“It’s enrollment season again. Did you file your paperwork yet?”

“I cannot tell the difference between plans, except for how much it is going to cost me.”

“Tell me about it. I try to get answers from our HR department, but I am not getting anywhere. I have to fend for myself…”

“Yeah, now we have to use an app to get answers, but no one understands me when I have questions about my plan.”

Stop me if you've heard this conversation in your office hallways or around the water cooler.

HR Meets DX

Chances are you have heard a derivative of this conversation somewhere within your company, and it’s unfortunate. Despite all of our best intentions, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to businesses that require human interaction — which is all of them, right?

Yet, we’re seeing the human resources (HR) and employee benefits arenas as testing grounds to bring digital experiences that (these companies hope) are enjoyable ones.

Some of you might be familiar with Zenefits, one of Silicon Valley’s darlings that helps automate the human resources and employee benefits processes.

Last week, the company’s CEO stepped down after stories about compliance issues, licensing problems and a host of other issues reared their ugly head. Speaking with some insurance brokers, I learned that they have seen customers start with Zenefits, but go back to a traditional insurance/benefits company because the level of human interaction left employees guessing.

So when is it right to use technology, and when is right to put people back into the mix? In my perspective, apps need to strike the balance so that employees, companies can be more productive.

People Make the Difference

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Julien Emery, the co-founder and CEO of Allay, who embraces the ideals of what makes the technology side and human side tick.

The company started at the end of 2014, and their model is similar to other companies in the human resources space in that they seek to automate many of the processes that business owners need for their business.

But Allay promotes the human interaction as well, recognizing a smart person can make the difference for a company as much as any good technology.

“Many carriers know they don’t create a good experience, because they don’t think of themselves as a B2C (business-to-consumer) provider,” he told me. “There are a lot of moving parts with benefits to address what a plan actually means. Every single step of the way, a person should not have confusion about what they need to do with their benefits.”

Emery reinforced this “lack of confusion” by highlighting some steps in the process that he feels should be assumed, but are not often carried out.

  • “If an employee picks a plan, plan options should be super clear.”
  • “If that employee is enrolling in a plan, it should be simple to do.”
  • “If not, the right help should be available.”

A Challenging Space

To be sure, Allay, Zenefits and others like them seek to help the HR departments of the world do their jobs better.

Emery shared a stat that there are 1.3 HR people for every 100 employees in the United States (if you’re a small business owner, you wear an HR hat in addition to others you wear), and that companies are empowering their employee base to help the process along.

But listening to Emery talk about his company reinforces the balance between technology and human interactions.

“We are not trying to remove the human element,” he said, “but we are trying to be more intuitive. We need to help the employee understand what they are getting.”

That, my friends, is what makes Allay different, and what I hope makes them stand apart as they grow their business.

I would bet all of your companies have HR departments who, if we asked them, wouldn’t mind having some extra help.

But HR and employee benefits have “human” and “employee” in their names for a reason. Let’s not forget those people as well — and let’s give them the right help so that companies can be productive at all levels of an organization.

Title image "escape" (CC BY 2.0) by Georg K