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Decision Time! The Top 10 Things NDIS Participants Want In A Provider

In the competitive NDIS marketplace, providers need to know how to stand out from the crowd. Aviva shares with you the results from her PhD looking at what NDIS participants want in providers.


Updated 15 Apr 202429 Jul 2020

I spend most days talking to NDIS participants and their families and support coordinators, connecting them with service providers. My team also collects participants’ reviews of NDIS services and hears all about what matters to them.

I was speaking to a provider last week who asked me, “How do I differentiate myself from all the other plan managers and support work providers out there?” I said, “Wow, GREAT question!” I wish more people asked me that! It’s key to attracting participants and keeping them happy for the long haul. I am so interested in this topic that I did a PhD on it. 🤓 

As a social worker, I’m interested in this topics because we want the NDIS market to be able to deliver social equity… and markets aren’t known for their strength in evenly distributing resources.

There’s a lot of discussion in literature and policy about “market stewardship” (what we need to do to make markets work), but almost none of it is about what consumers need. From where I’m sitting, if the NDIS market needs to work for anyone, it’s consumers.

So in my PhD research, I asked participants, family members and coordinators about how they choose NDIS providers – or how they wish they could choose NDIS providers.

Let’s be honest, you want to read PhD even less than you want to read an NDIS quarterly report, so I’ve broken it right down into a clickbait-style top-10 list. I’ve popped some quotes in to illustrate what each point is about. You’re welcome.



This was the most important issue by a long shot. It describes the participant and their family feeling heard, understood, prioritised and respected. That includes being listened to, having their beliefs and values upheld; and it includes the provider “going above and beyond”. For example, one participant described a provider’s willingness to spend time answering his questions before signing a service agreement as “a good indicator about whether it’s about helping you or if it’s just about getting another client.”



Naturally, participants want to know if your staff have the knowledge and expertise to help them achieve their goals. And it’s not all about qualifications – demonstrating understanding and experience is just as important. Participants ask, “Do you have experience in this area? When you talk to me, do you sound like you know what you’re talking about?”

Alternatively, providers could be asking questions or making observations about the participant that indicate their expertise – for example, about development milestones or symptoms. For some participants, this is important because they have specific and complex needs that staff need to be trained in.

For others, “good training” means the worker communicates well or expertly navigates the NDIS system.



Most participants see good communication as a proxy for just about every other aspect of service.

Communication is seen as part of the treatment or intervention itself, assisting with navigating complex systems, and manages expectations and allows problems to be fixed immediately or even preventatively. Participants also said that good communication creates trust and makes sure that service provision is all about the customer.

For example, one participant felt that that those providers who spoke directly to her son (the NDIS participant) and greeted him first were the only ones she’d choose. One participant had an agency who “just never call back” but she stayed with them because they liked their worker so much, but another was about to leave the provider for the same reason – they didn’t answer her calls.



A lot of participants feel that an appropriate personality fit between worker and participant is more important than qualifications. A passionate quote from one participant illustrates this point well: “I'll walk over broken coals for really good staff members – I'll put up with crappy communication and not great customer service, and honestly I don't care if the staff are qualified and experienced… I care if they can do what I need.” This also includes whether available staff are of an appropriate gender and age, and finally, whether you appear have enough staff in your pool and will be able to consistently fill all the shifts needed.



Participants want to know if providers can adjust their services around their specific needs and preferences. They also want to make sure their expectations are managed about what can and can’t be provided. This includes planning for the future and crises, especially for those clients with progressive or fluctuating conditions.

It also includes clarity around what the provider will not do, i.e. what their physical, cultural or religious limitations might be, for example: “Some entities would baulk at the idea of taking a client to Sexpo.”



“Capacity-building” is not just a buzzword. For example, participants want their paid supports to help them navigate the NDIS system and get what they need, by doing things like providing high quality reports for NDIS assessments.

Participants also want providers to work with their whole support systems to help them become more independent. For example, a mum I spoke to asked providers: “Can you teach me things? Is it just sessions with [my son, or] can I spend some of that money and you and I have half an hour together and you give me some strategies?”

Some participants also want to know how they can influence an organisation, and give feedback when they need to.


Your brand is more than your logo. Participants want to know you’re ethical and you care about the people you work with. Most participants don’t care if you’re a company or a not-for-profit, but they do care about whether you’re “in it for the money” or “to provide good support to me”. They’re also interested in the size of the organisation and how this impacts their experience: “Am I customer one of 3,000? Am I going to really get quality support provided by a coordinator that knows my needs and I don’t have to keep repeating it to five different people because the agency’s so big and there’s 10 coordinators in the office?”


It can be hard for participants to compare apples to apples in this industry. Price is an easy way to compare – but because most providers are charging NDIS rates, it’s often not helpful. But participants still want to know they’re getting value for money. Since I completed this research, I’ve spoken to a lot more self-managed participants who are moving away from NDIS providers charging top rates, but most people want quality and are willing to pay for it. Some people are interested in what packages or discounts they might be able to get if they purchase multiple services. Participants also want to know providers have reasonable terms and conditions, including those around cancellation.



Nearly everyone raised the issue of access. What are the transport options? Will they come to me? Can I get there? For example, “Is it accessible? Can he get in there… not just transport-wise, but when he gets there, is the building easy to get into?” Multiple people had examples of suppliers with inaccessible offices, and several said that traveling for an hour would be a dealbreaker for them.



There were a whole lot of issues that came up about time management. Are there waiting lists? What’s your minimum shift time? What hours are available? Can there be flexibility around school or work commitments? How long does the service agreement last? Will I be working with the same person consistently for the long term? People also wanted to know if they could manage their own rosters and make changes within 24 hours of their booking, especially when it came to support workers.


If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s the importance of communication. Your brand is so much more than your logo! It’s all your people; it’s online and offline; it’s in your office’s accessibility and the clarity of your service agreements. From your receptionist to your direct support worker. On social media and in frontline caregiving. Every interaction you have with a participant is a chance to make a good impression and improve someone’s life, even if it’s just offering your experience about how to navigate the NDIS. Investing in your systems and staff is important, and being transparent and honest about how you can and can’t help people is essential.



Aviva Beecher Kelk is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, and head Disability Services Advisor at Clickability. She has a Masters degree in social work and undergraduate degrees in Arts and Fine Art. As one of the cofounders of Clickability, she’s been helping participants and providers connect and communicate with each other for over 5 years. You can get in touch with her via [email protected] or 1800 414 616, and you can connect with the Disability Services Advisory team using this form.


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