6 Tenets for Designing Online Annual Benefits Enrollment Experiences

April 1, 2012

There are a myriad of online user experiences and no shortage of agencies + consultancies that specialize in meeting the needs of users across the broad spectrum of user-experience design. Here at EatonGolden, we specialize in creating business and user-critical user experiences. We define critical experiences as online interactions that:

  • Require a great degree of user consideration
  • Are central to the success of the business
  • Cause a major headache when things go wrong

User experiences related to financial services, healthcare, or benefits administration fall into our definition of “critical user experiences.”

Ask anyone who has had to plead with Human Resources to correct a piece of information or make a selection after their open enrollment deadline, and they will confirm that Online Annual Benefits Enrollment is a critical user experience. In addition to being both business and user-critical, benefits enrollment is unique in that it occurs infrequently. When you only do something once a year, there’s a degree of unfamiliarity that you have to contend with, no matter how many consecutive years you’ve done it.

Over the last decade, we have learned that there are 6 tenets to keep in mind when designing a user experience that is both critical and infrequent, such as annual benefits enrollment. They are:

1. Tell me how long it will take. Clearly and accurately set expectations up front. When users are making decisions that impact their healthcare options for the entire year, they need to know how much time it is going to take to complete the process and what critical information they should have prepared prior to beginning. Please, please, please don’t assume that your users know their spouses social security number. If they’ll need that information to complete the process, you need to tell them at the outset.

2. Tell me where I am.  Clearly and accurately let them know where they are in the process. It’s human nature to put off the things we find difficult and stressful. Even if you happen to be part of the rare strain of human that never procrastinates, it’s nice to know how close you are to being done when you’re doing the “Big. Important. Adult. Tasks” in life. You can help ensure satisfaction by providing the user with a clear indication of how much of the process they have completed and how much more they have to do before they’re finished.

3. Show me the money! When you’re showing dollar amounts, make it super clear you’re talking about money. Ambiguity in this area is never appreciated!  User experiences that affect the amount of money being taken out of your paycheck should clearly display amounts and totals. Most importantly, the interface needs to clearly update the dollar amounts or totals to reflect user decisions. When it comes to our paychecks, we want clear information and numbers—throughout the process—not just at the end of it.

4. Don’t leave me alone. When we do a thing every day, we don’t need as much help. When we do a thing once a year, especially something as important as selecting our benefits, we want handholding, we want help, and we want reassurance. These experiences are not the time to skimp on the instructional copy and the help text. The more you can help users feel that they are accompanied through these infrequent, but critical experiences, the higher your completion and satisfaction rates will be. Some specific things to keep in mind:

  • Highlight fields that users are acting on
  • Make help text easy to identify and access
  • Write instructions in plain English and display them right next to the field or item to which they pertain

5. Let me stop and come back to it. It’s important to allow users to save their work-in-progress or to come back and change something later. We’ve all been there. We think we have all the information we need, until we look for something and it’s not there. Or we guess about a decision, go home, consult our spouse and realize we’ve selected the wrong option. It’s important for the interface to let you know that you have a window to make changes and that you can come back and make those changes if you need to. Of course, there are always those times when everything goes perfectly on the first try, but for the rest of the time, it’s important for users to be able to come back and make it perfect.

6. Let me know when it’s over. Just as important as letting users know when and how they can make changes, is letting them know when they are making a final decision. Clearly indicated final actions and confirmation messages prevent confusion about whether or not users really made the selections they intended to make. In addition, they provide comfort and confidence that the choices they made were received and will take effect.

Dealing with finances and healthcare is stressful in and of itself. The tools we use to learn about and select our healthcare and financial options shouldn’t contribute to the stress. Keeping these 6 things in mind when designing annual enrollment experiences will lead to a better experience for everyone. Companies will be happy because task completion will go up and phone calls will go down, and end-users will be happy because they will feel comfortable and supported throughout the process of making these important decisions.

By Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.

View Mahtab's Bio

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