From increasing involvement and understanding of benefits during the open enrollment process to guiding a plan participant through a wellness program, interactive technology is becoming an ever more important and prominent part of the employee benefits communication package.

We spoke with Dennis McGuire, CEO of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based technology developer CodeBaby, about innovations that are allowing these fully customizable programs to effectively engage more employees than ever before.

The company’s CodeBaby Suite program provides a mix of solutions that allow for a flexible experience within each area of a company’s website or benefit portal. The company behind MetLife’s Amy Helper avatar, CodeBaby specializes in knowledge-based interaction capabilities ranging from text to text (such as a question and answer dialogue box) to interactive 2-D or 3-D characters.

What’s the market for such a product, and how does it work?

We’re seeing a lot of momentum from this. Some [companies] refer to it as a guided tour where you’re being hosted through the site. We like to refer to it as the idea of a concierge. We try and build this model that represents a bi-directional experience where the character is communicating and you’re requesting additional information.

What’s the benefit to employers?

From an employer perspective you have varying education levels, requirement levels. One of the key things we’re able to do with our characters is we’re very in tune when we’re setting up an experience to make sure that each character’s voice and the emotional state of our characters matches where someone is on the site.

So if you’re online and maybe interacting with a wellness program because you just got back from the doctor and he told you, ‘you’ve got high blood pressure, you need to make some lifestyle changes,’ we’re not going to have this exuberant, excited character. We’re going to have a very empathetic character who can guide you through learning more about some of the diet requirements; some of the exercise things that you might want to consider to help manage your blood pressure, et cetera, et cetera.

What about for the carriers?

The carriers, it’s more about the marketing education and conversion model regarding their plans and what Plan A looks like versus Plan B, and based on your democratic attributes which one might be the best fit for you whether you have kids, no kids, are married or are single.

What role do you expect such technology to play in health exchanges?

With [health reform] we’re seeing a huge amount of interest regarding using our characters in the different exchanges that these different carriers are starting to implement. We’re seeing a lot of momentum across the Blue Cross Blue Shield networks from a customer service perspective, but the whole exchange thing is really taking off really quickly for us. We think we’re just on the very fringe of it taking off, and the next 18 months are going to be a whirlwind for us.

This whole challenge where this industry is having to learn how to market one-to-one versus just worrying about the large group plans is really a huge opportunity for us.

How does CodeBaby fit into existing systems?

If you have an online employee database that we can hook into to see key data based on the subject matter they’re showing interest in we can come back with a very customized experience for that employee based on those demographics. So it does create a higher touch, a much better experience that’s relevant to that person based on their attributes instead of just having this one-size-fits-all solution.

We have a very thin integration model where we conceptually sit on top of a website like a transparency. … So there’s no need for huge IT investments to implement our capabilities.

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