Today’s Experience Economy: How a Strategic Approach to Benefits Will Help Your Company Thrive

Customers have endless choice. And no matter what business you’re in, all business is people business.

 

When customers are choosing products or services in a vast sea of sameness, one thing can make a company become a preferred choice: delivering a remarkable customer experience. Research shows that “more than two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge in the market is based on the experience they deliver to their customers.”Display footnote number:1

 

Who delivers that remarkable experience? Your employees. We know the best customer experiences are delivered by genuinely happy, engaged employees who go above and beyond to make each customer’s experience memorable and special. These employees provide authentic, personalized interactions with your customers that are never contrived.

 

Do You Believe Your Customers’ Experience Will Ever Exceed Your Employees’ Experience?

An employee’s experience starts before they are even hired. It begins the moment a potential hire reads the job posting and website, steps into your workplace, and interacts with your people. Whether you intend it or not, each prospect evaluates the very foundation of what their employee experience will be, and that foundation is the culture and values of your company.

 

The primary objective of investing in benefits and pension plans is usually to attract and retain talent. However, too often employers look at benefits and pension plans as boxes to check. If that’s your company’s approach, the plans you have in place are likely meeting only the most basic expectations and are certainly not providing an exceptional experience for your employees. Worse, they could be creating unintended negative consequences.

 

Do you want your employees to rate their benefits and pension experience as merely meeting expectations? Are you serving your customers any better?

 

If you are just meeting expectations, it’s time to consider three questions.

 

Question #1: Are We Investing in the Right Elements of Our Plans?

To have a meaningful impact on recruitment and retention, your benefits and pension program must directly align with your company’s mission, values and your workplace culture. When you take a holistic view and identify all costs incurred that are related to the engagement, health and wellness of employees, you will realize the importance of investing strategically in your benefits program to maximize the employee experience.

 

In an effort to improve engagement and create a sense of belonging, security and contribution for their teams, employers often organize social events, buy company-branded gear and have a benefits and pension program. The problem with this approach is that the decisions are not coordinated. Many employers do not take a holistic view of the employee experience.

 

For example, if your company promotes a family-friendly corporate culture, do you invite children to your Christmas party? Do you offer flexibility for parents who are supporting their children’s school and other activities? Do your benefits include orthodontic coverage for children? Have you provided access to virtual health care? Do you have a robust Employee Family Assistance Plan?

 

Every company should have clear, written core values that are communicated to every employee. But if your total rewards strategy does not reflect those core values, it is hindering, not helping.

 

Your plans must be intentionally designed in a way that is transparent and valued by employees. When we treat employees like customers and listen to what they want we can remove frustrations and invest in areas that are meaningful.

 

Pause and Reflect

  • How would our employees describe our company culture? Is their response what we intended?
  • What is our total rewards philosophy? Does it align with our values?
  • What is our desired position in the marketplace? Is there a gap between that and where we are?
  • How do we differentiate our total rewards package from the competition’s? Is it meaningful?
  • How do we create a better employee experience? Do our employees agree?

TIP: Review, reflect, discuss and debate your answers to these questions annually. Just as the economy shifts and the culture of your business evolves with the changing demographics and dynamics of your workforce, your benefits and total rewards package should adapt and evolve through regular strategic review.

 

Question #2: Do We Appreciate the Link Between Health, Finances and Benefits?

Smart employers recognize this link and invest in it. According to a Manulife/Ipsos Reid Health and Wellness Study, “60% of the financially unprepared delayed or didn’t obtain various services aimed to improve their health due to financial constraints.” In contrast, “the financially prepared reveal they’re more than twice as likely as the unprepared to have a strategy to manage and maintain their health.”Display footnote number:2

 

If financial unpreparedness is a significant source of stress and those who are financially prepared are more likely to maintain their health, then how can we not consider financial health as part of our total rewards strategy? And how does all of this affect you as an HR professional?

In the short term, cash advances, use of sick days, absenteeism, decreased productivity and disengagement are some results of poor financial health.

 

In the long term, consequences can include delayed retirement. Health care needs are rising, as is the probability of a disability. If employees are not financially prepared for retirement and they need to keep working, rather than wanting to, what is the cost to the business?

 

Research shows that a comprehensive financial education program can demonstrate a three-to-one return on investment for your business.Display footnote number:3

 

As defined by Canada’s Task Force on Financial Literacy, financial literacy means having the “knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions” — in other words, being able to understand and apply financial knowledge and being self-assured enough to make important decisions in the context of your own situation.Display footnote number:4 Does your company provide employees with the necessary financial literacy education?

 

Think about the incredible impact of providing the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enable your employees to make responsible financial decisions.

 

“Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”

When we offer pay increases, more benefits, more generous contributions to group retirement plans, more dollars in health and wellness accounts, we provide food for a day. Investing in financial education and improving employees’ financial literacy has a lifetime impact. How do employees work when they are empowered, feel secure and have peace of mind about their financial future? What experience will that employee provide to your customers?

Question #3: Do We Obsess and Invest to Solve Employee Frustrations?

Do we obsess about our customers’ experiences? Do we find the areas of dissatisfaction and invest to resolve them? Do we apply that same rigour to our employees’ experience?

 

Remember Blockbuster? How you felt when you found the movie you wanted and it was actually available to rent? But remember how you felt about the annoying late fees? You might provide a variety of benefits, but do they have deductibles, restrictions or low maximums that annoy your employees?

 

Do you remember looking forward to the Sears catalogue and finding the perfect item but dreading the lengthy buying process? How do you enrol employees in their benefits and pension plans? Do you provide a 47-page booklet for them to read? Or do you eliminate the paperwork, educate them on the advantages of the online experience and show them how to make electronic claims and access helpful information on their benefits and claims history?

 

Let’s next consider the plan design decisions we make. We often make them with the best intentions, but sometimes we forget to consult the people the decisions affect. Getting feedback and insight from employees, whether through focus groups, formal surveys or one-on-one conversations can provide great insights before you invest time, money, energy and resources in expanding or changing your benefits program or developing new initiatives.

 

“If it’s about me, ask me!”

Employers are sometimes quick to reduce benefits coverage to address rising costs. But that decision is often made at the management level, without input from employees.

According to the 2019 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, 53 per cent of plan members would be interested in paying more out of pocket for extra coverage.Display footnote number:5

 

Continuous communication with your employees about benefits is critical. Having an employee meeting to review benefits every few years is not enough. Providing bite-size benefits tips regularly through internal communications helps to educate employees, increases their understanding of their benefits and minimizes frustration. Keeping this information top of mind gives employees peace of mind that they can maintain desired levels of health and that they will be taken care of if the unexpected occurs, and it provides a deeper appreciation and understanding for the value of the program.

 

In today’s experience economy, we have a choice in how we do business. What will yours be? Business as usual drifting in the sea of sameness? Or will you chart your own destination, obsess and invest in your employees’ experience, and become the preferred customer choice?

 

Andrea Hansen is a partner at Sutton Benefits & Pension. She is a recognized educator, writer, speaker and benefits advisor with over 20 years of experience. She helps build and manage compelling customized group benefit and pension strategies for growing businesses, helping them find the right combination of benefits to protect, support and optimize their employees’ health and well-being. To request a copy of her latest special report, Top 7 Mistakes Employers Make with Group Benefits & Pension Plan Decisions, visit www.bizadv.ca/top-7-mistakes-employers-make-with-group-benefits-pension-plan-decisions/ or contact .