It’s not a Hospital with Extras: Customer Service in Aged Care

After the phone call, I had to sit down for a while to get over my shock. As usual, my mother had exercised her rights as an independent human being, and made a decision with which the rest of the family disagreed. She’d decided she was going to move into an aged care home.

Up until this point, she’d been living with my brother, in central Queensland. Her decision was based on her belief that she needed more ready access to direct care.

For the family, my mum’s decision meant we all had to come to terms with the fact that this fiercely independent woman was now going to be almost totally dependent upon an organisation of people she didn’t know, rather than friends, family, and her own indefatigable will.

Over the years, she had already had to repeatedly adjust her expectations to match her declining levels of ability in the things she loved doing. With each adjustment, she reaffirmed her determination to never be beaten, and found new things with which she might be fascinated. She was pretty much the only octogenarian I’d ever met who liked playing Sonic the Hedgehog.

That being said, this adjustment, moving into an aged care facility, was probably going to be one of the most challenging she’d had to make since being widowed at the age of 49. Although, in living with my brother, she’d had to make adjustments to fit in with their family habits and expectations, she still retained an ability to make decisions for herself in her day-to-day life.

Customer Service in aged care experiences

When she moved into the aged care home, her ability to make those decisions for herself changed dramatically. Mealtimes were set for her. Meal choices were limited and decided upon by someone else. The time she woke up was largely controlled by the activities of cleaning and medical staff. The bed in which she slept had been chosen by someone else. The times at which she could go to town were regulated by the bus timetable. The people she interacted with were controlled by visiting regulations, staffing decisions, and the health and wellbeing of other residents.

When I came to visit her, the overwhelming feeling I got of the facility was of being in a hospital that had a few extra services, rather than an ordinary home environment with access to services that might help the frail lead a better, more fulfilled, and easier life.

The home was in rural Queensland, and as such, I guess was not expected to provide much more in terms of services. The facility you work in may have many more resources and be able to do much more. Your clients, and their relatives, may have many more choices and a higher degree of freedom than my mother did.

But the challenge still remains: do your clients feel like they are in a home environment with direct access to the services they need to make their lives better, or are they in a place where the provision of those services runs their lives?

Do they feel like they’re in a hotel with extra services, or do they feel like they’re in a hospital with extra services?

In the former, there are a range of medical and care services which need to be provided. They are table stakes – the minimum requirement to even compete in the aged care sector. There are other medical and care services that, because they provide a specialised service, offer great value through providing easy accessibility.

However, in this modern competitive age of providing aged care, it is the perception of the personalisation of service that makes the difference for the majority of clients. Being able to choose from a menu consisting of more than two choices of mains, being able to have breakfast over an extended period, or being able to choose your own bed are options which will help to make the majority of clients feel at ‘home’.

There is much more, though, to providing a consistent service where people feel like they’re at ‘home’ rather than at a hospital. Delivering that consistent service cost-effectively across the whole spectrum of clients requires a mapping of the interactions with clients that create value in their mind. This is called Moments of Truth mapping, and it’s the starting point for understanding how you can make clients feel at ‘home’, and how and why they value your services.

Mapping and understanding interactions (and their value to the client) from your client’s point of view allows you to choose the most cost-effective ways of increasing value. You might map thirty moments of truth, but working on even three or four of them – consistent with your organisational vision and values – will make a large difference to the perception of value.

Getting customer service in aged care right means setting and implementing standards, and training your people to achieve the changed behaviours you and your clients desire (rather than just ticking a box that they’ve completed the training). It may in some cases also mean capital expenditure to buy or build new things that are procured or built to the standards held in your clients’ heads, rather than to a set design in an engineer’s head.

Further than this, building an aged care facility with services that make clients and their relatives feel that they’re giving less up when they move takes careful analysis, thinking, innovation, standards, training, and management of the performance of people throughout the entire personnel lifecycle, from recruitment to departure from your employment. Half-hearted attempts will miss the mark, and you’ll be left with a facility that feels just like a hospital…albeit one with extra services.

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