The following is republished with permission from Workforce magazine. It originally appeared in Workforce in November.
I recently had coffee with a benefits leader who is implementing a new technology platform for her organization’s employees and spouses. Her scenario is much like that of many of our clients: She works for a big organization with employees all over the U.S. and in many locations around the world. The company’s benefits and HR programs are complex—and getting more so as it seeks to meet the needs of different employee segments and an increasingly diverse population. Data is used for everything in the organization, and HR is catching up to the rest of the enterprise.
Their goal is to provide a better experience for employees, driven by data. Her team is looking at consolidating all benefits information from existing channels (including the intranet, external sites, vendor sites, email newsletters, and more) into a personalized portal.
But she has a lingering concern: As we look to offer employees a highly personalized experience, do we unintentionally make it harder to access benefits information?
This is a critical question. Ease of access and ease of use need to be the highest priority if we are going to get the right people to use their benefits at the right time. It’s also an often overlooked question when pursuing personalization. And it becomes even more important to consider when you’re using personalization and engagement to drive health strategy.
Personalization is among large employers’ top health care initiatives for 2020, according to the latest survey by the Business Group on Health (formerly the National Business Group on Health). Twenty-six percent of respondents said they plan to “implement an engagement platform that aggregates point solutions and pushes personalized communications to employees.” That initiative follows employers’ top 3 strategies, which are largely focused on changing the health care experience: implementing virtual care solutions, a more focused strategy on high-cost claims, and expanding centers of excellence to include additional conditions.
So, why are personalized tools getting so much attention? Personalized portals and apps are good at doing several important things. They can serve up data-driven content, send just-in-time notifications, and help identify missed opportunities in a very relevant way. They can also deliver recommendations, which helps create the Amazon retail experience that so many plan sponsors are looking for.
Amid all this incredible promise, it’s important to remember that these tools can deliver customized content only if and when people use them. By their nature, personalized tools have more access barriers, because all that personal information needs to be protected. It is easy to underestimate the amount of effort it takes to get people to engage frequently with even the most cutting-edge and appealing platforms. That ongoing engagement challenge is seen across all benefits categories and most digital workplace tools. You must have a compelling reason to check anything out. You must have an even more compelling reason to go back.
If you’re asking someone to download an app, authenticate with personal information, keep that app up to date, allow notifications, and go back to it frequently, is that actually easy? Each one of those action steps is a specific user behavior that has to be promoted and encouraged. Think about when you log in to a website and have forgotten your password. Are you always motivated to track it down? Or do you file that for “do later” and move on to something else, say, looking at your Instagram feed? We all have a lot of to-do’s and a lot of distractions—especially on our phones.
So, when you’re considering a personalized app or platform, you need to take into account the ease of access and the amount of resources you’ll need to drive ongoing use.
Of course, we have clever ways to encourage engagement. And this is where we can really use HR’s unique advantages. First, we can make something so enticing that you can’t resist going there often. The best example of this that I’ve seen recently is a large retailer that puts their employee discount in their benefits engagement app. The only way they can use their discount is to have the app on their phones. You can bet all their employees are using that app!
You can also make the app so critical to an individual’s day-to-day job that using the platform becomes a de facto job requirement. Some large companies have built their HR apps to include core functions like scheduling and time tracking. If you have to use the app every day you work, it’s an ideal channel for serving up key benefits and HR reminders.
There is tremendous promise with personalization. But that promise can only be fulfilled if people have a good experience with personalized tools and use them frequently. It is our job to use all the tools we have to make that desirable—and, most importantly, easy.