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The Key to Better Retirement Plan Service: The Digital Experience

Client Services

Angela TrefethenAs technology and corporate work cultures have evolved, telecommuting, hybrid, and flexible work schedules have become a reality for today’s employers and their workforces. However, the concept of being able to work from anywhere, anytime, is only as good as the digital experience.

For retirement plan advisors, the intersection between technology and client service has never been more important. It is clear that an intuitive digital experience is crucial to success. Clean data, combined with regular communication that provides easy access to everything plan sponsors need at their fingertips, results in a positive customer experience and outcomes.

The digital experience allows businesses to meet their customers where they are in a way that is convenient for them. To better support your clients, and provide a better experience for their participants, advisors should seek retirement plan providers who offer a seamless and robust digital experience. For the plan sponsor, the digital experience should provide clean and accurate data and omnichannel communications.

The Importance of Clean Data

Having accurate participant information, including start dates, hours worked, compensation, contribution amounts, rehire dates, and more, is essential. Information accuracy is most important for reporting and testing, accurate vesting, annual census and for supporting healthy plan administration to avoid potential penalties assessed for fiduciary failures.

Because retirement plans are complex and run on massive amounts of participant information, choosing a provider who can manage the integrity of the information is paramount. Identifying data management errors can, for example, prevent money from going into plans by mistake due to employee ineligibility.

According to 2021 insights gathered through The Standard’s proprietary Participant Data Management technology, 60% of payroll files loaded through the system had at least one error or warning, accounting for a total of 2.7 million errors or warnings that were flagged by the software. A digital experience that eliminates outdated and incorrect material improves efficiencies and saves hours of time.

Omnichannel Communication is Essential

Having good, clean data is a great start to an excellent digital experience, but helping plan sponsors access it when and how they want it is equally important to the customer experience. At The Standard, we understand that just because we build it, doesn’t mean people will use it. In other words, individuals have varying communication and learning styles, thus there is not “one right way” to communicate with plan sponsors. This is why it is important to continually inform clients and participants throughout the year and build that into the user experience.

Omnichannel communication in which plan sponsors get the information they need through their preferred communication channel (i.e., text, email, website, newsletters, video conferences, etc.) is essential in developing stellar client relationships. While you may be having more in-person meetings again, the continued flexibility of remote work requires that you also handle more plan management activities virtually, further increasing the importance of a reliable digital experience.

Alerting plan sponsors of new resources through omnichannel outreach is the first step in keeping them up to date. Making it easily accessible and digestible is the next step.

  • Service deliverables should be published online for easy access and quick answers that customers can find whenever needed and in their own time.
  • The website should be easy to navigate to gather critical information when needed.
  • Videos should be available to help plan sponsors absorb more information, faster.

Great Customer Relationships Require a Human Connection

Digital tools and resources are only helpful if plan sponsors, and participants actually use them. Regularly “nudging” clients to let them know what is available and where, as well as providing help when needed leads to successful client relations. Optimal communication includes taking a community (or holistic) approach that includes and encourages everyone who has touch points with plan sponsors — relationship managers, sales representatives, marketing teams, account managers — to journey with clients walking through online features taking them directly to valuable information for their ease to do it on their own the next time.

The client experience revolves around the relationship and the relationship revolves around the digital experience. While technology has augmented the way we work, it cannot completely replace the human connection or partnership. And, while meeting in person is not always possible, finding other ways to personally connect in a digital environment is as important as ever.

Combining the human connection with a stellar digital experience that helps plan sponsors transmit clean data and access resources quickly is the secret sauce for lasting client relationships and better outcomes for retirement plan participants.

Angela Trefethen is Senior Director of Plan Services and a registered representative of StanCorp Equities, Inc. at The Standard.