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How to create vendor harmony and enable partner collaboration

Marianne Holt, Client Success Director at Collective Health, explains how to manage a growing mix of health plan vendors and partners.


By Marianne Holt, Director of Benefits Innovation

In an era of abundance, more choice for benefits leaders can often mean more complexity.

From fertility services to chronic disease management, new benefits solutions are coming to market each year. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and once decisions are made on what to implement, then comes the real hard part: Overseeing an ecosystem of different vendor partners. I’ve been there, and I know firsthand the challenges it presents as your company grows. From day-to-day administrative tasks to employee education, managing an array of partners is difficult, and that difficulty only compounds when they are operating in silos.

It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t be. You should feel empowered over your benefits offerings and your ability to ensure they’re working together to help your team achieve its goals.

What are some typical problems that arise as a company’s vendor mix grows?

Every company and benefits team is different, but in my experience, there are a set of core responsibilities that any benefits team will need to manage—and which become increasingly challenging as you add new partners. I’d boil it down to four key areas:

  • Strategy and planning: A benefits strategy will have a greater mission than what a single benefit or vendor has to offer, yet historically, most benefits teams are having separate planning and review meetings on a one-off basis. If there is no strategic planning across your partner mix, it’ll be difficult to understand if you have the right programs in place.
  • Administrative work: Managing & troubleshooting eligibility feeds, invoice payments, resolving employee inquiries… the list goes on.
  • Account team management: On average, many account teams now have at least five different contacts. The best account teams are an extension of your internal team, but even then, multiple teams can be difficult to manage concurrently.
  • Employee education and engagement: It’s important your employees understand and are satisfied with the program that you’ve pulled together for them. This can require a lot of time on email communications, intranet development and updates, and more.

Without cohesion, these responsibilities can quickly become pain points that lead to inefficiencies in how benefit teams spend their time and effectively manage their entire benefits strategy. So what can you be doing as a benefits leader? Let’s start with the basics…

The non-negotiables

Total collaboration begins with ensuring that your partners have shown a willingness to understand your team’s goals. At a minimum, they should be aware of all the solutions you have in place so that they can think more holistically about program strategies. Here are a couple of partner commitments I’d consider table stakes:

  • Real-time reporting: Technology allows for almost everything to happen in real-time, so there’s no longer an excuse for delayed reporting. Whether it’s metrics on employee usage or the delivery of employee feedback—good or bad—it’s important that you’re receiving this information early and often. You can figure out a cadence that works for you, but it should be regular enough that it’ll help avoid any surprises at renewal time.
  • Proactive Customer Success (CS) teams: CS should be seen as a thought partner, not just as a support team to reactively manage issues when they arise. They should act and operate as an extension of your team. If possible, they should offer to come on-site to understand your needs and the culture of the company so that they’re always one step ahead of you.

Ideas for deeper partner alignment

Holding partners accountable to these commitments should help you not only better manage your benefits but also plan more proactively throughout the year. However, you can go deeper on partner alignment to truly make sure that you are all working together. A couple ideas:

  • Consolidated planning: Vendors and benefits leaders should have two shared goals: (1) help employees and their families get the right benefits to manage their health and wellness and (2) help your team understand its benefits ROI. That means there needs to be more of a cross-pollination of strategies to make that happen. And to me, this involves getting partners to communicate so that we are all able to achieve the ultimate outcome of healthier employees that feel 100% supported throughout their journey. One idea: Host a vendor summit, which could involve an annual or bi-annual gathering of partners at your office to discuss ideas around shared planning, metrics, and goals.
  • Holistic employee communications: Employees today are more informed than ever about the world around them. Therefore, it’s important that they not only understand the benefits they have but understand when that benefit is relevant in their journey. This involves a mix of creative communication tactics as well as alignment. For example, consider a joint welcome email from key partners explaining the value of their respective solutions. Make it timely, concise, and with clear steps as to how people can have their follow-up inquiries addressed with each. Additionally, customer support teams from different partners should understand the other relevant benefits that you provide so they can mention and/or make a warm transfer when appropriate.
  • Outsource through technology: There are two different approaches to this. You can rely on different vendors to solve for different areas or you can consolidate through one solution that brings it all together for you. This is where Collective Health adds value, as we bring all of a company’s health insurance plans—medical, dental, vision—together as well as other programs around digital health, clinical support, and more. This not only eases the administrative burden and allows for more streamlined employee engagement but also allows for more consolidated insights into your benefits programs.

If you’d like to learn more about Collective Health, we’d love to hear from you.

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