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Let’s paint a picture: Imagine you’re going to buy a new car.


It’s your first car, so you don’t have a lot of expertise. You know how to drive, and you know you need a vehicle. But you’re just not sure which one will be best for your specific and unique needs.

You go to your local dealership and meet a salesperson. You tell her you’re shopping for a car. “Great,” she says. “I can help you with that.”

She promptly sits you down in front of a screen, starts a video that outlines the basics of a combustion engine, hands you a book with technical car specifications and tells you to browse the lot once you’ve finished reading and watching the video.

“We’ve got a lot of cars to choose from. Let me know which one you decide on,” she calls out as she walks away.

Sound far-fetched? Maybe for a car-buying experience, but not for benefits enrollment.

What’s missing from this scenario is the decision guidance based on your situation and preferences. Any decent car salesperson will ask you a few personal questions to narrow down the search. What will you be using the vehicle for? How many people are in your family? Is gas efficiency important? New or used? What color do you like? How much are you looking to spend? Your personal answers help them narrow down the options and point you in a direction.

When it comes to benefits, the buyer needs the same expert guidance otherwise they risk wandering aimlessly around the lot, looking at a lot of different options and then potentially making a buying decision based only on the price stickers.

Employees aren’t benefits experts, but they need to make important benefits decisions. These decisions will cost them (and you) a lot of money. If they make good decisions they’ll be appropriately protected from the risks associated with illness, injury and even death, and this protection won’t undermine their finances. If they make poor decisions, employees won’t have adequate safeguards and they could be exposed to significant potential risk.

Each year, employees are effectively invited to a benefits dealership during annual enrollment. This benefits dealership offers multiple makers, and every maker has a number of different models. Each car displays some technical specifications and a price. Employees are told they have a limited amount of time to make a choice and if they don’t like what they chose, they won’t be able to trade it in for a year and it will cost them.

Yes, there is support, In the form of brochures, videos, “owner’s manuals” and the like.

You know what happens.

A few stalwart employees spend time poring over all the materials and examining and comparing all their options before making a decision. But most employees don’t.

Many pick the path of least resistance and don’t bother to make any changes. If they like what they have, why make waves?

Others choose based solely on price. Some of these employees opt for the lowest cost options, thinking they’ll save money, while others go with the higher priced options believing that spending more up front automatically means they’re getting the most comprehensive plan.  

What’s missing from the benefits buying experience is the same thing that was missing from our mythical car-buying scenario—guidance.

When there are so many choices and a lot on the line financially, the context of personal situation is vital to help narrow down the options and lead the buyer to an informed decision.

In the case of benefits decision-making, the employee’s health, their finances and their emotional state all contribute to the context of how and what they choose.

Given the complexity of benefits, it’s important to use this context to inform decisions instead of leaving employees to wander the decision-making landscape without any meaningful frame of reference.

Benefits aren’t going to get any simpler as employers expand their programs to meet emerging objectives around recruitment and retention, and in the face of an increasingly diverse multi-generation workforce. At the same time, employees are never going to be benefits experts, and we don’t need them to be. We just need them to have solid foundational knowledge, so they understand their choices and can use their benefits well.

As many employers begin ramping up for annual enrollment planning, stepping back and thinking about how employees will be making their decisions for 2020 makes sense. Are you providing realistic and useful guidance during the process that harnesses the one area that all employees are experts in—themselves?  

A personalized experience enables the employee to provide context around what they want so the system can return what they need.

This harnesses the underlying technology to do the heavy lifting. Plus, this type of intentional and personalized technology is what the consumer expects. They don’t intend—and they don’t want to—spend a lot of time shopping for benefits. This is where you come in.

Our MyChoicesm Recommendation Engine is a decision tool that cuts through the jargon and technical details to capture employees’ situation and state of mind and offer personalized benefits guidance. 

Want to learn more? Download our recent insights report for more in-depth analysis. 

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View all Posts by Bridget Mortland