Quality in aged care is the topic on everyone’s minds. With the on-going Senate Inquiry the release of the Carnell/Paterson Review and the move towards a single aged care quality framework, the way the sector thinks about and delivers quality services is evolving.
With increasing consumer choice driving quality and innovation, providers need to understand customer expectations of quality and embed these within their brand and the organisation.
To integrate quality into your brand and customer experience means first defining what quality is, but this is no easy feat. Quality, by definition, is vague. In fact the Business Dictionary defines quality in number of ways:
While these are all valid definitions, they do not help us get to an objective definition of what quality actually is. That is because quality is subjective.
If we look at the aged care context, we can clearly see from the language within the draft quality standards that achievement of quality outcomes is related to individual expectations:
So if the definition of quality is subjective and individual, how do we embed quality into our brand? The good news is that Aaker (David A Aaker, 1996, Building Strong Brands) says that absolute – objective – quality is far less important for consumers in their decisions about brands than perceived quality.
According to Aaker, the major brand equity dimensions are awareness, loyalty, perceived quality and associations. Aaker defines perceived quality as a customer’s view of the quality of a service both in terms of what they expect, and in comparison with how they perceive the quality of competitors. Customers make their decisions on quality by evaluating a number of quality elements against the quality elements of others, these include:
It is clear that when quality comes down to such individual preferences and is evaluated on a number of elements that it can be time consuming and costly to activate the brand dimension of quality. However, aged care providers should be assured it is worth the investment. As Aaker points out, perceived quality has been empirically shown to effect profitability.
There are many research findings to support the notion that quality effects profitability, including seminal studies using the Profit Impact of Market Strategy (PIMS) data set which have found that companies offering superior service achieve higher market share growth (Buzzell and Gale, 1987, The PIMS Principles: Linking Strategy to Performance).
Other findings include those from The Hospital Corporation of America indicating a strong link between perceived quality of patient care and profitability across its many hospitals (Koska, 1990, High quality care and hospital profits: Is there a link?).
Strengthening our brand, growing market share and increasing profitability, and focusing on quality seems like a no brainer, right? But where do we start? Firstly we need to determine what service quality means to our customers and then develop a strategy to meet customer expectations.
At the centre of any brand strategy should be customers, as ultimately they drive brand value. Developing a brand starts with gaining an in-depth knowledge of your customer base – considering their context, needs, wants and motivations, understanding where best to place resources and the best use of creative and messaging to build awareness and drive enquiries.
There are a number of research methodologies providers can use to gain deeper insights on their customers including quantitative surveys, trend analysis and focus testing. The most important thing to remember, though, is that in order to meet customer expectations of quality, you need to understand what your customers’ expectations are at each stage in the customer journey.
When it comes to brand, alignment between all areas of the organisation is critical. Providers need to carefully map the customer journey to ensure customer experience matches what you know about perceived quality at each stage.
“Brand leadership is strategic and visionary rather than tactical and reactive. They take control of the brand strategically, setting forth what it should stand for in the eyes of the customer and communicating that identity consistently, efficiently and effectively.”
Brand activation should have an internal focus as well as an external focus; brand activation should consider culture, behaviours, services and business processes as well as external marketing and communications activity.
When perceived quality is embedded in your brand and activated correctly – all services, systems and processes are focused on delivering the brand promise – you will have happy customers. And as everyone knows, a happy customer is a loyal customer and a loyal customer is more likely to become an advocate for your organisation – the holy grail of increasing brand awareness and driving customer referrals
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