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Care Homes: the customer contact challenge

From the Knowledge Centre

First impressions matter, and many care homes are struggling to get it right when it comes to handling new enquiries. So what's going wrong, and how can it be corrected?

When individuals are choosing a care home for themselves or a family member, it's likely they will be considering a shortlisted selection of options, and first impressions will count! Building trust and reassuring enquirers early on is vital to ensure that families feel confident that a home could be the right one for their relative. But, it seems that not all care homes are getting it right...

Mystery shopper results raise concern
We recently contacted UK care home groups to see how they deal with customer contact during an initial interaction. In this "mystery shopper" research:

  • Over half of homes failed to answer the enquirer's needs in a professional and comprehensive manner;
  • 58% didn't offer an appointment to visit a home;
  • And, 45% didn't capture customer details upon first contact.

These findings are of concern, in an increasingly challenging marketplace. In addition, with many care home groups dealing with new enquiries in each home, how can already stretched care home staff provide great customer service, whilst ensuring their time is spent as it should be - providing great care for existing residents?

The whole experience of looking for a potential care home can be unsettling and confusing. By not answering calls swiftly and effectively, not having the right information available, and not being empathetic, it's likely that the enquirer will feel less sure about their choice and customer perception will be damaged early on.

"An increased knowledge of the impact of effective customer service and ensuring an easy and simple experience for each enquiry is becoming increasingly crucial."

The problem with a transactional approach
Where there is a concerted effort with new customer contact, traditionally in this sector it tends to be predominantly transactional, rather than focused on proactively engaging the enquirer. Too often, teams are trained to only complete basic tasks such as looking up nearby care homes and arranging for enquirers to speak to a care home manager.

This task-based approach not only serves to damage reputation, it can also lead to families choosing an alternative care home group. So what can be done to turn this round?

Right first time, every time
With the current financial pressures, it's never been more important for care homes to engage with and convert prospective new residents where there is the right match between the resident's needs and the home's facilities. More training and investment in customer service is therefore a must - whether choosing to subcontract to a specialist outsourcer or invest in in-house improvements.

A new, holistic approach
Care home groups should look to streamline the customer journey and provide a consistent, proactive service. A glossy brochure is no substitute for a visit to a care home, therefore offering an appointment at the first point of contact and being able to book it there and then is vitally important.

Customer service advisors should be highly trained in both customer service and the specifics of the care home sector. The customer contact team should understand the strengths and selling points of individual homes to enable them to match the customer's requirements with what each care home offers.

Having the right information available, and being able to answer queries effectively will reduce the likelihood of drop out and may reassure enquirers that the care home could be the right choice for their family member.

The right people
Discussing a family member moving into a care home can be a difficult conversation, so it's crucial that those dealing with these conversations are empathetic and understanding. Advisor recruitment practices and assessment centres should be geared up to select those with the right skill set and attitude in both customer service and the needs of the care home sector.

Regular communication is also essential to properly engage customers. If an enquirer has booked a viewing of a care home, for example, call them a couple of days ahead of the visit to ensure they have all the information they need. Follow-up calls are also useful, offering people the chance to follow-up questions or anything they forgot to ask on the day.

Prioritising the above tips and advice couldn't be more important in these uncertain times for care homes; a time when customer service could be a key differentiator. Failure to get this right can damage reputation and lead to prospective residents and their families choosing an alternative home on their shortlist.

Karen.

About the author

Karen Banfield

Karen is Echo Bristol's contact centre director, leading the Bristol team in delivering multi-channel contact centre services on behalf of a wide range of UK clients.

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