How NDIS Providers Can Restore Trust
Now in its third year, the annual GoodHuman Customer Trends and Values Report paints a picture of an industry facing a trust crisis. After participants have had funding slashed, seen waitlists spiral and their trusted support workers leave, trust in both providers and the sector at large is under strain.
The NDIS was introduced to give optimism and choice, but is too often marred by suspicion and cynicism.
Demoralising? A little. Hopeless? No way.
We see 2023 as the year that the tide will turn for the disability support sector. Providers committed to fostering trust with their customers won’t just have solid working relationships, but will also benefit from a new wave of optimism taking place.
The industry is seeing action that could restore hope and trust in the NDIS. There’s been an $8.8 billion funding boost and renewed commitment to the Scheme from the Labor Government. The NDIA appointed the first person with a disability to Chair the Board with Kurt Fearnley AO now at the helm.
For leaders in the sector, the question is what actions will your organisation take to harness and build on this optimism at a provider level? From tweaks you can make straight away to bigger picture projects, this year presents an opportunity to providers to break the cycle of pessimism, foster genuine trust with customers and deliver better services.
This report uncovers:
- What makes people trust an NDIS provider and strategies to earn more confidence from customers
- How to resolve communication issues and deliver consistency of care in the face of workforce shortages and turnover
- How trust is influencing emerging trends for 2023 and how NDIS providers can respond to give customers more of what they want
The findings in this report come from an Australian survey of 651 respondents (201 NDIS participants and 450 primary carers/legal guardians) between November 22 and December 4, 2022. GoodHuman worked with The Evolved Group to deliver this research and assess the experience of people accessing support services on the NDIS.
People trust organisations that can demonstrate expertise, reliability and transparency
When we asked customers what they value most from support organisations, the answer rings loud and clear: trust. In fact, trust has been the top-ranked customer priority every year since we started the survey in 2021.
When people trust their provider and support workers, their experience is easier. They feel like there is someone in their corner who understands what they want and can deliver it to them consistently.
So what does trust look like to customers? This year we asked respondents what made them trust a support organisation and they told us that providers that can demonstrate expertise and competence and communicate clearly are more likely to earn their trust.
What makes people trust an NDIS provider?
- Expertise and competence
- Professionalism and reliability
- Good communication
- Good reviews and recommendations from other customers
If you can’t demonstrate these trust-building attributes, customers are likely to leave. 1 in 4 respondents said they have sought a new provider within the last 12 months due to being unsatisfied with their current provider. When we asked why they were unhappy, the answers mirror what makes people trust a support organisation.
Reason for dissatisfaction with existing provider:
- Expertise and competence
- Trust and reliability
- Communication and understanding
The issue of trust isn’t coming from people who are unfamiliar with how the NDIS works, either. Our survey results suggest that dissatisfaction doesn’t diminish over time — it grows.
38% of respondents said they found it difficult to find a support organisation in their first year using the NDIS. This jumped to 44% for people who have been using the NDIS for 2 or more years, showing that even experienced customers aren’t sure who to trust.
When we look at people who are dissatisfied with their support provider, we see the same increase over time. This suggests that the search for a new provider is getting harder due to a poor experience with a current provider or a lack of alternative options to switch to.
Does NDIS registration influence trust?
While NDIS registration is free, there are considerable costs associated with compliance and ongoing auditing to keep your NDIS registration, especially for large organisations. The good news for leadership teams in the sector is that your hard work is not going unnoticed. NDIS registration is highly valued by more than three-quarters of customers when looking for support organisations. Not just for funding, but because it brings a sense of trust.
“It gives a sense of identity to the organisation that they are more serious about support.” – Primary carer, Sydney
“It shows that they have the necessary regulatory framework in place.” – NDIS participant, Brisbane
“NDIS registration (for me) provides a level of trust that they are associated with having exceeded a minimum level of competency to assist those in need.” – Primary carer, Adelaide
NDIS registration is valued by customers accessing any service, however for people accessing employment support it’s almost essential, with 91% of respondents saying that NDIS registration is a consideration for who they work with.
The only customers who are less likely to require a provider to be registered are those accessing allied health and therapy, assistive technologies (e.g. equipment and home/vehicle modifications), or assistance animals, with 73% saying it’s a consideration.
Earning confidence: Actions that can foster trust in 2023
From the responses we’ve seen over the past three years, it’s clear that trust is a pervasive issue that is playing out at an individual level between customers and their providers. To put this narrative to an end, disability support leaders need to be bold and show action is taking place within their organisations.
Opportunities to build on and foster trust exist across four core areas:
- Demonstrating expertise and specialised knowledge, by ensuring best-fit matches for customers and being transparent about the services you offer and their availability
- Giving customers an opportunity to feel heard and understood and showing that you are paying attention
- Delivering services with reliability and professionalism, where changes or disruptions are communicated quickly and clearly to customers
- Collecting testimonials and building your reputation through word of mouth and reviews
Trust is not something that will appear overnight, nor is it the responsibility of a single department. The checklist below can be used to assess what your organisation is currently doing to foster trust with customers and inspire new ways to build upon it.
Actions to take now:
- Survey your team members and ask if there is anything preventing them from conducting their work with professionalism and reliability — for example, if they are not being allocated enough travel time and are frequently late/rushed or if they don’t have customer history available to them and feel unprepared. This should be managed and reviewed by Human Resources to make recommendations for how to respond on an operational level and in staff meetings.
- Survey your customer database and ask for their feedback on the quality of the services you provide and communication they receive. The responses should be collected and used to inform strategic planning.
- Set up profiles to accept reviews on sites such as Google My Business, Facebook and TrustPilot. Include links to these platforms on your website and set up email automation to ask customers to review your services on the channels identified after they have received services for a period of time.
- Ensure team leaders know to be transparent in all communication. From the services/expertise you offer to waitlist times or staff availability, people want clear and direct answers on what you can deliver. You can find more information and action items on transparency in our 2022 report.
Projects to plan for in 2023:
- When you receive results from your customer survey, create an action plan to address feedback and communicate any changes to your customers to show you are responsive.
- If your team member surveys unearth gaps such as lateness or lack of preparation, investigate tools or NDIS software that can help deliver services with more efficiency such as checking in and out of bookings (to effectively audit travel time) or customer notes to prepare team members.
- When completing strategic planning for 2023, consider your communication practices. Do your frontline support team members have the tools to communicate easily with NDIS participants, carers, and family members to notify of any booking changes, issues, or progress toward goals?
- You should also review procedures in place for handling staffing and communication when a team member goes on holiday, is unwell, or resigns. Do you have effective plans in place to continue services and communicate to customers, showing professionalism and reliability of services?
- Look at your protocols for matching support workers and customers — are you delivering the best possible expertise to the right people?
- Do team members need to be upskilled to perform at their best? Determine if there are knowledge or skill gaps that need to be addressed for team members to demonstrate competence and expertise in the services you offer.
- Services that are falling short can damage your reputation and trust. 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.
- Register for NDIS registration or protect your status by staying on top of compliance and auditing processes
- Start collecting customer testimonials and feedback to share on your own website and social media channels, demonstrating trust you have built with existing customers.You can also highlight top reviews from external sites.
Customers are looking for consistency and continuity of care in the face of an ever-changing support workforce
There’s another standout statistic that we have seen for the past three years that impacts the experience customers have with their support providers: having to repeat their story over and over.
68% of customers find it frustrating whenever they have to explain support requirements to new people.
In the past three years, more than two-thirds (an average of 68%) of respondents agreed with the statement, “I find it frustrating whenever I have to explain my/their support requirements to new people.”
Instead of feeling understood and heard, people are forced to start from the beginning with every new support worker. Which, depending on staff availability and turnover within their provider, could happen quite a bit.
This is a frustration that leaders within support organisations share too. Staff are often hired as casuals to fit within the strict parameters of NDIS billing, not because you want or need a transient workforce. Providers are spending money hiring and training good staff only to have them leave for higher wages or new opportunities. The solution isn’t as simple as keeping customers with the same support worker.
There’s no quick-fix solution to addressing the workforce shortages that are plaguing industries across the country right now. What can be addressed immediately is how providers communicate with their customers and maintain consistency, even when the person delivering the services isn’t the same.
Let’s take a quick look at what customers said about communication with their support organisations.
These responses are important to note, because proactive communication plays a big role in improving service delivery and creating consistency in the face of staff shortages and turnover. Reading the customer quotes, the frustration and mistrust isn’t stemming from support workers changing. It’s from not knowing when they will hear from anyone, not being informed of changes, or being given inconsistent information.
While it’s not always possible to have the same support worker, improving internal communication can ensure that any new or unfamiliar team members are up to date with their customer’s requirements.
Having access to the right information when they need it means they can show up to appointments informed and prepared, staying focused on customer goals and ready to pick up where the last person left off — rather than starting again.
Take Action: Create consistency for your customers
Consistency of care is paramount to an effective working relationship between frontline support workers and your customers.
Matching people with the right support worker from the get-go is one vital step in helping customers achieve their goals. The next is maintaining consistency, through better internal communication, introducing online services to minimise disruption, and culture changes.
There are opportunities in 2023 for support organisations to introduce or bolster retention programs, creating a positive working environment that encourages staff to stay. Teams should also be armed with the right tools and information to ensure there is continuity and consistency in the support provided, even when team members change.
Actions to take now:
- Prepare your leadership team for digital transformation with this free playbook: 3 Steps to Future-Proof Your NDIS Organisation.
- Introduce transparency in your communications with customers. If you are short-staffed, be transparent about wait times and give notice to customers about any potential disruption to services rather than issuing last-minute cancellations. Automation can be a useful tool to communicate to people at scale and reduce the burden on your customer service team members.
- Give carers and family members the opportunity to provide feedback and include it in customer notes so that preferences can be accommodated (and repeat mistakes avoided).
- Read The Support Workforce Guide for creative ideas on recruitment and addressing workforce shortages.
Projects to plan for in 2023:
- Start your strategic planning for 2023 by identifying ways that technology can be used to scale personalised support and create a consistent level of service.
- Ensure customer care data is stored securely and centrally, in a way that can be accessed by new or temporary team members, ensuring they are showing up prepared to every appointment.
- Dedicate budget to, and look at developing, internal retention programs to build a positive culture, rather than relying solely on recruitment to fill positions.
- Automate skill-matching so that the best suited support worker can be assigned to every shift without the heavy administrative burden.
- Offer online bookings via an app or your website to reduce friction for customers and minimise call wait times if rescheduling needs to occur.
Customers are scrutinising billing and referrals to inform choices on who to trust.
Trend #1: Customers are more sensitive about billing to their NDIS plans
As we’ve seen, many of the responses to our survey have been consistent with previous years — but we have seen some noticeable spikes and changing trends in 2022.
With inflation and cost of living pressure on everyone’s mind in 2023, it’s interesting to note that this concern is flowing through to support services, even with many costs controlled by the NDIS.
This year 43% of respondents said they prioritise “good value with transparency around costs and billing”, a 30% increase on last year.
External research and interviews have revealed that many NDIS participants fear losing services or equipment — or have felt forced to fight for what they feel to be essential when the NDIA has rejected claims on the basis of value. This means it’s never been more important for people to work with a provider they trust to deliver value and make the best use of their NDIS budget.
As a result, customers are looking for more visibility on their NDIS budgets. They want to know what is being spent and that their services are of good value, so that they can receive the best support and not fear being cut off. Transparency around costs is one way that providers can help put customers’ minds at ease and build trust that funds are being used appropriately.
2023 is a good time to review your invoicing practices to ensure that customers are receiving clarity around how their NDIS plan is being utilised. For organisations that offer support coordination services, GoodHuman’s platform includes tools that give better visibility on how to get the most out of every individual’s NDIS funding. This includes real-time feedback on plan utilisation and the ability to create sophisticated funding package quotes that provide visibility on line items and allocated budget splits from external provider services.
Trend #2: People are relying more on personal referrals and online reputation to validate a provider choice
When it comes to finding a support provider, internet search has again come out on top as a preferred source for researching who to trust, followed by a referral from a friend or someone with direct experience. With trust levels low, seeing reviews or getting personal recommendations can help customers make choices with more confidence.
The below data compares where people go to find a support provider and reveals how trust is playing out for those in the market.
In 2021, with lockdowns in place across the country, people became less reliant on GPs and Allied Health professionals for referrals. Once the most relied upon source, in 2021 it dipped by 27% and was replaced by internet search as the most popular way to find a support provider.
In 2022, GP and Allied Health referrals have recovered at close to the same levels as 2020, but internet searches remain strong, seeing a small increase after jumping up by 33% in 2021.
The newer trend we’re seeing is with referrals from friends or someone with direct experience. This has increased by 30% on last year’s result and suggests that in a time where trust is low, people are looking for reassurance on their choice of provider. Primary carers/legal guardians in particular are likely to use word of mouth, with referrals from friends or direct experience the top source when it comes to finding someone to support their loved ones.
NDIS participants are less likely to rely on personal referrals, instead working with support coordinators as their top referral source. This is a preference over using Local Area Coordinators (LAC), which appear to be falling out of favour when it comes to referrals. LAC referrals have decreased by almost 40% over three years — only 13% of respondents used an LAC, down from 21% in 2020. Local council referrals are also low at 4%.
These statistics support the data seen around provider trust, with the majority of respondents saying that ‘good reviews and recommendations’ played a role in helping them determine who to trust, second only to expertise.
Even when receiving a referral from a health professional, potential customers are more likely to do their own research online and confirm that others are happy with the services provided. This reinforces the importance of taking the time to ask people how they feel about the services provided and to encourage online reviews to shine a light on happy customers.
Take Action: Show transparency and focus on reputation building to win more referrals
All of the action points in this guide so far can help disability support providers focus on building trust by demonstrating the kind of expertise, transparency and professionalism that satisfies customers and builds your reputation.
If you haven’t done so already, review the checklists provided in the first two chapters to look at fostering confidence from your customers and improving word-of-mouth. If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and start making changes, gain some inspiration from two fearless leaders in the disability support sector who are challenging outdated processes to innovate and overcome roadblocks to efficiencies in their human services organisations.
Navigating a new era of confidence and trust
While it’s true that customer confidence is low, the takeaway from this report should be that a more optimistic future is not out of reach for providers in the disability support sector who are willing to take action.
With steps to restore trust being taken at a federal level, leaders within the industry are in a great position to rally teams and challenge the status quo — ushering in a new era of credibility and trust.
Support organisations who can demonstrate expertise and communicate with transparency are the most likely to stand out from the pack and succeed in 2023. The next step for leadership teams is to review your strategic direction for 2023, and see where the action plans outlined in this report can make an impact for your organisation.