More than half a million Australians are now accessing NDIS-supported services. As the Scheme continues to grow, so does pressure on the disability support sector, particularly for large-scale support organisations who have been long-time fixtures of the community. With the rapid rise in demand, resources become stretched as support organisations strive to deliver high-quality services to a growing number of customers — without the same growth in their workforce.
The question then becomes, how do we do more with less? When demand is rising, it’s time to look to operational efficiencies that can enhance the customer experience and service quality. GoodHuman’s second annual Customer Trends and Values Report examines what customers value the most and where the future of support services is heading, to deliver clearer pathways and practical solutions to help organisations succeed in 2022 and beyond.
This report will uncover:
- Why focusing on your strengths can create operational efficiencies, while delivering more of what customers want
- How to evolve your online presence to reduce frustrations and remove barriers that customers have to access services
- Which technologies present new opportunities for support organisations in 2022
The findings in this report come from an Australian survey of 653 respondents (199 NDIS participants and 454 primary carers/legal guardians) between December 7, 2021 and January 7, 2022. GoodHuman worked with The Evolved Group to deliver this research and assess the experience of people accessing support services on the NDIS.
62% of respondents agree that it is hard to find organisations skilled in their specific support needs.
I want the best support person for the job, even if they aren't the cheapest or the best communicator.
62% of respondents agree that it is hard to find organisations skilled in their specific support needs.
It felt like I was searching for a needle in a haystack to find a support worker for my exact needs.
62% of respondents agree that it is hard to find organisations skilled in their specific support needs.
A positive experience is when you are speaking with someone and they understand exactly what you want or need.
Customers want specialist expertise over a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to support
To find out what customers value most from support organisations, we asked them to rank their top priorities in order of importance:
What customers want from a service provider
49% Trust that staff have their best interest at heart
38% Specialisations and expertise in people with their specific needs
35% Quick and clear communication from their service provider
Last year’s report showed that trust and communication were most valued by NDIS participants and legal guardians. This year, trust (49%) and clear communication (35%) remain top priorities, alongside specialist expertise (38%) and good value and transparency around costs and billing (33%).
Specialisation and expertise with specific support needs was a new addition to the survey after many respondents told us that knowledge of their disability type was a key factor when looking for a support provider. This immediately ranked in second place for what people value most, with 38% of people saying this was their top priority.
Most valued attributes in a provider
Despite being the highest priority for many respondents, finding an organisation that meets their specific support requirements is a challenge.
Of course, research and onboarding is only one step in this process. If you have customers that aren’t getting the expertise they were looking for, they will go elsewhere. 31% of respondents are looking to switch providers due to being unhappy with their existing support organisation — a quarter (25%) due to lack of expertise or competence in their specific situation.
More than half of all respondents (60%) currently manage services from two or more support organisations, with 30% accessing services from three or more providers. This suggests that people are less likely to look for a single organisation to do everything, opting for specialist providers.
What people want is more expertise in their specific needs and better clarity on the services offered by a support organisation. There are opportunities for support organisations to clarify and focus on what they do best, instead of feeling pressure to be ‘everything to everyone’.
Take action: Focus on your strengths
While specialisation won’t be a fix for every support organisation, if your resources are stretched and operations are impacted, looking to your strengths is a great way to uncover efficiencies — and even grow your business without compromise to service delivery.
Narrowing the focus of your organisation doesn’t automatically mean your business will shrink either (this article from DSC has a great insight on being all things to all people). Research shows that people are willing to pay more for specialist services and to providers with experience with their specific situation.
By honing a reputation for delivering a few excellent services, your perceived value will increase and it becomes easier for people to find your services. Specialisation can even shield your organisation from reputational damage on under-serviced areas of your operation.
In terms of operational efficiency, specialisation allows team leaders to identify gaps in knowledge to provide targeted training to frontline support workers. It allows marketing efforts to become more targeted, costing you less money to find customers that can benefit the most from your new offering.
Even for the largest organisations with a broad offering, there are ways to divide and rebrand specialist services, so that teams within these departments can focus on delivering these services, rather than everything on your roster.
- Revisit your strategic direction, examining the expertise you already have in-house. Have leadership and department heads run a critical analysis on what’s working well and your strongest skill sets.
- Identify the services you can confidently offer with minimal disruption.
- Determine if there is scope to focus on the services identified and offer specialist expertise rather than a wider variety of services.
- Run a critical analysis on any services receiving poor feedback or with skill shortages. Identify any services that may be better managed by another provider.
- Examine your operational processes to look for efficiencies by focusing on a few services or dividing departments to focus on their expertise.
- Ask team leaders to identify any skill shortages and focus internal training around specialist areas to build expertise and trust.
Marketing and Communication
- Have marketing teams update communication material and audience targeting to focus on your specialist expertise and reduce costs.
Three-quarters of customers wish the process of accessing support services were simpler
Finding a support organisation] was hard because so many organisations say they do almost everything. It was hard to know who really delivers on their service promise…Once we spoke to the support organisations we found they didn't actually provide all the services that were listed on their sites or NDIS links.
Customers are moving their search for support providers online, but it’s not making things easier (yet)
With most people in various forms of lockdown over the past two years, it’s unsurprising that the internet has become a more relied-upon tool to locate and access support services.
Internet search has increased by 33% from last year’s results, replacing a referral from a GP/Allied Health provider as the top resource for finding a support organisation. With face-to-face appointments harder to get, referrals went down by 27% and were more relied on by primary carers/legal guardians (24%) than NDIS participants (16%).
Spending time online is part of everyday life for most people now, so it’s natural that the majority of customers accessing support services are going to do research on this topic online.
- 83% of all respondents say they spend time researching and/or discussing support services online.
- Over half (53%) say they spend more time on these activities than they would researching personal or social activities.
- 18% say researching or discussing support services takes up “a huge amount of time” in their lives.
Despite the amount of time spent researching and discussing support services, respondents didn’t find it any easier to find the right support organisations.
Three-quarters of NDIS participants and legal guardians have difficulties in finding the right support organisation (75%) and wish the process of accessing support services were simpler (73%) — both up from 67% in 2020.
All support providers have a website and NDIS website listing, but customers are struggling to find what they are looking for on these channels. Many respondents called for simpler information from support organisations and more transparency around service availability to reduce the time spent researching providers.
Good communication fosters trust and positive experiences
With finding the right support organisation more challenging than ever, it’s important to foster good communication throughout every customer relationship. Customers who reported having a positive experience with a service provider said it was because they were given what they value most: clear communication, specialist expertise and simple administration of their plan.
However, while communication is highly regarded by customers, only half of all customers have regular contact with their support organisation/s.
Good communication and transparency are what builds trust. It allows people to feel heard and makes accessing services easier for your customers. Our survey found that customers who receive check-ins at least once a month are more likely to find it easy to coordinate their services across different organisations (70% disagree that it’s hard work). Of those who receive check-ins once a year or less, 59% ‘strongly agree’ that it’s frustrating having to explain support requirements to new people.
Take Action: Build transparency into your communication
Customers want more transparency from support organisations, with clear and upfront information on waiting times and the specialist expertise offered. With an increase in online research to find services, there are new opportunities for support organisations to reduce the burden on both customers and their customer service teams with simple fixes to communication online.
Let’s start with the information on your website and NDIS listings. In the earlier days of the NDIS, it made sense for organisations to keep information broad, encouraging people to make contact to discuss their personal situation. Direct referrals were also the largest source of service discovery, so most people were directed to a specific organisation.
However, we now know that people are spending more time online looking for and researching disability support organisations — but it’s getting harder for people to find what they need. With the scheme growing dramatically in numbers, customer service teams are equally impacted and may struggle to keep pace with the volume of enquiries when relying on this approach.
Customers told us that the best experience is when a support organisation is upfront about what they did and didn’t do, while setting realistic expectations around availability and wait times.
The important takeaway here is that people understand that you may not have the exact service they need or may not be able to assist them immediately. The frustration arises from not knowing when they will hear from anyone, or finding inconsistent information.
When it comes to retaining customers, transparency and regular communication is just as important. By developing a regular cadence of check-ins with customers, people are not left guessing when they will hear from you. Whether this is a 1:1 check-in with a team leader or even an email survey sent quarterly, by showing a willingness to listen you can build trust and help customers feel more connected to your organisation.
Capacity and waitlists
- Assign a team member to be responsible for reporting current capacity and waitlist times. This information should be shared internally and used to determine a message that customer service and marketing teams can share with anyone enquiring about availability.
Assign a communications team member or web task force to:
- Refresh the content on your website and NDIS listing to highlight your organisation’s strengths and specialist expertise.
- Remove any mention of services that you don’t/no longer offer. If you plan to offer them in the future, be clear about when.
- Remove any acronyms, abbreviations and industry jargon that may be confusing to newcomers to the NDIS.
- Publish answers to the most frequently asked questions that customer service teams get, reducing call wait times.
- Update customer contact forms to include an average response time (i.e. “Thank you for your enquiry, a team member will be in touch within 7 – 10 days”) to set expectations with customers on when they will hear back from you.
- Update any social media channels to advise of any changes or disruptions to your service/s, being honest and upfront to keep people informed.
- Assess your current cadence for customer check-ins and determine if a new program or plan needs to be implemented to ensure it takes place at least once a quarter
- Have team leaders oversee check-ins with customers, reporting feedback and findings to senior leadership to inform strategic planning
- If action is taken as a direct result of customer feedback, communicate these changes to your customers to show your willingness to listen and learn
- If your organisation becomes affected by health restrictions or furloughed staff, have a senior leader communicate the situation to customers quickly and be transparent about how your organisation intends to manage the situation to boost confidence and trust
How to make use of technology to stand out and succeed in 2022
Technology itself is hardly a new trend, but with an evolution in the way that people engaged professionally and personally in 2021, a trend towards using technology to access and manage NDIS-supported services emerged — bringing new opportunities for support organisations.
In 2021, more than half of NDIS participants (56%) and legal guardians (64%) accessed support services online to minimise the risk of COVID-19.
Accessing services online became a necessity for many people to protect their health, but it has proved to be a big hit with customers. Three out of every four (78%) of NDIS participants would like to keep accessing some or all of their services online. In fact 68% said they would like to continue to access all of these services online, with just 23% saying they would like to go back to receiving services in-person only.
3 out of 4 NDIS participants would like to keep accessing services online.
68% Yes, I would like to continue to access the services online
10% Yes, I would like to access some of the services online
22% No, I would not like to access any of the services online
It’s worth noting that while online services were popular, location played a role in access to these services. In regional areas, 66% of NDIS participants said they did not access any online services in 2021.
This makes sense, given that lockdowns were not as prevalent in regional settings compared to metro areas. However, this could also be influenced by the availability of online services — providers in regional areas could safely conduct face-to-face services, so perhaps weren’t as quick to offer virtual programs. Given that the availability of services can be an issue in regional areas, this presents an opportunity for local NDIS service providers to expand their services by offering digital programs. For metro providers with digital programs already in place, there’s an opportunity to broaden their reach into regional areas.
Interest in using app technology remains strong
Last year we surveyed NDIS participants and legal guardians about whether they would consider using an app to discover and/or manage services with their support organisations. 81% of respondents indicated they would consider using an app to help manage direct communication, service discovery, bookings and schedules, or their NDIS budget.
This year’s results were consistent with our previous findings, with customers most likely to want to use an app to engage directly with NDIS service providers.
Most-desired features of NDIS software:
- Communicate directly with support organisations and/or support workers
- Manage and coordinate schedules and appointments
- Book services directly without having to speak to someone on the phone, via email or in-person
Legal guardians in particular are interested in using an app to manage appointments and bookings online and 1 in 2 (50%) would use an app to manage their NDIS budget.
Take Action: Embrace new channels to connect with customers
While the pandemic has proved especially challenging for the disability support sector, being forced to adapt to new ways of working has seen leaps in innovation within the industry. In fact, the NDS report said that 85% of industry respondents believed that their organisations were able to respond well to the challenges of the pandemic.
There has never been a better time to put in place new technology to reduce the burden on your resources — while also improving customer outcomes and experience.
Offering services online is one such adaptation. Implemented to minimise the risk to customers during COVID-19, we have seen from the survey results that they have proved incredibly popular with the majority of customers keen to access them in the future. Our survey results also revealed that NDIS participants who are currently looking for a new provider were more likely to have not accessed new services online — a hint that this has the potential to be a future trend or priority for customers when looking for support organisations.
Online services can do more than just smooth over disruptions to face-to-face appointments.
They also present a unique opportunity for new job creation within the industry. By creating new roles to manage and deliver online services, you can expand your applicant pool to include people who require more flexibility and couldn’t otherwise attend face-to-face appointments.
Purpose-built NDIS software can also ease stress on your operations by offering efficiencies and freeing up team members to focus on support, not paperwork. For example, here are some of the ways that GoodHuman can address what customers told us they care about most:
- Customer notes shared among frontline support staff, reducing the frustration of customers having to repeat their support requirements to new people
- Instant bookings and appointment management
- Simplified and transparent invoicing, linked to individual NDIS plans
Invest in new technology
- Ask department leads to identify programs that lend themselves to a virtual format and can be brought online quickly, such as check-in appointments, group support sessions, therapy and education offerings.
- Ask the department or staff responsible for Information Communications Technology (ICT) to research and select a technology platform to trial such as Zoom, Webex Meetings and Google Meet. Once selected, they should:
- Run some test sessions with staff members who will be facilitating so they feel comfortable with the technology before live sessions
- Prepare simple instructions to provide to all customers who intend to join online programs, including who to contact if they are having issues
- Offer a few sessions at different times/days of the week to determine the most popular times and gauge the number of participants
- If successful and your organisation has capacity, look into expanding services into regional areas to widen your reach
- Offer online bookings via an app or your website to reduce friction for customers and minimise call wait times.
- Prepare your leadership team for digital transformation with this free playbook: 3 Steps to Future-Proof Your NDIS Organisation.
- Ensure technology is included in your 2022 strategic direction to identify operational efficiencies and improvements to service delivery.
Workplace environments, standard working hours and face-to-face appointments are not accessible to everyone. Rather than pulling team members out of the field to manage and operate online services, ensure Human Resources are focused on hiring dedicated people who can excel with more flexible conditions. You can find more creative ideas here in The Support Workforce Guide.
Customers told us they value trust, transparency, expertise, and more flexible ways to find and get in touch with disability support organisations. Support organisations who can reach and communicate effectively with their customers are the most likely to stand out from the pack and succeed in 2022.
It may not sound like a radical change, but evolving the way you present and share information could make a dramatic difference to your customer experience — and the way your organisation operates.
With your customer base getting increasingly comfortable with technology as a part of their everyday lives, now is the best time to take a proactive approach to harnessing it as a way to deliver what they value the most. By using NDIS management software such as GoodHuman, automation helps organisations to drastically reduce their administrative workload and improve customer outcomes by focusing on personalised service over paperwork. Apps can also help frontline workers to share information with one another, helping to provide a consistency of service when operations are disrupted or staff are furloughed.
The next step for leaders within the disability support sector is to review your strategic direction for 2022 and see where a combination of technology and clearer, more transparent communication can make a difference to your operations.