The right employee benefits consultant partners with you to remove obstacles and help simplify today’s complex benefit issues so that you can focus your core business objectives. The time you invest up front can pay off enormously if you find a consultant who understands your needs and can help you build a strategy around them.

The partner you choose could be one of the most critical business decisions you can make. Poor service and inconvenience could be the least of your problems if your consultant is a poor fit. Someone who doesn’t fully understand your needs could expose you to serious liability, put your benefits program in jeopardy, hurt employee relations – the list goes on.

Also see: Engagement levels tied to benefits understanding

The right fit depends on your specific goals and objectives. But, in general, exceptional employee benefits consultants will:   

  • Focus on overall value, rather than price. In other words, they look for the greatest “bang for your buck.” Beware of consultants who try to draw you in by flashing a low insurance quote or price of services – but in the end increase your overall benefits spend with inferior products and services. A consultant who focuses on overall value is more likely to help you manage costs while providing a high-quality solution.
  • Have a track record of delivering on their promises. The ability to distinguish between what consultants promise and what they can actually deliver is important. For example, some consultants will offer “me too” technology, which prompts you to check a box and assume you will receive a crucial resource. But watch out for technology or resources that are watered-down versions of more robust solutions. Many say they have experts in HR consulting – but what is behind that claim? Do their experts have law degrees? Are they on staff, or would you be directed to outside resources? Do they also offer in-house expertise for wellness programs, benefits technology, actuarial services and other critical areas? Ask questions to find out if they can really deliver on all of their promises.  
  • Always be looking long-term. Long-term strategic planning is essential. Find out if they have a reliable strategic process that suits your particular needs, and ask for proof. Consultants lacking in expertise or experience will often let the insurance company run the show – you don’t want that.
  • Make compliance a top priority. Healthcarereform, compliance and regulation are in the spotlight now more than ever for all employers – not just on the benefits side of the equation but also with Affordable Care Act reporting and many other responsibilities. Employers need a partner who can implement strategic planning that reflects current developments while being nimble enough to accommodate future changes.
  • Show that clients are willing to recommend them. Get real references and talk to their current customers. Another way to do this is toask to see their net promoter score. This is an overall client satisfaction rating that is obtained from third-party survey results. It gives you an objective evaluation of the team and agency you would be working with. A score of 50 or more is considered excellent, according to the Harvard Business Review.
  • Want to know how they are doing. Engaged consultant s request regular feedback from clients to make ongoing improvements. This should not just be informal questions they ask you, but regular anonymous feedback requested by their leadership team to ensure they are delivering on their promises.Ask to see third-party client evaluations to ensure your prospective partner is committed to improvement, rather than operating in a vacuum.   

When assessing potential partners, look for a sales and service process that is consultative, flexible and focused on the long term. This will empower your consultant to be a true advocate for your most critical goals and objectives.
Eric Nuytten, CEBS, REBC, is senior vice president and benefits practice group leader with
Associated Financial Group.

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