by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Businesses learn the most direct route to profitability is retaining key customers. A typical small to mid-size business can double profits in just a few years simply by increasing client retention 5%. 

Well-being managers, on the other hand, continue to strive for the hard to reach — those who have never participated. The reason: These resisters are often the high-risk/high cost elements. 

But what if you improve retention 5% a year each year? In time, your population health would have to get better. For example, let’s say you inspire 100 new people a year to engage in a healthier lifestyle. Of that group, 40 drop out or revert to unhealthy behaviors. If you limit that to 35 the next year, then 30, then 25, in 3 years the number of people engaged in healthy behavior would be 210 — vs. 180 if you hadn’t improved retention. This translates into a 10% health improvement in your population in just 3 years!

To serve or to fix?
Retention in wellness programs calls for a shift in mindset — from fixing people’s problems to service. That means understanding their interests and desires, then offering the resources and support to help them achieve their goals, not yours. 

The proof that we’re stuck in a “fix it” mode is the number of organizations bent on performing claim analysis to determine the highest healthcare costs. While there’s nothing wrong with this exercise, in most cases, the results confirm what you should already know. And once you’ve verified that musculoskeletal is third and not fourth on the list, now what? Are you going to do something different as a result? Probably not.

How can I serve you?
Good service starts with, is sustained by, and ends with what participants want. It has nothing to do with their physiologic status, risk status, or family history unless they’ve told you that’s what they’re interested in now. Your success at serving participants is directly related to finding out how you can serve them better and then responding appropriately. 

Here are a few techniques to help you ask “How can I serve you?”

  • Survey. Contrary to popular opinion, your employees aren’t tired of surveys. They’re tired of bad surveys — those that seem irrelevant or don’t result in any changes. If you’re not prepared to do something with the data, then don’t survey. But if you are, it’s one of your best tools.
  • Walk a mile in their shoes. Even if you do ask, sometimes you can be so removed from their work world that you can’t act on the response. Spend time learning what participants’ lives at work are really like.
  • Query trade industries and unions. Whether it’s administrative assistants, firemen, the safety department, or the salesforce, there’s a trade association you can tap for data or resources on health improvement in their field. 
  • Become a generalist. Whether you’re alone or have a large department, aim for 1-stop wellness shopping. You can still use specialists such as registered dietitians or physical therapists, but don’t force your clients to 6 different resources. 
  • Recognize and reward staff and/or wellness committee members who solicit ideas on how to serve participants better. 
  • Involve them in the process. Everything from program design to vendor selection can be enhanced with participant input. Let participants offer guidance to help you meet their needs. 

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