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When you think about streamlining business processes, what comes to mind?

Better collaboration between sales and marketing? Better alignment between legal and research and development?

There’s no doubt there’s a lot that can be improved to facilitate better communication, collaboration and analysis within the business environment. But one area that seems to get overlooked is human resources and benefits.

Human Resources is Employee Engagement 

It gets overlooked because no one enjoys the benefits experience. Think about the last time you needed to update paperwork, choose a new insurance plan or set up your retirement portfolio — it wasn’t enjoyable, was it? In fact, it probably wasted a lot of your time.

Before I continue, I know what you’re thinking —  “This isn’t a human resources magazine. Why are you talking about this? What does it have to do with customer experience or social business or information management?” A-ha! Exactly. Human resources has EVERYTHING to do with customer experience, social business and information management, among other things, like employee engagement.

Recently I spoke with Chris Wakely of Thomsons Online Benefits to better understand how companies can optimize the benefits experience. He should know. Thomsons' premier benefits management software, Darwin is a cloud-based global benefits management and employee engagement platform, used by some of the world’s most innovative companies.As it turns out you can apply the same brand marketing strategies targeted towards customers to employees. It’s fairly obvious when you think about it, but apparently not obvious enough or more company’s human resources experience wouldn’t be as bad as they are.

5 Ways to Improve the Employee Experience 

Create a Holistic Employee Experience: The customer journey doesn’t start when the customer buys something. Rather, it starts when a customer has a need. Same is true for companies. They’re always on the lookout for skilled talent. Looking from the outside-in, many prospective employees have fantasies of what it must be like to work at the company. They may be wooed successfully during the hiring process, but as soon as they are hired and handed over to another department, it’s a different experience altogether. How can a company so successful at making and marketing their product to the masses, fail so miserably at engaging employees?

Instead, map out the strategy for successful employee engagement from the moment they are recruited (perhaps even before), interviewed, hired, managed and promoted by the company. You won’t get far, however, without the right processes in place. It’s important to understand all the information that is collected, shared and accessed along the way, as well as to understand where it lives and how it can be used to create a holistic, meaningful, and helpful experience for the employee.

Wakely says that some companies have even begun what they call “onboarding in a box.” Upon your first day, employees are given an iPad or a USB with clearly crafted and branded instructions on how to access the company intranet so they can get started with the “paperwork.”

Monitor Behaviors, Automate Outreach: Marketing automation is prevalent within most every company. It’s used to target customers based on their behaviors demonstrated within an email or online or through their mobile device. Successful companies are constantly monitoring and creating unique experiences for customers based on basic behaviors. Did you abandon your shopping cart? Not to worry, Nordstroms will send you an email to remind you. Download a white paper? Someone from the sales department will be following up with you on the phone. Companies do this -- not because it’s clever, but because it works at closing deals and making sales. So why not do it to improve the efficiency of open enrollment or increase employee giving?

Did you recently get married? Congratulations -- here’s an email reminding you that you might need to upgrade your insurance with a link to the system where you can make it happen. So much easier than having to ask ten people where the benefits office even is, right?

Wakely says that companies can put benefits automation to work by identifying the “hooks” that can generate these personalized, yet automated messages. Hooks can include anything from address change, promotions to marital or family changes and beyond.

Be Engaging & Genuine: You spend a lot of time carefully crafting the tone for your customer messaging. Everything from the packaging to the emails to the witty 404 error page. And yet, every employee inbox is littered with a cookie cutter form letter informing employees about the open enrollment period or your company’s corporate matching gift program. No wonder, open rates are abysmal, assuming you’re measuring them at all.

Not only is engaging content fun to read, but if you’re busy creating engaging content for customers but not for employees, it won’t take time for mistrust and cynicism to develop within the ranks. Employees will know it’s a sham. That funny, witty tone in which they write to customers -- it’s not real. And we know what happens to brands when the man behind the curtain is revealed. So why not be genuine?

Make it Mobile: The mobile workforce is growing. By 2015, the number of mobile workers across the globe will reach 1.3 billion. Many employees no longer sit in a cubicle; they’re at the corner coffee shop or on the airplane. They work in Japan or Brazil or somewhere in between. They can’t come down to the benefits office nor do they care when your office hours are. For them, filling out forms needs to be simply, mobile-friendly and convenient. And it’s not just your mobile workforce who needs it. Your average employee expects it. If they can online bank from their iPad or iPhone, they expect to be able to submit a change of address without an Act of Congress.

Be (Culturally) Appropriate: Just as the messaging you create for your global customers changes depending on where they live and their behaviors, so should they way you engage your global workforce. Be respectful of time zones, slang, and work-related attitudes, as well as cultural differences. The branding and general messaging can remain consistent, but if you’re targeting different employee audiences, it’s important to be aware and sensitive.

Create a Human Experience Inside and Out

At first glimpse, many of these tips are the same for engaging customers and are actively deployed and implemented by companies and brand worldwide. And yet, when it comes to the employee and the processes that are managed by human resources and benefits, hardly any of them are. 

It matters, more than you might think. The easier and more streamlined tasks become, word will spread. The same is true for the reverse. Chances are you knew what to expect from your company's HR departments before you even got there -- thanks to the moans and groans of your colleagues.

Like anything, improving the employee benefits experience won't happen over night. And it won't magically happen with the right technologies. In order for it work successfully, a company must strategically align its communications inside and out, across departments, contingents and devices.

Title image by Cartoon Resources (Shutterstock).