Amazon/Retail & Aging in Place

by Louis on January 27, 2014

A recent Washington Post wonkblog article Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared caught my attention because the retail/on line situation is close to the opposite of the aging in place/technology situation. While retailers are running scared, in home tech/monitoring are stuck in the starting blocks. Yet the future for Aging in Place service providers (agencies/not for profits/business) may not be far from the path retailers are seeking.

I guess we can’t really say ink is wasted on articles about robots, in home and wearable technology technology because we read them on-line but there is more written about this stuff than there is stuff being used.  There seems an inexhaustible line of excited tech entrepreneurs touting a device to solve aging and caregiving problems. I saw many at mHealth. I read about too many at CES. I haven’t seen any take off.   I talk to homecare agency folks – small local, larger local and national franchise and find no adoption.

See also: High tech upgrades may let aging boomers live independently in their own homes longer

The key strength in-home providers cite most often is good employees. Good careworkers is their biggest challenge as well. The homecare business is very hands on (almost a pun). It is about personal service that cannot occur without client and worker relating.

Amazon, on the other hand, has so much of what people want…personal customer information , trustworthy product ratings, time savings, driving/parking hassles avoiding, good pricing. Yet the article points out retailers moving toward Amazon are abandoning the one advantage retailers have –

“The bad news is that they’re not focusing on the one thing Peterson pointed out that Amazon doesn’t do well: interaction with actual people in actual stores that have traditionally been better at selling merchandise than any newfangled technology could ever manage.”

which is the one thing homecare cannot drop, replace or turn over to technology -touch, personal relationship, caring. The same holds true for the nice person who helps you out the door,  drives you and gets your packages inside, drops off your meals or greets you at the adult day center.  Personal touch is critical to Aging in Place.

What is really exciting about the article is that the solution for aging in place and retail is the same. We haven’t adopted the language they use, but the concept is applicable: “Omnichannelization”

“Let’s break that down. “Channels” are the ways in which retailers communicate with their customers, from their storefronts to their Web sites to their mobile applications. “Omni” means that you have to use all of them and that consumers need to be able to switch among them, ordering something online to pick up in a store, finding something in a store and getting it delivered to their home, whenever they want — the only way to compete against a company that makes buying everything as easy as one click.”

So- in adopting this concept- change a few words. For channels read range of providers. For Omni read coordinated and comprehensive.  For switch among them read dynamic, right service at the right time, just in time or no wrong door.

The solution for retail is the only course Aging in Place can take:

“If you’re worried about defeating Amazon, I think this is number one. Invest in people. Hire people who like people. Retail is like having a party in your house every day.”

So if we are doing it right, is merely more of the same the right course? Absolutely NOT. Technology is coming. It will improve service, business operations and economy. It will create better work environments so it is easier to attract and keep good workers. But how does the technology fit into the future? Think about what online shopping/tech does best:

1. Know your customer-track their interests, preferences and update their condition continuously. Technologically updated assessment will make it easier to get the right book  service when it is needed from the right supplier. Forms that work across the provider spectrum will improve customer service as well as saving countless sales/assessment processes reducing customer acquisition costs and headaches substantially.

2. Track organizational capabilities. Who has the right service at the right time for the right price?  Real time inventory and customer satisfaction should not be mysteries.  Develop a format, gather the data and turn it into information. Why should the aging in place reality of constantly changing needs mean a near constant,  time consuming, difficult, random and boring research project for family caregivers? Providers spend a fortune answering the same questions, politely, all day every day. It is a waste of time and effort for both sides of the relationship.

3. Make it one click.  If the refrigerator reports a shortage of milk (or the client, family or paid caregiver discovers it) get the milk delivered. Don’t inform the daughter who lives 2, 20 or 200 miles away. Know whether it is skim or whole, lactaid or organic and get it onsite with no discussion. OR the report is that mom fell down. Get her some help!

The same can be said for transport, caregiving, and on. This may be special for the customer…and they deserve to feel special when they get service…but it is actually repeated in homes and communities across the nation every day. Your doctor pays attention to your unique circumstances but categorizes, reports and bills systematically. You see it when they mark off the list of diagnoses, treatments and procedures.

Aging in Place doesn’t have to give up what it does best to step into the current century. We do need a coordinated, comprehensive and dynamic system. Tech can get us there. With our hands still on our clients!

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