Disability services online reviews

People talk. And one of the good things about that is that we get to hear what they think and, from that, learn how to better understand and connect with them. It’s a vital part of delivering good services to people – of delivering the services that people want to use and want to stay with.

The Internet, through its emerging use of customer review sites is now making it so much easier for customers and clients to talk to a worldwide audience about the services they use. We have all become familiar with this both through Internet shopping and now also through sites dedicated entirely to customer feedback and review. Whenever you’re planning a trip anywhere you can now, within a few minutes and a few clicks, know what dozens, hundreds, of people think about the competing services you will need to use.

This is a trend that is now emerging, too, in the disability service sector, no doubt enabled by the greater choice offered to people with disabilities through the consumer-centred approach of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It is a trend that is clearly great for service users, who can now find out about services, before they use them, from others who share their perspectives and needs.

But it is also great for service providers, who, unlike ever before, have real and direct access to what their consumers, and the consumers of their competitors, think – without those views needing to be filtered and smudged through the reporting mechanisms of bureaucracies. However valuable government assessment tools might be, they almost invariably reshape consumer feedback so that it can fit into the legislative and policy boxes out of which their reporting systems are built. The voice of the consumer, with its nuances of personality and frankness and storytelling, is lost. This is something that is re-invigorated, through review sites that enable consumers to say what they think, unfiltered, unfettered. It is a great way for you, as a service provider, to connect with the person who stands behind their role as service user, to understand better the diverse ways in which your service comes across to the people who use it and, from that, to continue building your service into something that people feel understands them.

You may also find that you will be surprised when you read what matters most to your service users. It will not always be what you expect, and sometimes the small things that you think are quite trivial are immensely important to the people you are supporting. It can mean that at times the smallest, simplest changes in what you do can make the biggest difference. Review sites can be a way of keeping in touch with what matters most to your clients.

Review sites also provide opportunities for you to place your own responses to consumer feedback on the record too. This can be a deceptively tempting opportunity, however – particularly when you see negative comments about your services. It can be tempting to hit back, to tell the world how the person making the criticism is the most unreasonable person on the planet, the most cantankerous consumer imaginable, and certainly far from qualified to offer a reasonable, believable assessment of anything.

But that’s not really the way to go, and most of us know that when anyone says something unedifying about us, the worst thing to do is to respond in the heat of the moment. It often turns pretty quickly into a race to the bottom with accusations and counter-accusations that ultimately make us look even worse.

It is much the same with responding to negative feedback on review sites. Rather than seeing them as a vicious and unwarranted attack on integrity, they can instead be seen as an opportunity to openly and genuinely engage with consumers, to show them that their experiences are heard and acknowledged, while at the same time offering a chance for you to give another side to the story. Finding the right balance between, on the one hand, putting your version of the story and, on the other hand, showing a respect for how a consumer has experienced your service, can be tricky. It is something that is best sought and found through careful, considered reflection.

As review sites become more and more prevalent in the disability service system, it is important that you keep an eye on what people are saying about you through monitoring the sites regularly. It’s also important that you develop consistent and thoughtful policies within your organisation about who can respond to consumer feedback on the site, and how they should do this. You want to make sure that you give out the right message not only each time you post a response but also when people read your responses as a whole – you want to be sure that people reading through the site see that you are an organisation that respects and understands its consumers.

Agility can help you in all of this. We can provide you with practical guidance about developing policies and can deliver workshops, custom designed for your organisation, on how to work constructively with review sites.

Our challenge in today’s rapidly communicating world is not so much what people say about us, but how we listen to them.

Thank you to Ian Parsons for writing this post for Agility Communication and Connections. You can check out a disability service review site here.