As the largest online database of older people in South Australia, SA Health’s Office for Ageing Well, quickly realised they had an important role to play in getting key messaging to the country’s most vulnerable demographic during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Evlynn Hayes, Manager, Seniors Card & Business Services at the Office for Ageing Well, shares how the Seniors Card team were able to respond quickly and be there for their members when it counts.
It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was only eight weeks ago when all this began. It was quickly evident when the panic buying started to ramp-up that our day to day business was going to change. On a typical day, the Office for Ageing Well offers a range of services to help older people connect, including through our Seniors Card program and digital magazine WeekendPlus. So when your frontline staff start receiving calls about where to get toilet paper or flour instead of queries about public transport or local business discounts, you know something isn’t right.
What really triggered my team was a call from a woman who cares for her 92-year-old mother. She didn’t drive and didn’t feel comfortable catching public transport, and all the supermarkets near her had sold out of toilet paper and cleaning products. She had called us to ask what she should do. You could hear the panic in her voice. And when we didn’t have the answer – that was heartbreaking. This was before any information was out about panic buying. Before supermarkets implemented limits on purchases.
We took her number so we could give her a callback. Afterwards, we all sat there and looked at each other wondering – what does she do? It was at that very moment that we realised our role during this pandemic was to be an advocate for our state’s most vulnerable demographic.
Aside from the obvious health concerns for older people, there are also mental health concerns. Research has shown that social isolation can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Which is why digital technology and social media plays an integral part in helping older Australians feel connected.
For us to play the digital advocate role to its full effect, we knew we had to quadruple our content. That meant almost daily emails and social media posting to deliver crucial health messaging. And while we needed to let our members know about flu vaccines and hand-washing best practice, in these challenging times sharing feel-good content on exercises, gardening and how to live stream zoos and museums is just as meaningful.
Our latest email asked our members to share how they’re spending their time at home – and we’ve had nearly 100 responses. There was a group of men who hosted their neighbourhood lunch in their driveway and gas-bagged for over three hours! And then there was a woman in her 70s, sharing photos of ingredients with her friends and asking them to guess what she was cooking. It's a great way for everyone to stay connected – and have a laugh while they’re doing it.
And with Salesforce, we’ve been able to create email templates in Marketing Cloud where we can input content as we find it and then seamlessly send it out. It’s all well and good having ideas and passionate staff, but without a reliable system you can’t deliver great content in a trusted and transparent way.
Something I’ve always spoken to my team about is transparency, communication and meaningful engagement. People trust our program, because they trust our people and systems. Right now, my team is spending their time talking to members and helping relieve their concerns. Sometimes we’re the only person our members speak to in a day or whole week – and we take that responsibility seriously.
But our journey as a trusted digital source has only been a recent one. A few years ago, we were still using an email marketing platform that didn’t synchronise with our Salesforce CRM. If this pandemic had come about then, we wouldn’t have been able to engage with our members in the same way. Back then, we still had people receiving emails who had opted out of the program. The first step for us in building the trust and excellent customer experience we have today was connecting Marketing Cloud with Sales Cloud and establishing a self-service portal.
We wanted to debunk the myth that older Australians aren’t online – with 400,000 members, nearly 100,000 of them are online. Now, with everything that is happening, 90% of our new members are applying online. They trust us with their data, their phone number, email, and their preferences. And it shows when our emails have an open rate of 30-40%. We’ve established ourselves as a trusted government source and we’re expanding our self-service portal so members can update their personal information directly in the portal.
We have a positive team culture, and one of the hardest things has been working from home and being isolated from each other. When people are having emotional conversations on the phone, they don’t have the support structure they would usually have around them. As a manager, I make sure the team is in regular contact and keeping positive. We need to take the time to look out for each other as well as our customers.
My mantra since this crisis has been flexibility, vulnerability and kindness. My team is on the frontline and I’m really proud of the strength and resilience they have shown through all this. When I compare their public service to the work of doctors, nurses, teachers and police, my team are modest. But we’re here serving the most vulnerable demographic – that’s 400,000 people in South Australia – who rely on us to keep them informed. We may finish our days exhausted, but we’re proud of what we're achieving.
Hear more about SA Health’s Office for Ageing Well’s story and how they’re using technology to build trust and serve the community at their upcoming webinar: How SA Health are Digitally Engaging with Senior Citizens.