Friday, September 26, 2008

Wish You Were Here: Harris Teeter gets tough for top-notch benefit communication

When Harris Teeter, a 175 store, 20,000 employee grocery chain in the southeastern United States, was charged with revamping their existing benefit communications, benefit manager Kerri Simmons turned to an innovative telephonic system to put into practice the principal that people learn best when they listen and participate at the same time.

In 2005-2006, Simmons says that they were offering a great benefit package but not engaging employees because many didn’t understand their packages. The paper-based system was a nightmare for HR, who keyed in as many as 6,500 different paper enrollment choices each year.

Simmons knew there was a better way – she wanted real-time tracking of employee issues, a streamlined enrollment process, and sought a way to engage her employee population at the same time. Hopefully, this would control costs, streamline the HR function, and show a rise in voluntary benefit offerings as well.

After extensive research, Simmons turned to a telephonic based benefits enrollment company that would allow her employees to call in on their own time to walk through benefit enrollments. Extensive mailings notified employees that enrollment for 2006 was mandatory even if they already were receiving company benefits. Every employee was given a paper enrollment booklet, which walked, screen-by-screen, though their enrollment processes. Fill-in-the-blank style, a specially trained telephone coach would walk employees through the benefit selection process, stopping to offer cost comparisons, benefit explanations, and even discuss plan options for each participant.

Over 95% of employees participated through call-ins during the first year, and the additional 5% were targeted though a “if you don’t call us, we call you” backup plan.

In the first year, Harris Teeter saw a 39% enrollment in voluntary benefits and reduced turnover to seven percent.

When asked what the biggest benefits were, Simmons had three simple words- “Cost savings. Huge.” But the biggest benefit of all, she says, was the lack of “noise in January.” Employees finally understood their benefits and fully began to appreciate the package Harris Teeter offered. “It’s amazing how many employees didn’t know we had a company life insurance policy,” she says. “We were heroes after that.”

For more information on Harris Teeter’s policies, look for the Benefits Communication feature in the November 1 issue of Employee Benefit News.

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