Providing Quality Care
The shift towards consumer-driven funding and greater customer choice in aged care is driving a corresponding and critical shift in focus away from simply complying with government standards, to better understanding and satisfying client and resident needs.
When it comes to quality services, staff are a key differentiator - both in terms of the clinical care provided, and the personal interaction staff have with clients and residents. However, in an industry where staff are already under significant pressure to operate under tight timeframes and limited resources, the increased competition has potential to further stretch staff.
So it is good news that recent research by Voice Project suggests that competitive strategies will be a win-win for staff and clients:
"A greater customer focus is engaging for staff, and valuing and supporting staff leads to greater customer service and satisfaction."
The Research Evidence
This research was presented in a digital poster at LASA National Congress 2016. Please read the research accompanying the presentation below.
- The Study
- Organisations that focus on customer service are great places to work
- Workplace practices supporting customer satisfaction
- A management challenge
We combined survey data from over 6000 staff in 14 residential, respite and community aged care services across NSW, to investigate the key workplace drivers of perceived customer satisfaction.
Not all of these organisations had comparable data from customer feedback, so we used the feedback from staff surveys, which has previously been shown to be strongly correlated with independent measures of customer satisfaction.
Generally, most staff (82%) think their organisation provides:
- high quality services
- understands customer needs, and
- customers are satisfied with their organisation’s services
However, this ranged from as low as 64% to 91% across organisations. It appears that managers and office staff are a little removed from the realities of day-to-day front-line experiences of other staff – 90% of them rated their customer service positively, compared to the 80-83% of clinical (nursing and allied health), support (laundry, cleaning, catering, maintenance, driving, garden), and direct care staff.
Organisations that focus on customer service are great places to work
Staff who rated customer satisfaction high, also saw their organisations as:
- having a positive future
- continually improving, and
- learning form mistakes and successes
Achieving organisation objectives, being innovative, and managing change well are closely associated with high-quality customer service, and together these are the strongest drivers of staff engagement. Compared to other industries, staff in aged care are strongly aligned with the mission and values of their organisations, and are passionate about what they do.
This helps us understand why staff who rated customer satisfaction high were more likely to:
- feel proud to tell people that they work for their organisation, and
- feel a sense of loyalty and commitment to their organisation
Workplace practices supporting customer satisfaction
Of a broad range of 27 different workplace practices, we identified the strongest correlates of perceived customer satisfaction, and have broken them into two groups: positive drivers and gaps.
Positive drivers are practices that are important for customer satisfaction that the aged care organisations are currently performing well. Two of these were expected, but the third was a surprise.
It is particularly important that the organisation is seen as socially responsible, for example, is demonstrably motivated by genuine care and compassion for older people (rather than profit).
A strong focus on achieving positive results, for example, driving and measuring results through KPIs for quality of care and customer satisfaction.
Worker health and safety is seen as a priority of the organisation and supported by managers and supervisors. While this initially surprised us, quality and safety often sit under the same governance and organisation reporting structures. Also, both staff safety and quality of care are likely to benefit from the combination of a focus on results and responsible social ethics.
Key Performance Gaps
The research also identified key performance gaps in practices that are important for customer satisfaction. Each of these practices are also strong drivers of staff engagement and wellbeing, so targeting improvements in these areas will have multiple benefits for both staff and customers.
Acknowledging staff achievements, demonstrating confidence in staff, and finding ways to recognise their contributions. Staff who feel valued themselves are more likely to value and respect the people they are caring for.
Encouraging staff to have input into everyday decision-making, and ensuring they feel safe to voice concerns. This means empowering staff to be more involved in decisions about client care, and creating a culture of reporting risks, incidents and abuse.
Having capable senior leaders who model the organisation values and have a collaborative style. Attitudes flow from the top. Organisations must carefully recruit leaders for fit with values, invest in the development of senior leaders, and improve staff’s visibility of, and communication with, senior leaders.
Sharing information and cooperating across team boundaries. This includes facilitating collaboration across services and specialties at both a macro and micro levels, so that services can share best practice to enhance organisational learning and innovation, and staff can share their knowledge of individual clients to enable personalised care.
A Management Challenge
While most strategies are synergistic in their benefits for staff and customers, there was one area that potentially poses a conflict of staff and client interests. From a staff perspective, the research shows that finding a good work-life balance is very important for maintaining staff wellbeing. However, of the 27 practices we investigated, work-life balance was least related to customer satisfaction. With a workforce that is largely comprised of older, female, part-time staff, this suggests there may be a tension between providing consistency of care to clients and residents and flexibility of work hours for staff. Finding creative solutions to this challenge will be critical for services to retain good staff while also meeting customer needs.
For more research on the aged care industry click here.