Benefits/Open Enrollment

BEN at Work: Choosing Benefits by Phone

The days of using Dr. Bell's invention simply to "phone home" are long gone. The telephone and its related technologies are being applied to an ever-increasing range of processes. One department using advanced telephone technology for Penn is Human Resources, which this year is rolling out an "interactive voice response" (IVR) component to the Benefits Open Enrollment process.

Faculty and staff will experience IVR from now through May 7 as "BEN," the Benefit Enrollment Network. BEN is a system through which callers complete the Open Enrollment process, using a series of voice-prompts to lock in benefits selections for 1997-98. (Full details of how to use BEN are included in the brochure mailed to homes in the "PennChoice" package; copies are also available from HR; and a summarized flow-chart is printed below.)

"BEN is the first building block in a technology being utilized more and more at the University," said Eileen Founds, Assistant Manager for HR Information Management and part of the project team that implemented BEN. "It's a flexible system that can be easily expanded to other HR services and tasks. Although we're starting out using IVR technology to complement open enrollment, it can eventually be used in a variety of HR applications," she said.

Although HR is currently collecting Benefits information over the telephone, technology can be configured to accept and return data via electronic mail, kiosks, and desktop web browsers. (The "Penn-In-Touch" kiosks in the Franklin Building are an example of that application, more about which will appear in a future issue of Almanac.)

This ability can enable Human Resources to expand its service reach and depth. Faculty and staff will be able to shift from a more time-bound, paper -and-people-intensive process to an employee-driven, online, on-demand level of service. With the appropriate technology, HR service availability can be extended to a 24-hour-a-day/7-day-a-week, round-the-clock mode, accessible from home, the office, or other remote sites. Employees at all levels and locations will experience improved response time and will receive information about virtually all areas of HR.

One such area of information exchange is in Employment. "We're looking to help simplify the job posting and bidding system," said Alicia Brill, Manager of Employment. "It will be possible to call up the HR job opportunities by phone or PC and search for and access information only about the jobs a person's interested in. We'll also have the IVR application available on the web. We will be able to send job applications immediately via e -mail or fax. Faster turn-around time is a service upgrade we'reconstantly striving for."

Other applications include sending out HR forms electronically and giving employees instant access to their various account or accrual balances. "For example," said Eileen Founds, "with one phone call, employees could learn how many vacation days they have left, how much money is in their 403(b) accounts, or how much is available in their pre-tax expense accounts. They wouldn't have to make a trip to the 3401 Walnut Building. They could call in from home or an airplane if they wanted to."

But for all the potential that BEN has to offer, the system will not be extensively accessed by people unless it can demonstrate its ease-of-use. Human Resources has conducted extensive testing of BEN in "real-world" situations to verify its simplicity and efficacy, and initial employee response is encouraging.

"I was surprised by how easy it was to use BEN," said CPUP Specialist Betsy Berwick. She was one of many employees Human Resources contacted to test the BEN system in advance of its roll-out April 28. "I've gotten more and more used to these kinds of systems, since I bank by phone," she said. "But the instructions you hear in BEN are simple to understand, they aren't spoken too quickly, and they sound very clear. I was finished enrolling in under two minutes."

Human Resources will assess how well BEN functions as the department continues to expand its customer service levels in the coming months.

--Bruce S. Fisher, Manager, Employee Communications, Human Resources

Reminder: How to Reach BEN

The number to call to access BEN is (215) 573-ENROLL (573-6765). This is the one phone number, supported by 30 lines to handle multiple callers, that is dedicated solely to the IVR component of Open Enrollment. If you are hearing- or speech-impaired, contact Benefits at 898-7282 for help. That extension, which is Human Resources' main reception number, is not the direct connection to BEN.

This tip for using BEN: Make sure to have the Personal Worksheet handy (included in the "PennChoice" mailing to homes). It provides individualized 1996-97 benefits selections as well as the Personal Identification Number (PIN) essential to begin the BEN process.

The drawing below shows the steps that you will take once you dial in.


Volume 43 Number 32
April 29, 1997

Return to Almanac's homepage.

Return to index for this issue.