Even when it comes to workplace issues employees care about-such as benefits, pay and performance management-HR communication often falls short. In fact, although nearly 100 percent of employees read or skim every communication they receive, only 30 percent are happy with HR communication.

Plus, when employees don’t get the information they need, they also find it difficult to get answers to their questions. Though employees turn to the company intranet, HR representatives or their managers for help, only 50 percent receive the answers they need.

What’s the problem?

With all the effort that is put into communicating to employees, what makes it so hard? There is a flawed assumption that employees are an engaged audience, who greet every internal message with rapt attention. This leads us to communication that is often too:

General: We think one size will fit all, even though employees are incredibly diverse in age, job level, gender, ethnicity, geography, etc.

Comprehensive: In an effort to include all pertinent information, we create long, dense and detailed content.

Technical: Only subject-matter experts care about such terms as “company ratios” and “weighted ratings.” Employees just want to know what to do.

Old school: When was the last time you read a 500-word external newspaper article? Or watched a 15-minute talking head video on YouTube? Too much internal communication is stuck in a time warp.

The solution: Treat your employees just like your customers

If you can only do one thing differently to improve employee communication, do this: Treat employees with as much care and consideration as you do your customers. Take this small step, and big, positive results will follow.

Here’s why. Your company has many important constituents-from government regulators, to unions, shareholders, customers, neighbors and the press. Your employees hold a unique place in this group.

When your employees do a great job, create new products, build your brand, and sell your wares, they also forge a positive link with one or more of the other groups important to your company’s success.Think about it for just a moment, and you’ll realize how appropriate it is to treat your employees like customers. They are, after all, customers of the HR benefits, services, and programs your company offers.

Here are four steps you can take that will help you treat your employees like customers and create effective HR communications:

1. Create a profile of your target “customers”

Start communication planning by creating employee profiles.

What’s a profile?In marketing, “customer profile” can be briefly defined as “A precise description of the characteristics of buyers for a specific product or service.”

Why are profiles valuable? Product developers and marketers find them useful because they go beyond dry data to bring customers to life. When you can imagine the people you’re trying to reach-with all their desires and preferences and quirks-you can do a better job of giving them what they need. We find the same is true for HR communication. Profiles help us move from thinking of employees abstractly to seeing them as living, breathing people.

2. Assess the current state of employee understanding

A wise client once said to us: “Never underestimate employees’ intelligence or overestimate their knowledge.” We’ve kept that advice in mind ever since, especially when it comes to HR. You are probably a subject-matter expert (or at least well-versed in) health benefits and/or performance objectives and/or variable compensation and/or short-term disability, but chances are that even your smartest employees only have superficial knowledge about any of these topics.

That’s why we encourage you to use focus groups to thoroughly assess your employees’ knowledge. Only by doing so can you design HR communication that effectively explains what employees need to know and do and this in will help to simplify the process of internal communication.

3. Build communication around employees’ preferences

Your company’s marketing department spends a great deal of time and money to figure out which communication channels your customers read, watch and listen to. And it also exhaustively tests potential messages to see which words, phrases, and images resonant with customers. Only when that analysis is complete does your marketing group create a communication program designed to reach and engage your customers.So, just do the same with your employees as you prepare HR communications.

You’ll want to learn:

What employees like and don’t like about a specific benefit

Questions employees typically have-or questions that vary based on demographics Knowledge levels-what employees know, don’t know, or the “facts vs. fiction” of a particular benefit or program

Communication preferences – how employees prefer to hear about changes in their benefits or HR programs

Usage – who’s using the benefit program, when, and why and answers to the question, “does usage vary by demographics?”

4. Make it easy for employees to do the right thing

Most companies make it as easy as they can for customers to use their products, packaging products in convenient forms, making sure instructions are easy to understand, and providing support (via a website or call center) if the customer has questions. In HR communication, we need to put that same thought and logic and presentation into helping employees make smart choices-or, do the right thing-to take action like enrolling in benefits by a certain deadline and these things are sure to increase employee engagement.

For all those situations when you need employees to take action, make it unbelievably easy for them to do so. Think through where and when they need to act, and what prompts they will need. Give them “just in time” prompts to call, log on, or write to get the coverage they should have.