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How to send positive messages to residents and families

February 3, 2012
by Jill Basom
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Many LTC providers mistakenly believe that they have given great customer service when they successfully resolve a family's concern or complaint. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only way to offer truly great customer service is for your customer to never have to contact with you with a concern or complaint in the first place.

For this to happen, your customer service efforts need to be proactive rather than reactive. Anticipate your customer's needs and take steps to solve any problems before they arise. Do this in every aspect of your business from inquiry tours to the passing of a resident.

MOVE-IN DAY

The first day in long-term care is usually emotionally and physically draining for the family. It can set the tone for the new resident's entire stay with you. This is a crucial time to provide proactive customer service.

To anticipate a customer’s needs on move-in day, list all of the annoyances you can think of when it comes to moving. Your list may include things like straining a muscle, getting thirsty or dealing with boxes and trash. Armed with this list, you can prevent these same annoyances for your customers by staying one step ahead of their needs.

On move-in day, make sure that carts and dollies are readily available, fresh pitchers of ice water and glasses are brought to the apartment, and show the resident and his or her family a convenient place to put their trash, assuring them that you will take care of the removal. Anticipating your customer’s needs is the best way to ensure that their move-in experience is smooth, enjoyable and hassle-free. Most companies wait for their customers to ask for what they need and then cheerfully respond thinking they have provided great customer service. But what a difference it makes when your customer never even has to ask!

STAY ONE STEP AHEAD

Another way to be proactive in your customer service efforts is to always be one step ahead of any potential problems that might arise. While you cannot always anticipate what problems are going to occur, you can try to minimize the damage by getting involved early.

One way is to make regular phone calls to your residents’ families. Have no other reason for your call than to ask how everything is going and if there is anything you can do to make their loved one's stay more enjoyable. If they are happy, then they will be very impressed with the call. If there is something troubling them, they will feel more inclined to share that with you.

Often people let problems or concerns build up before they are angry enough to either speak up or just give their notice and move elsewhere. Checking in with your customers regularly can prevent small problems from becoming catastrophic.

ENGAGE STAFF

Adopting a proactive customer service approach is a fantastic way to run your organization, but it is only effective if your entire staff is on board. While this can be challenging, it can be accomplished by properly involving, engaging and motivating your entire team. It is important that all of your directors are excited about this new customer service approach because most of the line staff report to them. The aides, housekeepers, servers and maintenance crew will look to their assigned director for information and support with this new mission. So getting the directors involved first is important.

Once directors are involved, plan an all-staff meeting to announce that proactive customer service is the new way of doing things at your organization. You can make the meeting (and this new mission) fun by encouraging creativity and independence. Allow staff the flexibility and authority to make their own decisions when it comes to providing customer service. This will help them feel involved and vital to the organization's mission. You may also want to role play different scenarios to help staff better understand the concept and begin to feel more comfortable with it. Keeping everyone motivated is an ongoing process.

By holding regular customer service meetings, team members can share ideas and experiences and help each other brainstorm to keep the momentum going. If budget allows, provide incentives such as cash or gift cards when an employee successfully provides proactive customer service. Don't underestimate the value of a handwritten note to thank a staff member for a job well done. Recognizing and acknowledging excellent customer service efforts is the surest way to produce more of it.

Changing your team's outlook on customer service from reactive problem solving to proactive leadership will take time and practice. But with more and more competitors entering the marketplace, your amenities and suite features aren't enough to keep you ahead. These days it is all about how you make your customers feel. When you go one step beyond what is expected, regularly and consistently, you create a kind of customer loyalty that your competitors can't compete with—earned, infinite and unwavering.

Jill Basom is Director of Sales and Marketing for SharonBrooke Assisted Living and Alzheimer’s Care Center, Newark, Ohio. For more information, visit www.sharonbrooke.com or email jillemay@hotmail.com.

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