In some sectors, we’ve seen a focus on social media and multi-channel blended technologies, with chatbots and artificial intelligence mining customer data in an attempt to learn how to best predict a consumer’s needs and preferences.
For all these different initiatives and buzzwords, there’s still one common factor that all organisations wishing to improve service need to tackle – and that’s creating a responsive, learning culture that puts the consumer at the heart of service delivery.
On July 1st 2019, the Australian aged care sector had to face this challenge head on, with the launch of a new set of quality standards by the Australian Government. These put the consumer front and centre in the way Government will regulate the performance of aged care service providers.
Indeed the Royal Commission inquiry into Australian Aged Care Quality and Safety has heard some appalling evidence and personal stories that bring a tragic human perspective to the theoretical concept of a “service failure.”
Whatever your industry sector, there’s plenty to learn from the way Australian providers of aged care services need to step up to the challenge they’re facing. Let’s consider two key questions:
- How are quality standards effective in establishing a culture of consumer-centred service?
- Why is an organisational culture of learning and improvement essential for raising service performance?
How are quality standards effective in establishing a consumer-centric culture?
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson PSM, described the new Aged Care Quality Standards as “an important step in aged care reform” that helps consumers understand what they should expect from service providers, and helps providers to clarify their responsibilities .
Clearly in a regulated industry, enforcement by Government authorities can drive compliance change, but how will the new standards encourage a change in culture and belief amongst service providers?
Management and leadership thinking has long shown that effective cultural change in an organisation comes from a combination of leadership, vision and belief amongst those affected by the change. You don’t change a culture just by talking about it – people have to believe in the change.
If strategy is to be changed, it needs to be 'internalised' by those it affects and those who have to implement the change
Leading customer service thinker Ken Blanchard (2007) made this point when he commented that “in high performing organisations, everyone passionately holds and maintains the highest standards for quality and service from their customers’ perspective”.
It’s a point that’s reinforced by Johnson & Scholes' (1999) discussion of corporate strategy (quoted above) .
Australia's 2019 Aged Care Standards start with the consumer
If you look at the Aged Care Quality Standards 2019, what jumps out immediately is the way that each component is structured with the consumer’s needs right at the forefront.
Each of the eight standards starts with a very clear consumer outcome, which expresses what the consumer should expect from the services they receive. That’s backed up by an organisation statement expressing what this means in terms of service provider delivery. Finally, detailed requirements set out practical guidance on what is expected (and the kind of criteria that assessors will be looking for when evaluating service provision).
As someone who’s read more than their fair share of ISO standards over the years, I feel it’s a well-structured and written document. It takes the management theory behind consumer-centric service and turns it into a practical, realistic tool for service providers in the industry to apply in their business.
That’s what good quality standards should do – provide clear outcomes for consumers, and back them up with clear expectations for service providers on how to achieve the outcomes.
By putting the consumer’s perspective at the centre, and moving to assessment of demonstrated outcomes based on the consumer’s rights, the Australian Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have (in my opinion) successfully bridged the gap between standards documents and encouraging meaningful, evidence-based behavioural change in service providers.
It’s now up to Australian aged care service providers to rise to that challenge and demonstrate how they’re going to “walk the talk” of organisational change and front-line service improvement.
The next article shows why learning from consumer complaints - and encouraging an open culture that welcomes complaints as opportunities to improve - is a vital tool for aged care service providers to meet this challenge.
- Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission media release, 1July 2019. https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/news-media/commission-media-release-new-aged-care-standards-commence
- Blanchard, K, (2007),Leading at a higher level, p.29 : Pearson Education Ltd, Harlow
- Johnson, G & Scholes, K, (1999) Exploring corporate strategy, p.508 : Prentice Hall Europe, Hemel Hempstead.