With public trust in aged care decreasing, and consumer experience not meeting consumer expectations, how we support and care for older Australians is at a crossroads. To survive and thrive in this vital industry, service providers must look at new ways to innovate that are practical, collaborative, cost-effective, and most importantly, consumer-centric.
In our series of articles on innovation in aged care we have looked at what aged care innovation means, and how providers can better understand their consumers through research to build tangible insights. In this article, we look at design thinking and specifically, empathy, to truly understand consumers and deliver more human-centred innovation.
Understanding older Australians
People over the age of 65 do not fit into one or two neat categories of ‘consumers’ with standard sets of needs and desires. The very nature of ‘being older’ is also changing as we live longer and healthier lives, but live with the reality of increasingly complex chronic health conditions into old age.
Meeting consumer needs in aged care means recognising that the 65 years and over age group is a deep reflection of the national demographic diversity – this includes:
Within this cohort, there are need patterns, attitudes and behaviours that can guide strategy and help providers to design better services, packages and facilities, for example:
Conducting research and building personas1 is a good starting point but providers need to go even deeper to see the world from their consumers’ perspectives. For example, as we grow older we tend to feel younger than our biological age. A recent study in the US and Canada showed that, despite the presence of illness, more than half of the participants felt at least 20 years younger than their age.2
Providers need to understand these subtle nuances to truly walk in their consumers’ shoes and build services that meet their needs.
Empathy and innovation
Empathy is neither sympathy nor insight. It is the ability to deeply understand consumers, and to truly see and feel from their point of view. Empathy is the core of the human-centred design technique for understanding and sharing the feelings of another in order to innovate and design for them.
Another way to look at empathy is the ability to get beyond what consumers ‘say’ they feel rationally – and into the underlying emotional drivers of their decisions. This is what they think and feel – the ‘why’ of decision-making. This information forms a basis from which we can truly start to think about meaningful innovation.
One of the key reasons many new technologies, innovations and start-ups fail is because there is no market for them – no consumer need. For aged care, this is doubly important because there is a human being at the centre of all these solutions.
Building empathy for consumers is a major competitive advantage – as it means spending less time on innovating products and services where there is no demand. From developing new products or services to designing communications campaigns that really resonate. It might be innovating the way a provider does things – the channels to market or the back office so that it transforms experiences. The key thing is to find and understand problems being faced in detail before jumping to a solution.
A recurring problem in aged care are often issues in communication between a provider and consumers and/or their family.
Rather than jumping to a solution or a new technology as the silver bullet, one would start by finding the underlying cause of the problem. This might start with tracing the experience of specific consumers through the current process to identify key consumer needs and pain points.
One can then craft specific and meaningful problem or opportunity statements. It is off the back of these consumer-centric opportunity statements that providers can start to design new and creative solutions for solving consumer’s needs and applying new technologies to solving them.
Deeper understanding of the consumer
How can providers innovate or design for someone they don’t have empathy for?
Uncovering real world insights
To design for someone, providers require real needs and insights, not the sort made up in the ivory tower.
Getting teams out of the office and into the real world to experience what the consumer is experiencing, observing them, meeting with them, and becoming deeply involved in their lives – generates higher motivation.
Empathising with consumers enables you to identify problems worthy of solving. It gives meaning to one’s job, and a reason to come to work every day.
Make an impact
Too many organisations waste their time inventing products and services for non-existent needs. Empathising first helps uncover needs that consumers want to see solved.
Here are some techniques and tips to understand consumers that providers can apply to designing new products, services and experiences that create value and satisfy needs.
Aged care is about people. Providers in the sector are facing rising community expectations, greater requirements around quality and safety, and only marginal increases in funding. Given the various pressures that providers face, jumping to a new technology solution can be very tempting.
However, a deeper focus on innovation is critical and this must address the core issues at hand. Technology may be part of the solution, but evaluating it through human-centred design is vital.
Empathy is not only a critical element to a more human-centred way to innovate, it is the foundation of a more meaningful and practical approach to doing business that creates value and satisfies human needs.
innovAGEING Expert-in-Resident for Consumer Centricity
Partner, Design Thinking, KPMG
Partner, Health, Ageing, and Human Services, KPMG
For more information:
1 Shaping the Future of South Australia – Ageing Well Report, KPMG, CEDA, 2016
2 The mask we wear: Chronological age versus subjective ‘age inside’, L. F. Carver M.A., PhD., International Journal of Aging Research, 2019