Turn the Participant Experience on Its Head

September 19, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Plan sponsors need to create smarter retirement plan participant communication, according to Colette Ehlers, sales development consultant with Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust.

Speaking at the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) annual conference, Reframing Retirement, Ehlers said communications should be personalized. It should incorporate participant data, target specific demographics and be relayed in the way participants want to receive it. Communications should also be proactive, Ehlers suggested. Plan sponsors should identify issues with and barriers to saving or investing and push pertinent information toward participants.   

Keep it simple, she added. It should be easy for participants to take action; for example, sending back a tear-off mailer or only involving one or two clicks on the computer. Plan sponsors should also include interactive communications, via the web, online chats and phone support.  

Ehlers said communication needs to be ongoing. Plan sponsors should do followups, incorporating any additional information gathered about participants, their other assets or their specific situations. Each communication should build on the last one.  

Ehlers noted that not all people learn the same way, and many do not know their best way to learn, so plan sponsors should use a variety of communication channels, including mailers, phone calls, workshops, social media and online content.

In mailers, plan sponsors can use humor, such as cartoons or funny pictures, to grab participants’ attention. They can be sent at certain trigger dates, such as a participant’s birthday or anniversary of hire. Sponsors could also make a phone call to participants on these dates, asking if they have thought about bumping up their savings, for example.  

Workshops could be about the plan and enrolling, overall retirement planning, budgeting, investments, age-based or gender-based concerns, or life situations, Ehlers suggested. Plan sponsors should increase their take-action solutions, i.e. using forms, tear-off cards, tablets or iPads. Use videos for interactivity or attendee surveys to make it interesting, she added. More convenient and affordable options may include teleconferences and webcasts.  

Twitter and Facebook reach more people than any other outlet, Ehlers pointed out. Plan sponsors can tweet participants telling them it’s National 401(k) Day or just asking a simple question, such as “Have you thought about your retirement today?”  

Finally, Ehlers said online content should provide participants’ retirement account information, but can also include general and more targeted messages, a gauge of whether participants are on track for retirement, and calculators allowing them to input other information, such as other assets they might have.