Though this used to mainly fall within HR’s purview, marketing departments are increasingly involved in shaping communications. There are a few reasons behind this change, among them the need to improve employee retention rates as unemployment increases, and the recognition that a healthy company culture can go a long way in shaping a good customer experience and creating persuasive, employee brand advocates.
Jellyvision, a software company, helps market a company’s benefits (health, dental etc…) internally. Naturally, that requires a pretty good handle on effective, employee communications. Bob Armour, CMO, has picked up a few tricks on effective, employee engagement, and in this interview, shares his thoughts on crafting a focused strategy, multi-touch campaigns, clear metrics, and user-friendly tech. Check out some highlights, below.
What makes it difficult for companies to engage with their employees well?
There’s a thing called the curse of knowledge. We all suffer from being experts in whatever we’re experts in. In the case of our clients, who we’re trying to help and provide the software too, these are HR professionals and HR is awash with all sorts of shortenings, jargon—and they don’t even know that they’re doing it. Back to the communication aspect of it: you need to be aware that you are a victim to the curse of knowledge. This basically says that you, as an expert, cannot really explain something to a beginner very easily, because you think about all of the nooks and crannies and notches of the thing that you know really well, where the beginner usually doesn’t need to understand all that most of the time.
What does it take to communicate effectively with employees?
Jellyvision has software that we create called Alex, and Alex talks to the users. So, it’s talking to the people at the companies and asking them questions about their demographics, their needs, and so forth. And one of the key things that is important is that we create the illusion that there is someone, in this case Alex, listening behind the screen to what’s important, and reacting in very human ways. This is not a computer voice. This is an actual voice, a person who has little intonations. It feels human. I think the number one thing is: to really communicate, you really need to present that you’re listening and that you’re reacting like a human being would react.
Can you talk about customizing the responses and keeping them light?
I think part of communicating effectively, which is what Alex does, is to spirit away the jargon associated with health care and health care insurance. It’s not like people wake up and are like, “wow I can’t wait to really understand my health care benefits today, or my 401k”, or whatever it is. But they are important aspects of a person’s compensation and they need to make the right decisions. And part of making the right decision is understanding what you’re talking about. Alex, our software, strips that all out and makes it very easy for someone to understand it and then make the right decision. And, again, nobody wants to become an expert—at least it’s our belief—nobody wants to become an expert on this stuff. They just want to pick their health care plan, get on with their life, and watch some Black Mirror on Netflix.
Alex gets personified by our employers, their employees and in the form of cut-outs, to all sorts of fun stuff to try to get their attention. But the most important thing is when somebody uses it, they typically tell their colleagues, “Hey this was a great experience and you should use it because it saved X dollars when I was on the wrong plan and I ended up on the right plan.” And part of that, the activation and retention, is it’s a different experience. There’s humor in it. There are moments where the animation makes you really understand what’s going on. And I’ll tell you a little side note, Drew. Alex, the software, has received six marriage proposals from users. They say something like, “finally someone that really listens to me—is Alex married? I’d like to marry him.” It’s that kind of connection, and that goes beyond just the software. It’s weird, in a sense, but it really makes an impact and we feel good because it helps people make decisions about stuff that cost thousands of dollars.
What do you do to actually ensure the software gets in front of employees?
We spend a lot of time with our clients making sure that they are marketing our stuff to their employees in the way that’s going to get their employees to use the software.
There are pre-written e-mails and all sorts of collateral and then we try to help them with content around “what is effective communication”. It is about making sure that you’re referencing “what’s in it for me” for the user. For the employees, typically making sure you’re doing the right thing, or saving the most money, or getting what’s right for your family—that’s a little more important than just, “Hey, sign up for your benefits”.
What do you do with a company’s HR staff to prepare them to communicate? Any prep work?
We do a lot of work around again helping these HR professionals become marketers. What goes into creating a motivating message? I would argue there are two things that motivate people: love or fear. So how do you motivate your employees using love—love of their families, love of saving money—or fear of making the wrong choice. How do you use that to then craft a message around what you’re trying to do? Then, they actually pay attention. Again—nobody loves the last day when you have to pick your benefits. Nobody does. So how do you motivate those people to actually lean in to an experience that typically isn’t that great? And we try to make it really great!
When you work with a company, advising them on communication strategies, which companies usually perform well?
The companies that have done the best have taken advantage of all channels to market to their employees. They’ve gone beyond just the direct mail or email, to social marketing where they’ve created pages around an event and marketed there. They’ve done text-based marketing around their open enrollment for their insurance and they’ve put up collateral all over their physical office space to do it. The HR professionals who have taken a significant multi-channel approach—and a multi-channel approach that really focuses on millennials and how millennials are collecting information and sharing it—those are the ones that we see you get more than 100 percent of their employees, because they have multiple people coming back, multiple times.
How do you go about measuring success?
There are surveys that are done throughout the experience and then at the end of the experience. Our mantra is “be helpful” and our ultimate measurement is the scores on “was Alex [the bot] helpful to you and your experience?”—that rolls up to the kind of employer experience. We look at anything that we’ve done to help people move meaningfully into a better financial place. Did they choose a better plan? Did they put more money into a 401k? Did they put more money into their health savings account, because they understood it better? Those are super important to us.
Any final lessons to impart on effective communications?
The final thing I’d say: the feedback that your own employees can give to you in terms of crafting the message is crucial. We advise a lot of our clients to create internal focus groups of people from all walks of life inside their company, whether it’s people on the factory floor, people at desks or people out in the field—run the messaging by them. Get them to give you the input that you need, to figure out whether this has jargon in it, whether it’s confusing, whether it’s not motivating. Whatever it is, talk to people who are going to cure you of your curse of knowledge.