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Quality and Marketing, Strange New Bedfellows?

Sally reflects on how the Marketing and Quality Teams may be more aligned than we think…

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Updated 15 Apr 20247 Jun 2020

Quality, from the customer’s perspective, is subjective. I often quip, half joking, half deadly serious, about the year Nicky had three physios who moved to Brisbane to live with their boyfriends. All of them. I was adamant our fourth physio would be a middle-aged woman, born and bred in Newcastle (and obviously still living there) who had already had her children. I realise how non-PC that is, but continuity of care had become a big deal and I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. We moved Nicky’s allied health funding from one of the big providers, with a revolving door of practitioners, to a small, local practice. So, not only is quality subjective, it also fluctuates depending on the context of that individual and their family.

When I ask people, who are new to NDIS and individualised supports, about their key measure of service quality, they often say reliability. “Someone who turns up when they say they’re going to turn up”. Early on I would find this lower order aspiration deeply depressing. I would wonder how their hopes and expectations could be so basic. I’ve since realised it as the starting place for many people on their journey to understand and exercise their power as the holder of individualised funding, their customer power.

Some people linger there, a year and sometimes more. Others learn very quickly that reliability is the price of entry. It’s a point of parity at which providers must operate to even be considered a potential option. It’s also an instant disqualifier. I used to say that if a provider couldn’t turn up when they said they would turn up how could I trust them when I’d died and left Nicky behind?  Reliability is a big deal. From the provider’s perspective it’s a missed shift. From the family’s perspective it’s existential crisis. I noticed once, at a hospital clinic visit, a sign on the wall counting the number of days since a fall. It triggered me, as a Mum to consider my single most important measure of quality. When I returned to work, as CEO at a small disability support provider, I immediately implemented the measure “number of days since last no show”.

Over time, and with experience, a person’s measures of quality will adapt. Responsiveness of the provider to the individual’s preferences for support, might become critical. In our case, I wanted Nicky’s support workers to PEG feed her without gloves. It was how Nicky ate, and I wanted it to be as non-clinical as possible. Instantly, our provider agreed, that with correct handwashing procedures, this would be done.

Likewise, empathy between the person and their support workers will emerge as a key measure of quality. We had a carefully curated team of support workers in our life. Each was unique and valued for a different reason but there was always mutual respect and shared values. We liked them and they liked us. And each was carefully chosen by me. In hindsight I realise how frustrating that must have been for our providers. But they knew when the fit was right, everything else fell into place, including worker satisfaction and retention.

The physical appearance of support workers was also important to me. When in the community with Nicky her support workers were a reflection of her. I didn’t need them in a carefully pressed polo shirt and chinos. I absolutely didn’t want them in uniform. But I did want them to be clean and, maybe a little bit trendy.

When I work with providers on understanding quality from their customers’ perspective, I use a framework called SERVQUAL. Sometimes referred to as RATER, SERVQUAL is a marketing model used to understand customer satisfaction and service quality. Service quality is the consumer’s assessment of overall delivery and value of the provider, which can be split into five main categories. I’ve adapted these over the years to reflect the nuances of disability services as outlined below. Yet still, the definition and importance of each is subjective to the person and their family, their context, and where they are in their NDIS journey.

Models like these can be used to understand the measures of quality that are important to a person and their family but also to improve these measures in relation to a given service provider. Improvements in quality perception against expectations have been shown to increase customer loyalty, retention and word of mouth. Three critical measures in building and sustaining a disability service provider and three common goals for Marketing.

Could the use of models like these be the answer to that elusive collaboration between your organisation’s Quality and Marketing teams? Why not? They meet the organisation’s need for meaningful engagement and quality improvement in a way that is material rather than box-ticking. All whilst giving invaluable data to drive key marketing metrics.

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