As a Hispanic insurance professional in a multicultural growing population, I have witnessed firsthand the explosive growth and tremendous opportunities created by this ethnic minority. And I've discovered two key ingredients to conducting a successful benefits enrollment with this audience: you must understand their culture, and you must communicate accordingly.
The Hispanic/Latino population is one of the fastest growing in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple between 2008 and 2050, from 46.7 million to 132.8 million. During that same period, the percentage of Hispanics in America is expected to double, increasing from 15% to 30%. The impact on the workplace has been gradual, yet significant. Companies are adapting to the changing demographics of their workforce by offering benefits that meet the changing needs of their employees. They're also adapting the way in which they communicate to them -- and not a moment too soon.
Today's benefits environment is complex. Employees are faced with greater responsibility than ever before, as employers have shifted more of the decision making about benefits -- and the cost -- to their workers. Yet technical jargon, multiple product choices and changes in yearly offerings make enrollment decisions frustrating and overwhelming. Add in changes from health care reform, and you've caused heads to spin! It's no wonder employees have more trouble today understanding their benefits and what they cover.
A 2008 survey by Harris Interactive and Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co.makes this clear. It found that half of employees don't know what their health insurance covers (51%) for medical expenses related to cancer treatment, for example. Employers don't think their workers understand their benefits very well, either. Although 90% of employers agree it's important to their business that employees understand and appreciate their benefits, only 21% say they think their employees have a good understanding of their benefits.1
For Spanish speakers, the benefits communication issue is even more complex. When benefits communication is unclear, the burden of translation typically falls on the employer -- usually the HR department. Carriers with experience in minority markets can eliminate much of this burden for employers. They know that speaking the language is very important, but understanding the Hispanic culture is equally imperative. For instance, an experienced carrier knows that trust and personal interaction are important to Hispanics when making buying decisions.
As an insurance professional, I've seen many instances when a Hispanic employee does not see the need for voluntary benefits. In such cases, I often share my personal story (in Spanish, of course) about an accident that happened to me several years ago. I explain that I was fortunate to have an accident and disability policy in place at that time that protected me. If I value voluntary benefits enough to have coverage, this helps show employees the coverage could be valuable to them, too.
Face-to-face interaction with Hispanic employees during enrollment offers another way to establish trust. Speaking Spanish can be very important, and one-to-one enrollments will help you instill confidence and let employees ask personal questions to get the information they need. Conducting an enrollment in English only may discourage non-English speakers (and even some bilinguals) from making purchases.
Recognize the importance of friends and family
It is also important to respect some of the other values Hispanics share. For instance, Hispanics are a close-knit group where culture and peer influence is strong. They are extremely loyal and will refer others they know once you've earned their respect and trust. Lose their trust, and you risk losing an account.
In the Hispanic culture, women typically run the household, make the buying decisions and take care of responsibilities in the home. Men are generally the providers. In most cases, the Hispanic male will not make a buying decision without consulting his wife. Keep this in mind during benefits enrollments and provide an opportunity for Hispanic employees to discuss and share the information at home and with their peers. Word-of-mouth is particularly important to this audience.
Make customer service a priority
Once you've acquired a Hispanic customer, don't overlook the importance of customer service. Offering bilingual service through a customer call center is not enough. Hispanics cherish personal contact, which leads to long-term loyalty. They're known to "talk" with their feet and never come back if they have a negative experience. So make it a point to communicate regularly with your clients and make sure their needs are being met. You'll be rewarded with lasting relationships that will help you grow personally -- and professionally.
Helen Rodriguez-Burton is a district general agent for the Amarillo, Texas, sales district of Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co., a market leader in providing insurance benefits for employees and their families through the workplace. She is a 2010 realLIFEstories Client Service Award winner. Reach her at (806) 356-7839.
Colonial Life, Society for Human Resource Management National Conference survey, June 2008.