The Australian aged care sector is vital to the well-being of our society. Yet KPMG research, Customer Experience in the Aged Care Sector released this week shows customer services needs to improve for clients and their families when they first approach care providers. In an era where people expect good customer experience, aged care operators need to up their game. People attempting to navigate the complex system of aged care do so at a very emotional time. Yet current processes add to the challenge of accessing ageing services instead of supporting consumers through the process.
In a mystery shopping exercise we found 80 percent of retirement living providers failed to answer calls from prospective customers, while 60 percent of home care providers could not adequately answer their questions.
The irony is aged care providers are spending significant resources to meet the needs of their existing customers while the quality of care being provided in the sector is continuing to improve with a greater level of consumer-direction. But interviews with prospective consumers show widespread frustration with a lack of relevant or up to date information, and a poor response to enquiries. They also critical about a lack of transparency about pricing or vacancies.
Unfortunately it seems a more customer focus only starts once the consumer is already accessing services. Many providers are overlooking the most critical stage in their customer’s journey – the moment they initially engage with them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly larger providers and for-profit retirement villages were generally able to answer queries better due to centralised call centres, while smaller providers relied on front-line staff taking calls.
One family member of a prospective consumer told us, “It was so difficult to access information, packages were very confusing. There was an assumed understanding of terminology. It was a frustrating process.” We found customers switching providers after poor handling of enquiries and this will continue unless serious efforts are put into improving the customer experience. There needs to be a shift in mind-set in many cases. Providers that cannot put positive customer outcomes at the heart of their operating models will find it hard to attract and retain customers and control costs.
Earlier this year home care reforms were introduced by the government to drive a more customer-led experience. Since February, block funding and a guaranteed revenue stream ended and providers must compete in an open market for the hearts and minds of consumers by delivering quality service at a reasonable price.
International experience shows the level of disruption regulatory intervention can cause. When the United Kingdom shifted to market-based provision more than 50 percent of consumers moved from a not-for-profit to a for-profit provider. And in New Zealand, providers reported that they lost up to 30 percent of their clients to other providers, with some of those new entrants to the market.
In business generally, studies consistently show people turn away from companies because of a bad experience, while being prepared to pay more for good service. While the aged care is sector is different to the wider corporate world and customer experience isn’t measured by simple satisfaction or driven only by the bottom line, there are clear benefits of designing services around the end user.
In the closely related healthcare sector, there is clear evidence a patient-centred approach in hospitals delivers results far beyond the bottom line. Factors including better patient outcomes, improved risk management and happier staff can all be driven by a strategic approach that puts the user, the patient in this case, at the centre of an organisation.
There is much that is good in the aged care sector, but it is concerning it is still grappling with a key aspect of the move to a customer-first model.
Other findings included:
- 60 percent of retirement living providers had out of date website information
- 100 percent of home care providers insisted on would-be customers going through the My Aged Care website before answering questions – a source of consumer frustration
- 30 percent of home care operators did not call back after messages had been left
- 60 percent of home care package providers would not disclose prices
- 70 percent of residential care providers could not confidently answer questions
- 78 percent of residential care providers had low or moderate knowledge about fees in the initial call