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  • Karla Fruichantie

Tech or Touch: If it's ineffective, is the perceived efficiency of health tech actually efficient?

Using call centers for benefits programs or health promotion can be a convenient and efficient way for employees to access important health information and resources. However, there are several factors that can impact whether employees choose to use these services, including wait times, difficulties navigating the technology or call center, and a sense of connection to the coach or attendant.

Recent studies have confirmed that the average consumer would rather interact with a live agent than a robot. CustomerServ (2018) noted that, if offered a choice, 83% of consumers said they would prefer to speak to a real person since human agents better understand their needs (78%) and can address multiple questions at once (57%). Other studies have shown that even short wait times can reduce the likelihood of employees using call centers for benefits programs.

In addition to wait times, employees may be hesitant to use call centers for benefits programs because they perceive them as impersonal. This feeling likely runs even deeper when it comes to utilizing telephonic health coaching as there is no sense of the health coaching being familiar with the individual or the area where they live and work. It makes getting relevant and context-specific advice or recommendations more difficult.

Wellness industry benchmarking data from consulting forms such as WTW, Aon, and PwC show that only 12-17% of eligible employee populations engage in telephonic health coaching. For comparison, over a decade of data from across industries and various work environments shows that high-performing in-person health coaching programs can routinely engage 70-90% or more of eligible populations. In addition, a study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that employees who had access to in-person health coaching were more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as exercise and healthy eating, compared to those who received coaching over the phone. It’s not surprising when you consider how in-person coaching builds stronger relationships and allows for information to be more personalized and context-relevant.

These studies suggest that in-person contact can be more effective than call center services for benefits programs, particularly if the goal is to reach more people and shift more behaviors.

Our experience aligns with this data. At HBD International, our 25 years plus experience in providing tailored on-site health, wellbeing, and injury prevention programming has resulted in award-winning outcomes, including the highest sustained program engagement and measured population health outcomes in the industry.

The key is a core focus on making engagement and participation easy and relevant. On-site and in-person contact that meets people where they are and delivers perceived individual value makes a health promotion program more sustainable and more likely to achieve progressive change. With more consistent contact throughout the year employees remain more motivated and engaged in their own wellness journey.

With such significant contact across a population, health coaches can also act to help communicate and recommend other benefits that are relevant to individuals. Benefits navigation can be complex and generic communication and education is time consuming and only marginally effective due to campaign fatigue and lack of attention to parts that people perceive as less relevant.

Effective health coaching can help point and refer employees to the most relevant complementary programs that they may not otherwise have picked from generic benefits communication. This has been the experience from the 2022 C. Everett Koop National Health Award winning workplace health program at DENSO manufacturing. Within the program data published in the award application, DENSO showed that engagement in disease management programs was up to 25% higher in their population compared with those programs’ industry benchmarks. DENSO has telephonic benefits assistance available, but the increased utilization of complementary benefits is believed to have largely come from in-person health coaching referrals and encouragement.

This aligns with data from WTW 2019/2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (2020) which suggests that employees want their employers to provide assistance in actively guiding their benefits choices with 60% of North American respondents saying they want online or in person training, education, and communication of benefits programs. When looking at how different generations make decisions about their benefits, older generations appear to prefer doing their own research, whereas younger generations are actively seeking more input from others to help them make decisions.

There are many ways to offer employees health and benefits education and resources. Over the past decade there has been a significant shift to electronic and telephonic options, but it appears that employees seem to prefer more in-person communication and also that the in-person options can wield significantly better outcomes.

Want to learn how an on-site comprehensive health and wellbeing program gets better results? Contact us to learn about case studies or program examples from an industry or work environment similar to yours.


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