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  • Writer's pictureMike Riska

Even When It's Virtual, Enrollment Is About People Not Technology

The novel coronavirus is forcing businesses to adapt to a world where people can't share the same space or, in a lot of cases, even the same building. So how do you conduct a highly labor intensive and interactive project like an employee benefits enrollment, when the employees you need to educate and enroll are all working at their kitchen tables?

This is what a one-on-one enrollment meeting looks like now.

For a firm like ours, the spirit of this question actually predates COVID-19 by many years. In fact, some version of it has factored into almost every enrollment. It's: How do we educate and enroll the 3 employees from the satellite office in Nome, Alaska? How do we educate and enroll the employees doing contract work on secure government sites? How do we educate and enroll the employees that HR locked in a broom closet during our scheduled days for onsite meetings?

The Bad Old Days

As someone who has personally attempted to schedule one-on-one meetings for the secure government site by using the coffee shop outside the gates, I can tell you that there have been challenges. And even during the last 10 years or so, when it became pretty clear that the answer involved the internet and the telephone, there have been roadblocks, often from within the industry. Sure, you can educate employees using webinars, but if one of the carriers is still trying to figure out how to put their product on an electronic platform and they won't accept an application without a wet signature, then the "enrollment" part of your remote enrollment isn't happening.

This is one of my clients, a programming contractor at a federal job site, coming to meet me for his enrollment appointment in 2007.

This has mostly changed now, but mistakes have been made along the way. With benefits enrollment technology now widely available yes, you can include those hard to reach employees in ways you never could before. But it can be a little too tempting to think that the technology is the whole solution. I have seen many a well meaning employer, insurance broker and HR professional get excited about the decision making algorithm built into an enrollment platform. I mean, this whole thing is just going to run itself now, right?

Effective Communication Between People Is Still The Most Important Part

When we started setting up our call center, and developing the virtual enrollment capabilities that our broker and employer clients are enjoying now that everyone is a remote worker, there was a lot to learn and decide about technology. That's still there, but it's in the background. The technology is a tool that has to answer the same questions that have always been most important about providing benefits enrollment, even when it was done with paper brochures and handwritten applications: How can we do this in a way that leaves employees feeling well educated and confident about their decisions and leaves the employer and broker feeling well supported?

Can we discuss your life insurance needs, it is estimated that a [access client marital status], [access client age] [access client gender] who makes [access client salary] should have no less than [output needs calculation] in life insurance coverage [await response then initiate closing sequence]

Unsurprisingly, the answer still lies in effective communication between people. If you are a benefits broker, employer, or HR professional, we can now conduct a completely virtual enrollment for you, for a workforce of any size and in any location (including everyone's respective kitchen tables). A lot of modern technology will be brought to bear. But the important part of our pre-enrollment strategy discussions won't be about what the technology is, it will be about how we'll use it to accomplish our goal of connecting with a group of people who can no longer just be corralled into a conference room for a meeting.

And when the time comes for connecting with those employees , the technology of virtual enrollment will be fully in play. They'll get communication by text, by email, by beautifully presented and intuitive web portal; they'll have all the conveniences, like self scheduling online, so that they can have their enrollment appointment at the time that's best for them. Maybe in between helping their housebound kids with their virtual schoolwork and washing the family's face masks.

But it's all in the service of connecting them to a real live person who can guide them through it all. I'm so happy that we've solved one of benefit enrollment's oldest problems and can use technology to set up meaningful communication at a time when everyone is suddenly one of those hard to reach employees. I can't physically walk through my call center right now, but when I'm doing one of my, you know, imaginary walkthroughs, I know the important part of what I'm hearing is the sound of the voices, not the hum of the circuitry.

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