One of the things my firm does at HR Technology Advisors is look for new and unique technologies that can change the way employers and employees manage their HR, Benefits, and Payroll. The HR and Benefits industry, like most others, has had its share of new technology vendors offering the latest and greatest solutions that they claim can change the world. In this market, like others, there will be winners and there will be losers, but the winners may change the way things are done forever.
As a practice I conduct regular educational webinars for benefits brokers introducing new ideas that can be leveraged to generate new business and often highlight some forward thinking HR and Benefits Technology vendor. To my surprise, the most common response I get from brokers attending these webinars is “Nobody is asking me for this”. Whenever I hear this comment it makes me think of Steve Jobs. You see, Steve Jobs was the total opposite of “Nobody is asking me for this.” When I read the book about Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson I took many notes (on my iPad) which included one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes.
“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘if I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Now think back to the time you saw the first iPhone commercial. (You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4acWkNihaxc ) If you were like me, then you were thinking, “Wow, I want that.” But prior to that commercial how many of you were sitting on your couches thinking that you would really like a handheld device with a glass screen where you tap on icons to watch a movie, browse the internet for a restaurant, find that restaurant on a map with a phone number, and then press on the phone number that pops up a phone so you can make a reservation? Unless you were a Trekkie (Star Trek Groupie) then you most likely weren’t “asking for this”. Steve Jobs and Apple “changed the game” and delivered something that once seen, everyone wanted. I don’t know how many people bought an iPhone right after seeing the commercial but Apple has sold over 300 million of them worldwide. Imagine they sold over 300 million of something that nobody was asking for.
Now many of you may think this is crazy to not ask your customers what they want. Don’t confuse what Steve Jobs was doing with not caring about what your customers think. This is where I am going to quote another young Billionaire, Mark Cuban. In his book titled, “How to Win” I found a quote that addresses this issue. It is as follows:
“Your customers can tell you the things that are broken and how they want to be made happy. Listen to them. Make them happy. But don’t rely on them to create the future roadmap for your product or service. That’s your job.”
There is a distinct difference between listening to your customers and driving the vision of your business. It appears that Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, and Henry Ford share the same philosophy. And to quote Mark Cuban again:
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
So if Steve Jobs were a benefits broker today what would he do? I am not going to claim to know but I would imagine if Steve Jobs were a broker he would think of a new technology to make things easier. He would ask himself and his team to imagine what would be the best system for an employee to access work related information. How would they purchase benefits? How could they learn about them? How would an employee transact an enrollment? How would they request a vacation day? How can they access pay information to do their taxes? What would be the perfect system for an employee? What I do know is that if Steve Jobs built such a system people would say “Wow! I want that.”
Now I don’t think I can elevate HR and Benefits Technology to the same level as the iPhone because the iPhone’s launch was almost a “one of its kind”. Nor do I think someone has built a HR and Benefits solution that would match what Steve Jobs would have built. However, the idea and opportunity to bring something new and innovative to a prospect or customer that they “aren’t asking for” exists in the benefits business much like any other industry.
That being said, I recently did see a solution that I think if a CEO saw it they would say, “Wow! I want that.” Because I believe the majority of CEO’s want to show their employees they are forward thinking. They want their employees to be happy, healthy, and productive. They want to be efficient and save money. They want to promote their brand and culture to their staff. They want to eliminate business risks related to HR and Benefits or for that matter, in any area of the company. And they want to inspire their employees to help move their business forward much like you may want to move yours forward.
Just imagine a system where an employee logs in and can immediately see all the things that are important to him or her. They can see how many vacation days they have left, the balance of their 401K, their FSA balance, and see their YTD pay. They can watch a video on Wellness and do a Personal Health Assessment. They could get tips on finance from Dave Ramsey and even go through a whole financial plan online. They could enroll in their benefits and do online chat with a benefits counselor. They could purchase products at a discount through payroll deduction. They could chat with their co-workers and participate in topic based discussions. They could do all this from home or work on smartphone, tablet, or Smart TV without having to log into ten places or remember ten user names and passwords. They would have just one. Just imagine!
For someone who wants to change the way they do business and deliver this type of solution the opportunity is there today. It does take hard work and a commitment to change. It requires a vision and attitude that there is a better way. As a technology consultant I know the technology exists to get this done yet less than ½ or 1% of employers are delivering this type of experience to their employees.
The good thing about solutions like this is that CEO’s are not sitting on their couches watching commercials promoting these types of solutions. It’s not because they aren’t watching TV, it’s because solutions such as this aren’t sold through TV commercials. Someone has to get in front of the CEO and show them. And then I believe they will say,” I want it”. The question is who will show them first.
So if Steve Jobs were a benefits broker today what would he do? Well one thing I am quite sure of is he would not say, “Nobody is asking me for this”. He would find a way to be the innovator because he believed “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” (“The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” 2001). And I will add that being an innovator is more fun too.