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Executive Perspectives: Q&A with Ana Perez

In this special edition focused on how to drive a consumer-grade benefits experience for employees and health plan members, our Chief Marketing Officer, Ana Perez, offers insights into how industry players can better connect with and engage today’s workforce.  

Q: Considering the macro trends impacting employers and health plans today, where do you think the benefits industry is heading within the next five years?  

A: Many of the trends and challenges impacting employers and health plans are the same ones they’ve been struggling with for years – increasing costs and complexity while at the same time a decrease in employee/member engagement with benefits and programs designed to help drive better health outcomes. While various players across the industry have long promised to be the silver bullet solution to these issues, none have proven to have the impact employers and health plans have hoped for.  

However, with technological advancements accelerating at an even faster pace, I believe that in the next five years we may finally experience the industry transformation we’ve all been waiting for. We’ve long talked about changing consumer expectations...they want the same experience they’ve become accustomed to in every other aspect of their lives to be their experience with benefits and even more broadly with health care.  That level of personalization and ease could soon be a reality.  

Q: In your estimation, where is the biggest opportunity for health plans?  

A: The biggest trend impacting health plans in the next five years is the growth of the individual market and with that growth, the need to continue to drive improvements in the member experience. Consumers are more overwhelmed than ever before, and they need help getting easier access to programs and services that can help them manage their health and wellbeing. Health plans already make a significant investment in programs to support them but struggle with a lack of engagement. If health plans are able to transform the experience, they’ll drive greater satisfaction, retention and ultimately better health outcomes for their members.  

Q: What issues are keeping benefits leaders up at night?  

A: The same issues they’ve been struggling with for years. They make a significant investment in benefit programs, but they fail to see the engagement and impact of these programs on their people and their bottom line. Meanwhile, benefit teams are drowning in the day-to-day administrative tasks with fewer resources, being charged with transforming the overall employee experience while managing the virtual vs. return to office debate. And, as if that weren’t enough, as technological advancements like artificial intelligence gain momentum, they also have to think through the potential impact on their role, their function and their organization. 

Q: How can employers best demonstrate the value of their benefits package to employees – and health plans to members? 

A: The biggest challenge when it comes to demonstrating the value of benefits is the fact that employers and health plans are competing with so much noise. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and people want only what’s relevant and interesting to them. That’s why social media apps like TikTok are so popular — they're really good at personalizing content for each individual AND the content is bite-sized. Employers and health plans must think about how to shift their communication strategies to align with how people want to consume information in today’s world.  

Q: What does the future of workplace benefits look like? 

A: The first word that comes to mind when I think about the future of workplace benefits is connected. Today, we still operate in silos – I make core benefit decisions separate from my ancillary benefit decisions, which are also separate from my retirement benefit decisions. However, we know that all of these decisions are interrelated. It’s time that we help people make smarter decisions across all of these dimensions if we truly want to support them holistically.  

Q: Many employers are gearing up for open enrollment. Are there any marketing trends that benefits managers can use in their communications?  

A: Again, I would like to see employers rethink traditional benefit communications and test out new approaches based on what works with consumers more broadly. Obviously, they need to be mindful of their various audiences and their preferences, but they should challenge conventional thinking and be willing to take some risks to see what works vs. continuing to do the same things year after year. 

One example is to try reaching employees via mobile or social channels you may not have used to connect with them before. Plus, using both online and offline communication channels ensures you reach employees where they are, whether that’s working from home or at a worksite. 

Q: HR tech marketers like you need to appeal to a variety of audiences with varying levels of understanding around benefits administration topics. How is this similar to our customers’ efforts to engage a diverse workforce or member base? 

A: It’s a very similar challenge. Often, when we try to communicate to a broad audience it’s easy to “water down” your message and in doing so minimize the impact. That's one of the things that’s most exciting about how technology is evolving. We can now do a better job of targeting individuals with personalized messages and educational materials that are relevant to their specific needs, interests, preferences and even level of benefits literacy.  

Q: What's one piece of advice you can give to benefits teams about resonating with today’s employees and plan members? 

A: Know your audience. It’s truly foundational for any marketing/communications initiative. We often think we know what people need or how they want to communicate but the world is constantly changing and people can adapt pretty quickly. It’s important we stay close to our key audiences as we build out communication programs. And it really doesn’t require much to keep a pulse on employees/members – leverage employee resource groups, organize small focus groups or initiate a small task force to be your eyes and ears on the ground. Regularly surveying employees to gauge their needs and preferences is also helpful and can reveal new ideas. 

Q: What can be done to help support a more educated and empowered health care consumer? 

A: A few things come to mind. First, it’s about meeting individuals where they are. Again, I would encourage employers to better understand how their employees want to engage with information – which channels do they prefer, what’s the ideal length of any given information, for example.  

Second, we need to use familiar language and relevant examples vs. using benefits jargon. I remember many years ago when I personally was enrolling in benefits and trying to decide between a HDHP and a PPO. It wasn’t until a co-worker explained the options to me in very simple terms that I felt comfortable making my decision.  

Finally, have different educational and communication pieces that align with employees’ various stages of understanding. For instance, have a “What’s the difference between an HSA and an FSA” piece as well as a “How to invest in your HSA.” This makes it easier for employees to digest the concepts and perhaps not get overwhelmed with information overload. 

Q: Technology innovation is a hot topic that audiences want to hear about and potentially investigate. How can industry players balance the need for innovation – such as AI in HR – and the need to focus on solving challenges the here and now? 

A: It's very easy to get excited about new technology but it’s critical to always make sure you’re clear on the problem you're trying to solve and the person you’re trying to solve it for. While we, as benefits professionals, may live in this world every day, but our customers' employees and health plan members may not. That’s why it’s important to not get caught up in “shiny object syndrome.” Taking a thoughtful, measured approach will help ensure that the ideas or solutions being introduced are purposeful, relevant and easy to understand.