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The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has highlighted the failures of the sector to meet customer expectations.

Research1 into customer centricity in aged care has shown a link between customer experience and positive clinical outcomes2. This research also shows that customer satisfaction is a good indicator of the quality of aged care services.

Customer centricity also improves the experiences of older Australians, strengthens partnerships with customers, and customer / family-centred care linked with positive health, clinical, financial, service and satisfaction outcomes3,4. A customer-centric culture can also lead to improvements in staff morale and increased job satisfaction.




Recognising the importance of customer experience, the Australian Government has in recent years introduced aged care quality measures and introduced broad-reaching legislative changes which clearly state its intent to deliver a customer-centric agenda.

The Royal Commission has demonstrated that many providers are still falling short of customer expectations. The Commission has acknowledged that service providers need to do more than just make the promise to their customers – they need to keep that promise by aligning it to the experience their customers want and expect.



The balance between quality, safety and customer expectations

Three key questions for providers.

It is common for providers to say that focussing on and measuring customer experience is “too subjective or mood-oriented, divorced from the ‘real’ clinical work (of safety and effectiveness)”5. This has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic where safety has been prioritised above all other considerations, including social connection.

While the focus has understandably been on safety and compliance, curbing the spread of the virus and maintaining the physical health of older Australians, it is possible to do more. Measures such as the restriction of visitors and limiting group activities were introduced along with rigorous infection control procedures and, while those measures delivered many benefits, they created unintended consequences and resulted in profoundly negative experiences for many older Australians and their families.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, tensions will continue to exist between necessary infection control measures, while also providing a high quality of life and a positive customer experience. However, the three dimensions of quality, safety and experience should be looked at in combination, and not in isolation.

To balance quality and safety with positive experiences for customers and their families, providers can ask themselves three key questions:

  1. Who are our customers?
  2. What does customer-centricity mean for our organisation in the context of aged care?
  3. How do we know how customer-centric our organisation is?


Who are our customers?

Recipients of aged care services are not customers in a traditional sense.

The notion of a customer is often associated with the ‘end user’ — the person for whom the service is designed. In many instances, however, families are the primary decision-makers, so it is imperative that aged care providers consider both the consumer and their families or representatives as their customers.

Developing a deep understanding of each customer and their respective needs, wants and expectations is the first step towards becoming truly customer-centric.




What does customer-centricity mean in the aged care context?

The Royal Commission has reinforced the need for proactive, customer-centric initiatives across the aged care sector.

Over a decade of global research has shown that every outstanding customer relationship has a universal set of qualities – The Six Pillars of Experience Excellence.

These Pillars are inextricably intertwined and, in combination, provide a powerful mechanism to help organisations understand how well their customer experience is delivered. Leading organisations demonstrate mastery in all six Pillars.

Many aged care providers will assert that the care they deliver already encompasses all six Pillars, however the Royal Commission has highlighted that this is not the case.

Robust analysis involving direct feedback from your customers is vital to assess the customer-centricity of your organisation. By reflecting on the strengths and shortcomings of customers’ experiences, aged care providers will be able to clearly define a strategy through proactive and measurable initiatives.


Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence


Personalisation: using individualised attention to drive an emotional connection.
Integrity: being trustworthy and engendering trust.
Expectations: minimising customer effort and creating frictionless processes.
Resolution: turning a disappointing experience into a great one.
Time & effort: managing, meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
Empathy: understanding the customer's circumstances to drive deep rapport.



How customer-centric is your organisation?

The journey to becoming a customer-centric organisation is not quick or easy.

Any action that promotes customer-centricity can have a profound impact on both customers and business outcomes and differentiate providers in a crowded market. In a customer-centric organisation, everyone is striving towards the same shared goal: making the customer experience exemplary. 

With the customer at the heart of their culture, these organisations do everything to simplify processes, empower employees, and deliver on their customer promises. A customer-centric organisation has the following core elements:

1.

A clearly defined customer vision aligned with other long-term strategies, such as digital and technology strategies.

2.

A customer strategy to transform the customer experience and deliver an exceptional customer journey.

3.

Robust processes to collect customer feedback across a broad range of factors. The organisation views the feedback as an opportunity to exceed the customer's expectations and translate feedback into action.

4.

Clear customer experience metrics that support organisation objectives. Customer experience measures are regularly reviewed and viewed as importantly as financial performance data.

5.

Each channel or touchpoint across the customer journey is designed to minimise the amount of customer effort. Employees are empowered and trained to resolve problems at their source.

6.

Leadership focus on customer experience and strongly encourage all grades of employees to achieve customer goals and objectives. All members of senior management display a strong customer-centric focus and lead the charge for customer advocacy.

7.

Delivering customer experience excellence is embedded into the culture at all employee levels. Organisational change to improve customer experience is everyone's responsibility but there is clear accountability for delivery.





Ultimately a truly customer-centric organisation considers its customers to be critically important to the success of the business, regarding this success to be driven by its ability to fulfil and exceed the needs of customers.



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Further reading


Footnotes:

1. ‘Customer’ in the context of this article refers to residents, recipients of care, customers, consumers or patients
2. Sargent SK, Waldman R. The Patient Experience and Safety. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2019 Jun;46(2):199-214.
3. Health Quality and Safety Commission New Zealand
4. Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in HealthCare
5. Doyle C, Lennox L, Bell D. A systematic review of evidence on the links between patient experience and clinical safety and effectiveness BMJ Open 2013;3:e001570