As the senior care industry begins to emerge from pandemic response mode, an initial focus is how to gain census and add new customers. Regaining customer trust is necessary to attract new residents and persuade their families that facilities have learned important lessons from the COVID-caused isolation and family separation.
We evaluated the "service recovery" strategies from other industries and applied them to the unique challenges of senior care. As we look to win back customers, these service recovery steps frame the importance of listening and communicating with prospective customers:
- Anticipating customer needs
- Acknowledging their feelings
- Apologizing and owning the responsibility
- Offering alternatives
- Making amends
Anticipating customer needs
Families are the best advocates for future residents and should be intimately involved. No one knows a residents’ wants and needs better than their closest loved-ones. Families can provide information that a resident may be reluctant to share or will know hidden details that can make a resident’s stay more comfortable and less stressful.
Ensure you equip families with a direct channel to communicate resident needs to your care team.
Acknowledging their feelings
Being separated by geography or lockdown restrictions creates stress and concern. Families want answers and need to know how their loved one is faring. Families need to know they are being heard by your staff.
Allowing for family feedback will generate negative feedback as much (if not more) than positive. Have a process in place to collect and respond to all feedback promptly to create an improved customer experience.
Apologizing and owning the responsibility
Of course senior care didn't cause COVID and was obligated to follow federal guidance in how we responded to contain the pandemic. However senior care centers do own the responsibility of caring for loved family members during crisis and effectively interacting with family members about what's is happening and what to expect.
Giving families an easy and convenient channel to express concerns, care issues, and to receive health updates and care information can provide peace-of-mind and foster confidence in current and future families.
New CMS requirements to notify families and residents exposed just how manual and task oriented most senior care centers viewed family interactions. Innovative responses to the lack of communications is creating a new set of alternative technologies to close the gap.
The best solutions are closely tied to your EHR system to eliminate manual tasks for your staff and ensure families can keep tabs on their loved ones in a self-service model we've all grown used to in the age of smartphones and tablets.
The COVID crisis exposed just how much everyone took for granted the ability for families to be a part of the care team in person in senior care centers. Makeshift tools allowed for some family interactions to continue virtually - but the long term solution requires a rethinking of how we enable families to interact with facilities and loved ones.
A new level of customer service will require a more extensive set of family interactions - virtual or in-person as well as a higher frequency of regular touchpoints. “Anytime” vs. “Once in a while” family interactions will create a new standard of customer experience and give your care staff a real-time window into what families and their residents are experiencing.