Vendor selection for any of your employee benefits is a grueling process: time consuming, ensuring you ask the right questions, getting the contract vetted to ensure what is sold will meet expectations, converting data and the member experience, etc.
Many of us have done our homework going through this process and normally have a sense of excitement over the newest benefit to our company that “we helped select”. “They’re going to love it,” we think to ourselves. In the health and wellness vendor space, the reality is neither the members nor you end up loving the purchase. Why?
The answer to this is a little complex. First, there have been numerous health and wellness companies that have entered the market over the last several years. They have proceeded through the venture capital and start-up phases of operation to fund their ideas, rushed them to market (to keep their VC pro formas on track), and have been subsequently wrought with a successive series of problems and service/system failures that have played out directly in front of (on) the customer.
Secondly, they have focused on fixed solutions, meaning, as Henry Ford said, “You can have a car in any color as long as it is black.” The health and wellness tech juggernauts share this same, dirty little secret—uniformity, conformity, and no flexibility in how the product is designed and delivered. You’re shown a lot of marketing sizzle in the selling phase. But, the actual deployment is a lot more simplified and less flexible than what you have been led to believe, with little, engaging account service support offered after your go-live. Your account executive should be there to help you on this initiative and journey, not just be there to defend the articles of the contract and shortcomings of the vendor. Not to mention, there are a host of fees associated with maintenance, change control orders, the general running of the product, etc., which have nothing to do with your pmpm charges.
So, the combination of novice vendors, a ton of marketing money spent to make the products look good, and substandard delivery has left many of us handcuffed to an arrangement we would much rather terminate for very valid reasons. Yet, we stay. We stay for all the reasons I cited above: personal investment and reputation, the pain of change, and a fear that the next one will be no better than the current, which allows mediocrity and frustration become the standard by which we measure and live our day-to-day. To break this cycle, we have to be bold and willing to “rock the boat”…flip it over if necessary. Hold these vendors to the same standards that you are being held. If they cannot or will not make good on their promises, FIRE THEM. That brings us to the issue of contracting.
Be vigilant in negotiating your agreements and refuse to lock yourself into multi-year agreements that put the vendor in a position of control, taking it away from you. You should proceed with an initial one-year agreement that includes renewal options to continue the relationship. Entering into multi-year agreements all but guarantee that your vendors will continually promise to “do better tomorrow…something new is just around the corner to improve your experience.” Sure, the vendor will tell you that single-year agreements aren’t their policy. Well, you can reply that it isn’t your policy to comply with their policy. Believe, there are other, more competent vendors out there that don’t have to hide behind a multi-year agreement to cover their poor service and technical failures. Additionally, you should require a vendor who is competent in conduct Impact Analyses, which review your current program and processes for performance gaps, reflect suggested solutions for improvement, and sets a course of action for moving forward. Without this success map, the only thing guaranteed is that you are taking stabs in the dark and will most likely not achieve your goals.
There are very capable health and wellness providers in the space, with far more experience, and that won’t embarrass or frustrate you and your members on a daily basis. Do your homework, stand your ground, and don’t tolerate mediocrity or incompetence.