By Florence Lau

To say you’re all about your clients but then not listening to them means that you’re not really about your clients. We’re proud we’ve changed at Afford and we are not just about listening – we’re about hearing what our clients are telling us, exploring solutions with people and acting on what we hear.

We are committed to listening and that is why we have a senior role at Afford that is dedicated to listening to and understanding the experiences of our clients. Why are we so committed to this? Because we want to understand what makes a great experience for our clients, and what we need to do to deliver on that.

It’s my job to do this at Afford, and I am proud we have changed and are now taking a strategic approach to establishing our Voice of Consumer program, customer insights forums, client listening, hearing and action.

Part of the change journey for Afford is moving from passive to proactive. Rather than assume that ‘no news is good news’ when it comes to client feedback, our consumer experience roadmap is all about active engagement of clients in all aspects of creating a better experience, from consultation to co-design to co-production.

We are in the first phase of this and have established our baseline over the past 12 months. We have listened to and heard what our clients think, feel, believe and want. We have a wealth of data on this now and we are using this to plan the next 12 months of listening and acting.

How do we actively listen to our clients?

We actively ask our clients what they want through meaningful daily interactions with ourstaff. I have also put in place a comprehensive program of surveys, interviews and a regular program of face-to face-meetings.

Eighteen months ago, Afford did not have a Voice of Consumer (VoC) program. We do now. VoC is nothing new. It is now a standard practice for organisations that genuinely want to be customer-led.

What VoC involves is the capture of what customers are saying about a business, product, or service. The idea is that an organisation hears about the client or customer experience of your service, their expectations (and if those were met or not).

VoC captures:

  • Client needs
  • Client expectations
  • Client understandings
  • How organisations can improve

Obviously, you need to establish forums and channels to capture, listen, hear and respond to the feedback you receive from clients. We have invested in a comprehensive program for this, a specialist lead to manage this, and most importantly – forums to act on the feedback received.

We work with qualitative and quantitative data, and we track this consistently. Our approach is evidence-based and our measures are: NPS (Net Promoter Score), CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score), CES (Customer Effort Score) and customer expectations.

To make sure we get it right, we go back out and confirm, reinforce and reaffirm what we have heard and what the data is telling us. We put into practice what we will start, stop and continue, and this is actioned from locally, in response to local data.

We have also established channels and forums for meaningful interactions for our clients, their families and carers. One example is the implementation of a digital communication platform that enables the daily capture of key information and experience for the benefit of our clients and families, guardians and friends. This program is currently in pilot across a number of our services.

Consumer experience is always the gateway for things we may need to change – and we know that. We now know at Afford that we need to listen to what people are communicating and how they’re communicating so we can respond and change. We are continually exploring new and creative opportunities for clients and consumers to be able to tell us what they think, feel and interact with what we’re doing and the service we’re providing. We want to hear what’s going well, and what is not going well. That’s where we really make a difference for our clients.

Providing this forum to hear from people also opens the opportunity for an additional voice on anything clients or families are concerned about – an essential element of safeguarding.

It’s not about selling, it’s about quality and safeguarding

I know what you’re thinking – I work in marketing, right?

No, I don’t – that’s not my role. That’s no disrespect to marketing, because a marketing department is an essential strategic function that aligns products and services with customer need. I partner with our marketing department regularly and they value the insight I provide, but the purpose of my role is not to promote.

My role has been deliberately designed to be a part of quality and safeguarding team. This as a conscious choice to ensure that our clients were having direct input to the safety, quality and effectiveness of our services as the priority. When I was appointed to my role, Afford wanted to make sure that client voice informed all elements of our work in terms of consumer experience and safeguarding, and I have a lead role – because this is seen as vital to what we do at Afford.

Ensuring everyone has a voice

One essential ingredient in Afford’s Voice of Consumer program was that it needed to be inclusive. Of course, with accessibility for people with disability in mind – but also to overcome barriers to hear from people who are digitally excluded or from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. We have also been refining our data at Afford so we better understand the profile of our clients.

Afford is also establishing its first Inclusion Council and will be establishing a consumer advisory group, including parents and carers, in the next 12 months.

Our leaders are invested

In addition to Board Committees for Audit, Asset and Risk, and for People and Culture, we also have a Board Committee for Consumer Experience and Safeguarding Committee. The Board Committee is responsible for quality management, quality and clinical care, and consumer experience. Board direction on this is significant – this means it is core to our strategic governance.

In short, consumer experience is at the heart of everything we do.

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