can offer each individual a total rewards package that they will find personally appealing.

“Consumers have come to expect highly curated experiences everywhere—whether they’re buying a sweater or selecting a health plan.”

As employers craft their specific total rewards philosophy, they may consider the various categories that can comprise a total rewards benefits package. They might begin with health and wellness perks like health/dental/vision insurance and gym discounts, as well as financial benefits like 401(k)s and employee stock participations plans. Further, work/life benefits such as work-from-home flexibility and onsite daycares might fit into a staff’s needs, and personal development benefits such as formal performance reviews, leadership training, and online courses/webinars could also provide value.

What other categories can you think of? What else might a certain employee care about? Forwarding-thinking benefits leaders are collecting key information about what people want, using that data to inform a total rewards package, and then communicating to individuals only about the benefits that are relevant to them (which, in turn, leads to higher engagement).

Connecting the right benefits with the right people

Once the total rewards benefits package is there, the next step is using personalized marketing techniques to ensure employees see its full potential. It’s not enough just to have the data; it’s about how companies use it to bring greater value to the benefits experience.

For example, a Fortune 50 retailer found through a company-wide survey that more employees at their corporate headquarters took care of pets than children. This led to the conclusion that a petcare benefit would be of greater value than, say, an onsite childcare center. Once a pet-sitting benefit was put into place, the company specifically targeted communications to employees with pets, using a personalized message about the new benefit.

The same principle could apply to companies whose populations contain more train/bus commuters than drivers in certain cities, for instance. Those taking public transportation every day might prefer a benefit tied to their commuting expense, such as a pre-tax transportation FSA (rather than one related to parking or on-site oil changes), which the company could implement and then share specifically with those train/bus commuters.

Engagement increases in these scenarios because benefits are tailored and communicated intelligently, according to what certain employees need. Using data to go deeper than demographics informs meaningful benefits purchasing decisions that ultimately maximize value—for both the employee and the employer—and avoid waste from providing unwanted benefits or following a one-size-fits-all messaging strategy.

By adopting the post-demographic approaches that marketers across industries now use, HR professionals can increase engagement and retention through total rewards packages, supported by highly targeted outreach to the individuals using those benefits.