Regularly securing new clients is vital for all home agencies, which means that the client experience must be stellar from the very first interaction. For the majority of prospective home care clients, the client experience begins with the initial intake call. So how can agencies know if their intake experience is up to speed with the competition? Secret shopping can help agencies get a better understanding of how other agencies operate during intake calls and where their own intake specialists can improve.
Most people who have a loved one in need of home care services are approaching the industry for the very first time and have no idea what services they need or what services are available. We talked to a home care secret shopper (who shall remain nameless) to find out what many home care agencies get right and wrong on those important intake calls.
corecubed: What is one thing you see agencies getting right on intake calls?
Secret Shopper: Most agencies do get my name and phone number right away and they do make follow-up calls, which are important for turning calls into clients. Most agencies also email information to me when I ask for it, though that information often doesn’t arrive until several days later. I think it’s important to get that information sent out to prospective clients in a timely manner, especially if the client is asking for it. Families often need to sit down and discuss home care information together, and having your agency’s information might just help them choose you.
corecubed: What are some things many agencies get wrong on intake calls?
Secret Shopper: I rarely hear anything about what the agency does that sets it apart from the rest. When I do hear about special skills, training, or equipment that an agency uses, I’m immediately more interested. To me, this indicates that the agency is on top of its game and is keeping up with care trends. Also, not everyone who takes the call knows the answer to common questions about price or caregiver training and availability. Everyone who answers intake calls should know or have easy access to this type of information.
corecubed: What is something that surprises you when you do secret shopping calls?
Secret Shopper: I am often surprised at how many intake specialists sound uninterested or lack enthusiasm or empathy. I wouldn’t say this is the norm, but it surprises me when it does happen because empathy and compassion are attributes that most agencies promote and are what families are looking for in whomever they choose to care for their loved one. Not hearing that on a call makes me think twice about whether or not I’d put a loved one in that agency’s care. It’s something that is difficult to quantify, but being able to build a rapport with callers can make a world of difference.
corecubed: What is one thing that makes you, as a “perspective client,” decide you wouldn’t want to choose an agency?
Secret Shopper: Lack of empathy or enthusiasm on a call is a big one. Other than that, often the intake specialist will rush me through their services and an overview of the agency and ask if they can send me more information, almost all in the same breath. While going over services and offering to send more information is a good thing, it sometimes feels like I’m being pushed off the phone. I would encourage intake specialists to take the time to ask the caller questions and find out what it is he or she actually needs first and make sure you’ve answered all his or her questions. Don’t talk over the client, but gently guide him or her with questions like “Does your mother need help with bathing or dressing herself?” or “Does your father still drive or will he need some help with transportation from time to time?” if the caller does not know what services he or she needs.
I have also had agencies refuse to provide pricing information unless they could schedule an assessment first. While I can appreciate that prices will vary dependent upon needs, it can come across as rude or too pushy to withhold information. At the very least, provide a ballpark price and let the caller know that you’ll be able to provide a more accurate price once an assessment is done.
corecubed: What are the elements of an ideal intake call in your opinion?
Secret Shopper: In my experience, an ideal intake call begins with an enthusiastic intake specialist who asks questions about my situation to determine my care needs, and also answers the questions that I have. She makes sure to get my name, email address, and phone number right away. She guides me through the agency’s care services, letting me know about anything special – Alzheimer’s care training, telehealth programs, etc. – that sets their agency apart from others. She asks if she can send me more information (preferably via email), and then sends that information in a timely manner. In short, if I feel like I’ve been listened to, that my questions were answered, that I have all the information I need, and that the person on the other end of the phone was kind, that leaves me with a great feeling about the agency.
It all sounds simple, but home care intake calls are more complicated than they seem. Finding the right balance of empathy and information and ensuring that the caller’s needs are met takes practice and skill. Mastering the intake call can not only help agencies increase their new client intake, it can also improve the perception and reputation of the agency within the community. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a good intake call. Let us know in the comments below! corecubed also offers secret shopping services to help agencies learn more about their competition as well as their own intake experience. Contact us to learn more.