Care providers must promote more choice in the personalisation era

Capacity Builder’s Geoff Ettridge has some advice for care providers, in view of the personalisation of services and the rise of the consumer

Towards the end of last year I had two conversations which pointed to the need for the care sector to radically examine the way it markets its services. The first was with a medium-sized care provider that wanted to reposition itself within the domiciliary care market but which was unable, other than in terms of geography and users, to precisely describe its current market.

The second was with a man who wanted to know how to choose between care homes for his father. While considering both these questions it dawned on me that they may in fact relate to the same issue – how are providers and potential clients going to be able to differentiate between one service and another in an increasingly complex market?

Care philosophy

The starting point for many people seeking a care service will be to refer to the various directories available. However, these tend to be little more than categorised lists of addresses and telephone numbers. Where a care provider has purchased additional advertising space they tend to use it to include more information about their “hotel” services or to make a rather general statement about their “care philosophy”.

In the main, the only information that is available to help potential clients distinguish between providers is contained in the inspection reports prepared by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Although these reports contain important information they are prepared as part of the regulatory systems and therefore not particularly useful for choosing between services or providers. Using a CSCI report to choose a service provider would be rather like using a Financial Services Authority report to choose a bank – not irrelevant but perhaps not as helpful as it could be.

Minimum standards

In a market where all registered care providers meet minimum standards and clients will be increasingly making their own arrangements for their care and support, it is essential that care providers proactively promote the benefits that would come with using their service and what distinguishes them from other providers.

In developing and promoting these benefits it is important to recognise that the “crisis” that may have precipitated someone needing personal care can soon pass. Although there may be a continuing need for care, once the crisis has been met the individual’s feeling of well-being will depend on them being able to pick up on past interests or develop new ones that reflect their changed circumstances. How the available services will help potential clients resume past interests or develop new ones should therefore be a critical factor in choosing between them.

Promotion problem

So to go back to my two questioners, unless care providers can articulate how what they provide is different to others, they will not be able to promote themselves in a way that will help individuals make informed choices about the services they require, how they want them delivered, and who they want to provide them.

Unless this is realised it is difficult to see how the combined purchasing power of individual budget holders and self-funders will be able to change the shape of the market, or indeed for service providers who do not understand the needs and expectations of their potential clients, to survive the transformation agenda.

Geoff Ettridge is the director of consultancy service Capacity Builders. He worked for more than 20 years as a senior local authority manager responsible for the strategic planning of care services and service development

Published in Community Care 22 January 2009 ‘Why care providers must try harder to promote choice’

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