Overall there was a huge sense of sadness that came through from many comments – many had seen the move into retail sales a confirmation that telecare had finally arrived as a mainstream technology in the UK, so a withdrawal so soon afterwards caused much grief. It was touching to see the concern for the staff too, who have worked so hard to get this venture airborne.
Although there were few comments specifically about the retail telecare kit, none were complimentary; it was seen as being single purpose, limited and hard to use. The ability to replicate the hardware functionality on a standard smartphone, or even better one designed specifically for older people also undermined the need to pay for an extra device. In a blog post on his site, the 3G Doctor remarked on the ease of use of one such smartphone selling well through the same supermarket channels, which brings us to one of the principal areas that people commented on (though some of our readers disagreed on its ease of use).
The lack of marketing and the use of point-of-sale displays in supermarkets and O2 shops, coupled with inappropriate sales training for staff, was universally criticised. The contrast was made with Apple’s clever use of disabled people to sell their products, as indeed Surrey has done in its Wellbeing Centres for telecare and other assistive technology, and, using older people, Softbank Mobile have done in Japan selling their smartphone to older people. One suggestion was that perhaps O2 could have more naturally partnered with Saga.
Related to this, O2 were seen as entering a market from a product oriented perspective when the reality was that they were offering a service. Indeed, a comment made by a few was that the really critical service element had been contracted out to G4S (an organisation that does not currently carry overwhelming public trust) whereas, as THE critical element of the mix, perhaps it would have been handled better in-house. (Conversely from the perspective of the council-oriented product, the separate call centre apparently created animosity with existing call centres, so the lack of integration with existing local services made it unattractive, and the double-handling made it expensive.).
The short time that O2 was in the market was frequently remarked on too. Reader comments suggested it would take some time to get people round to the idea, particularly for younger users – as one said “it requires a major step change from those younger people in the market wanting to move from very supported lifestyles to increased independence. LA & parents have wrapped them in cotton wool.” To buy an organisation already in the market was one suggested way of easing the transition.
Other parts of the industry did not escape criticism too – one 20:20 hindsight comment was that all the partners in 3millionlives should have put their money together and contributed to a major marketing campaign to sell tele-technologies to the public rather than…(er help, what has 3millionlives actually achieved that wasn’t happening anyway?). Referring to our recent post on the speed of spread of medical innovations it’s certainly true that telehealth and telecare have more of the characteristics of the slow-burn spread of antiseptics than the immediate appeal to caregivers of anaesthetics. For example Skype, the subject of another comment, entered the Archer’s lexicon a while back, whereas telecare has never been evident, even when Jack Woolley began showing signs of dementia, and in spite of a strong industry campaign. (Community alarms did have a fleeting mention when thieves stole the main exchange cable running to Ambridge.)
It is perhaps also worth noting that other telecoms providers are taking a different approach – for example Verizon, one of the two major providers in the US, has been running mobile telehealth clinics which possibly help associate the brand with health & wellbeing as well as giving them an insight into what most appeals to customers.
Local authority brokerage was mentioned as a route to introduce users to the concept of telecare. However people would only expect to encounter this service after a social care referral, which introduces the extensive exchange of comments between my fellow contributing editor Alasdair Morrison and Cathy. These are hugely worth reading though really outside the ambit of this retrospective as they address the Gordian knot of devices that have to be compatible with local monitoring arrangements yet are purchased individually by users from their social care personal budgets, and perhaps at a higher price than the LA would have paid. Then there is the additional wrinkle of commissioning-only authorities vs those who provide the service too, and particularly for the latter possible integration with other assistive living initiatives (as Surrey, for example, does so well). The set-up in Sandwell looks particularly impressive.
So, putting on the retrospectacles, how can the next entrant to the market learn from this experience?
First and most important seems to be to recognise that if health & wellbeing is not already one of the values people associate with your brand, hard work to change that perception, or an acquisition, will be essential.
Secondly, recognise that the value is going to be in the service. Make sure that is excellent and fully under your control, ideally provided in house. Conversely don’t mess about with single use non-futureproofed hardware; recognise that many people have the technology already as smartphones, TVs etc. and offer apps to link them to your service. (Even if they need to buy one, Android phones can now be had for £10/month, a little bit more for ones specifically designed for older people.)
Thirdly choose your channels carefully. If purchasers have no clear idea of what the service is or how it will benefit them, recognise that the marketing of the service will need to be particularly good, including the provision of sensitive point of sales assistance. Supermarkets are great for many things, but not (yet) telecare.
Fourthly recognise that the interface with the public sector service providers needs carefully thinking through, if it is unavoidable. If the output from your call centre has to go via a council-run call centre before a response is triggered, that adds significant cost and possibly delay.
And finally, make sure you have adequate budget for the whole programme agreed before you start. Donna Cusano, our Editor-in-Chief wondered “..or did something other than sales not work?” Putting together O2’s parent, Telefonica’s, plan to cut net debt to less than 47 billion euros by the end of this year and O2’s obvious need for investment funds to meet their recently-announced start of 4G services on 29th August, suggests perhaps there’s a point there…
Finally thank you everyone for your excellent comments that enabled the creation of this post.