Using artificial intelligence for the employee benefits journey

Many people feel uncomfortable with using artificial intelligence (AI), since it tends to conjure up Hollywood ideas of robots gone rogue rather than simple technical conveniences we use every day to make our lives easier. A recent study by Pega indicated that although just 33% of users say they regularly interact with AI, the reality is more than double that (77%) do so.

For example, when your credit card company flags a suspicious transaction—that’s AI. When you tell Alexa to play music, ask Siri to look up the local pharmacy’s hours, or search through Netflix recommendations that are “just for you”—that’s AI, too. With 85% of U.S. adults owning a smart phone or device (more than 95% among those ages 18-49), most employees are ready—or even expect—to interact with AI to select and activate their benefits plans.

Essentially, AI is part of our everyday lives, and it’s time to put it to work for HR to help guide employees on their journey from benefits selection to benefits activation.

Picking plans gets personal

This time of year, it’s easy to get tunnel vision on annual enrollment, literally counting down the number of days employees have left to select their plans like it’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square. And while that is certainly key to a successful enrollment season, perhaps part of the reason more than 90% of employees select the same plans year over year is because they, too, get caught up in playing “beat the clock.”

That’s where AI can come in; it can help speed up your team’s efficiency during enrollment while helping employees slow down long enough to truly consider and weigh their plan options. At Businessolver, we use AI to help employees select and manage their benefits. Tools such as the MyChoice® Recommendation Engine can quickly analyze employee responses to a brief series of questions—based on risk tolerance, financial preparedness, and overall health—to recommend a best-fit benefits package. Such tools can walk employees through their benefits decisions—in minutes, rather than the hour they would likely need to spend one-on-one to reach the same result.

In addition, a virtual benefits assistant can help answer user questions throughout the benefits journey. If a user comes to a word they don’t understand, they can simply ask a virtual assistant to define it. If they want to review their prior coverage, that information can be retrieved in seconds. If they want to double-check whether an HSA will cover orthodontics before they make their annual election, they can not only find an answer, but more context.

Using AI in this way creates a richer, more personalized enrollment experience—ironically, without ever interacting with a person. An Accenture study finds that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience.

One HR team, no matter how big or small, cannot possibly know and answer each situation in a timely manner. They definitely would not have resources to get out in front of health issues before they became larger health events. But an omni-channel approach to communications—through email, live reps, online portal, mobile app, virtual assistant interactions, and decision support tools—powered by claims data and timely AI-enabled communications driving behaviors, can drive these better outcomes. Managing those channels may feel a little overwhelming, but it’s all part of the personalized ecosystem, fueled by AI, to do that lift for you.

Personalization can look like amplifying point solutions through omni-channel communications, claims-based indicators nudging an employee toward a physical or mammogram or providing reminders to file claims for accident or hospital indemnity plans, or providing the tools to find cost-effective, quality care easily—all within a single platform.

Aggregate analytics still matter, though

On the employer side, the analytics that can be reported out of those functions is also powerful. Employers can drill down into any data collected, from understanding the percentage of employees who would feel stressed about an unexpected ER visit to how many questions were asked about dental coverage.

This kind of data on the back end is where AI can inform benefits communication messaging and influence benefits strategy planning. With data collected and reviewed at an aggregate level, you can see clear, overall pictures of your overall employee population or a specific demographic.

Activation matters, too

And although it would be a huge relief, the work doesn’t end once employees have elected a health plan, possibly made an FSA or HSA election, and clicked on their preferred level of life insurance. How do they connect the dots between those elections and using them in their real lives?

A 2021 Voya study finds two-thirds of employees (66%) want their employer to help them better understand their benefits year-round, not just at annual enrollment. Plus, nearly three-quarters (73%) want support and guidance tools to help them understand how to save for health care, retirement, and emergencies.

But your team can barely handle all the employee questions during annual enrollment, let alone all year, right? That’s why AI tools developed specifically for benefits assistance, are just as important for that year-round engagement that is key for benefits uptake. It’s also why she never takes a day off. Employees don’t know what they don’t know, AI can be an amazing conduit to connect an employee with a need to the benefit programs that are built to support them.

Having this kind of 24/7 assistance available is imperative in today’s diverse and dispersed workplaces.

As benefits get more complicated, with more specialized solutions, employee benefits as a one-size-fits-all enrollment event is giving way to a personalized, year-round experience. AI can streamline and target benefits engagement to bring your organization’s benefits future into today.

Sony Sung-Chu is an applied data science head at Businessolver based in West Des Moines, Iowa.