Why Do All Age Services Kinda Look the Same?

3 years ago
innovAGEING > Media + Blog > Blog > Why Do All Age Services Kinda Look the Same?
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“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

—Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company

One of the aims of the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Act, passed in 2013, was to bring about more consumer choice and greater control. This in turn led to the Australian Government introducing market-oriented sector reforms that promote consumer choice and competition.

Over the last four years, we’ve seen an upsurge on the consumer or customer as the focal point. This isn’t a phenomenon unique to age services, and providers are using digital tools with the potential to generate granular customer insights.

This new found obsession on the customer has been thoroughly embraced with concepts and methodologies like human-centred design, customer experience, customer journey mapping, and the like. We’re told that we need to get closer to the customer, understand them better, and be in-tune to their wants.

Yet, a recent study by the Melbourne Institute, noted that such reforms have led to less quality choices, and that elders and their families find it hard to choose a provider. Taking the Institute’s findings as a whole, ideas such as ‘market failure’ have been suggested.

innovAGEING was one of the first in the sector to call for a focus on consumers. During this time, we’ve been on the public record suggesting that aged care providers should perhaps consider the elders we care for as the experts of the services they receive. 

Yet, in light of this focus on the customer, could it be that sector providers are now finding themselves too reliant on other people’s opinions, at the expense of not having a clear vision and point of differentiation?

In a complex sector like ours, where decisions are comprised of sub-optimal options, where it’s hard to be confident about our present operating landscape—perhaps listening to consumers is a ‘safe bet’. However, is this mindset inadvertently leading us down a path of sector homogenisation?

This is an interesting phenomenon. At a time when organisations have access to more customer data (and insights) than ever before, organisations want to know their customers even more—but if the Melbourne Institute’s findings are correct, elders and their families have less knowledge about providers.

To quote Steve Jobs:

“This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us?”

Add to this, a Forrester report on the cost of losing creativity, noted that the focus on the customer through initiatives like customer experience (CX) has led to brand homogenisation. This makes sense, for example, think of when you use a mobile app, book a flight online, or buy something online, your experience is pretty much the same.  

The decision-making playbook goes as such:

  • A prospective age services consumer passively considers what they might need in the future.
  • Circumstances trigger a need/want, which spotlights services in a particular sector category (home care, retirement living, etc).
  • Consumer (and their family) actively consider their options.
  • A decision is made, and committed to.
  • Reconsideration of that decision occurs.

In this regard, as an organisation, you fail to define and stakeout a unique positing in your consumer’s mind when a trigger motivates them to seek age services.

What’s important to note here is, if providers understand their customers, they will invariably end up competing in the same market category, and essentially in the same way. Progressive innovators when faced with such a landscape would create a new category for themselves.

The added barrier for this in a mature sector like ours is the added dimension of the reality that we are drawing on the same knowledge-base. In this regard:

  • Consumers who are buying the same services and products.
  • Incumbent sector experts who have been advising on, or selling, to this consumer base.

Unfortunately, in this sea of sameness, everyone talks about change, but inadvertently continues the status quo, copying each other’s initiatives perhaps with minor tweaks.

In such a stay of play, breakthroughs rarely happen.  

Merlin Kong is Head of innovAGEING and Interim Director of the Centre for Workforce Development & Innovation, LASA.

Published in LASA Fusion, Winter 2021.