Collaboration, Communication and Trust Keeps the Boeing-Aon Hewitt Partnership Flying High | Article
“It’s not just about giving honest feedback. To be a good partner, you have to be willing to get honest feedback, go to the reflection pool and take a close look at what your own organization needs to change.”
Debra Bodhaine Senior Manager, Health & Wellness and Leave Management Services, The Boeing Company
You’d be hard pressed to find a story about outsourcing without the word “partnership” creeping in somewhere along the way. The label is often carelessly applied to all kind of relationships—from basic agreements to cultural convergences to two companies reaching the end game without wringing each other’s necks.
But, this is the story of true partnership—of Boeing and Aon Hewitt working in lock-step with complete transparency, sometimes brutal honesty and a willingness to “get down in the weeds” to make sure everyone succeeds.
The whole thing started back in the late 1990s when The Boeing Company merged with McDonnell Douglas Corporation, as well as the aerospace and defense business units of Rockwell International. As a result of the mergers, Boeing had three different benefits administration operations, none of which had the capabilities to support the new Boeing on its own.
Outsourcing health and welfare administration was the obvious answer—a move that would enable the company to update systems, standardize processes and better serve hundreds of thousands of eligible plan participants. Boeing went live with Aon Hewitt on January 1, 1999, and throughout the years, the two companies have formed a partnership that, by anyone’s standards, goes well beyond the norm.
“The sheer magnitude of Boeing plans necessitates a strong partnership,” explained Debra Bodhaine, Boeing’s senior manager of operations for health and insurance, wellness and leave management services. “We administer 600 different plans from 35 suppliers. Between current employees, retirees and dependents, we are responsible for one-half million covered lives.”
Failure has never been an option.
As a company, we have zero tolerance in terms of error. That commitment translates into everything we do,” Bodhaine said. “The other side is our service culture, which Aon Hewitt has embraced with us. We continually apply its tenants—knowledge, quality, accountability and teamwork—to strengthen our partnership.”
Helping Each Other Succeed
One of the defining moments in this partnership—and a good example of the service culture in action—occurred some seven years back. Aon Hewitt was having a tough time with a platform that just wasn’t working well.
“Instead of pulling out the contract, we approached them as partners. We said, ‘we will do everything humanly possible to help you turn this around,’ Bodhaine said. “Our employees are important; they’re doing important work, and it’s not acceptable that they’re worried about their insurance coverage. So, we put a team in place to work with Aon Hewitt to build a new process.”
This team applied FMEA—failure, model, effects and analyze—a methodology that identified what could fail and what could be done to stop that potential failure. The issue was resolved, and the relationship between the two companies was forever changed.
“When you get down that deep in the weeds with your partner, you form a true bond; a trust that is very real and indelible,” Bodhaine said. “It’s analogous to going through combat together, and coming out the other side.”
The Truth…the Whole Truth. Nothing But the Truth
Total transparency and complete honesty is also key.
“We probably say things that are much more honest and direct than most outsourcing partners do. We’re very fluid with each other,” Bodhaine said. “I think it’s important to note that it’s not just about giving honest feedback. We ask Aon Hewitt to honestly assess what we can do better, with the knowledge that they can share that information without retaliation. To be a good partner, you have to be willing to get honest feedback, go to the reflection pool and take a close look at what your own organization needs to change.”
A few years ago, during contract renewal, Boeing and Aon Hewitt had some frank discussions around ticket resolutions.
“It wasn’t happening fast enough, so Aon Hewitt offered to make it performance-based. In other words, they paid for the errors,” Bodhaine said. “We started with a metric of five days with the understanding that we’d move to two days after three months. Today, they’re resolving those tickets in less than a day.”
According to Bodhaine, encouraging your partner to be honest about issues is key to resolution.
“When Aon Hewitt has a problem, they know that it is also our problem, and they can tell us what’s happening honestly. They do not have to come afraid,” Bodhaine said. “Our combined focus is resolving the issue, not assigning blame.”
After all, they’re all working toward the same thing: providing a great experience for Boeing plan participants.
The Resulting Innovation
Of course, it’s not all about resolving what’s going wrong. More often, it’s about acknowledging the achievements, of which there have been many.
“Aon Hewitt so strongly believes in the service culture that they’re continually looking for ways to help us improve the service and experience we provide to our customers—our employees, retirees and dependents,” Bodhaine said.
Employing speech analytics during customer contact is one good example.
“Basically, the software listens to every recording and automatically picks out words that identify whether the caller is disappointed or having a good experience,” explained Bodhaine. “We can delve deeper to see what the caller was concerned about and if it’s a system issue, a miscommunication or a problem somewhere else. We use the data to make improvements as we go.”
Another significant innovation transformed Boeing’s health eligibility reporting. Traditionally, health plan carriers could only take ‘update’ files on a weekly basis. This meant a gap in timing for coverage updates that resulted in real issues for participants.
“Say you’re a newly enrolled employee. You’re eligible for health care, but you have to wait for the information to go through. But, during that waiting period, your kid gets sick. You’re at the pharmacy trying to get the prescription, but the pharmacy doesn’t recognize that you have coverage—and you’ve got a big problem,” Bodhaine said. “When you change those updates from periodic to daily, the whole landscape changes. Our escalation on ‘haste enrollment” has dropped by 90 percent. It’s a real needle mover and a great example of what a collaborative relationship can achieve.”
Most recently, Aon Hewitt brought Boeing a customer effort tool that shadows the benefits-holder’s web experience—charting how many steps it took that individual to get to the information they were seeking. Or, at what point he or she gave up and picked up the phone to get it.
“We’ll use this data to make sure we make the information our employees and retirees need more accessible through our self-service channels,” Bodhaine said. “Again, we’re all working toward an improved customer experience. That never stops.”
These examples are only a fraction of the many innovations resulting from this award-winning partnership.
Never Forgetting to Say “Thank You”
Although the focus is always on making life better for Boeing employees, the team does take time to celebrate the victories, and motivate individuals working in every position within the engagement.
“We started a program for exceptional customer service personnel, where nominees receive gifts and the winner gets a trip to visit our Boeing team in Seattle,” Bodhaine said. “We are an enthusiastic client who wants to engage the best of the best. We want everyone at Aon Hewitt knocking on the door saying, ‘let me in; I want to work on the Boeing account.'”
With all the technical advancements that this relationship has brought over the years, the technology isn’t the reason for the engagement’s success.
“In the end, the customer experience is not about systems. It’s about people and the partnership we share with Aon Hewitt,” Bodhaine said. “We all care. We all are focused on giving our employees, retirees and dependents the best experience possible. That’s why we’re here, and that’s where we’re focused. To me, that’s why the whole thing works so well.”