Beyond pillow mints: The hard work of extraordinary customer service
From fast food emporiums to small plumbing companies to my favorite online stationary store, any customer-facing business today should be hyper-aware of providing good customer service in order to succeed. For those of us who work in the senior living industry, this means we must deliver extraordinary service literally 24/7 to residents, their families, and guests, everywhere from the front desk to the fitness center, from a casual encounter in the hallway to serving at a formal dinner.
Because this top-notch service rests largely on the shoulders of your frontline staff, you must get every single staff member on board with your goal. The only way this can truly work is when an organization weaves a strong “service ethic” into its culture. Senior leadership, managers, and frontline supervisors have to all walk that walk with employees and vendors as well as with residents. Creativity in problem solving and personal approach should be encouraged in staff at all levels, and barriers to autonomy should be removed.
This is not easy to do, but it is possible, and great service can set a community apart from the competition. I'm not going to tell you how to train your staff — I'm sure you already have programs in place. But I can say that one of the foundations of an effective service culture is a cohesive message with a theme that is memorable, ingrained in everything you do across all areas of your organization, and never changes. Here's an example:
Donna Cutting is an author, speaker, and trainer who specializes in helping organizations from all sorts of industries achieve a stellar level of service. Her theme for her trainings and high-energy keynote addresses is “rolling out the red carpet.” She's a movie buff, and she builds her messaging around treating each customer like a celebrity. She invites her clients to adapt this theme or find their own way to incorporate her unique tips.
Mather LifeWays has been a big fan of Donna for several years now. We invited her to train and inspire our staff —and I mean our entire workforce, not just the frontline senior living employees — because even though we are adept at providing exceptional experiences to residents, guests, and others, we wanted to keep improving at this. In order to do so, we wanted every staff member to get the message loud and clear.
One of the messages within our service culture is encouraging employees to create unique “Mather experiences” for residents, such as surprising someone on their birthday with a favorite dessert, or welcoming a new move-in with their favorite song.
Now we're proud to have several examples of our “Mather experiences” included in Donna's new book, 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers. She also included some points I gave her about how Mather LifeWays cultivates our service culture. I don't think I'm giving away any secrets here — except for the fact that there is a lot of solid organizational support and effort behind nice gestures like the birthday surprise and favorite song:
We take one idea at a time and decide to implement.
We have all the logistical discussions we need to have in order to implement [each idea].
Invariably there is push-back. We don't give up. We keep the conversation going until we have a system.
Once the idea is systemized, we execute a few times and refine it.
Before you know it, we can't remember a time when we weren't rolling out the orange carpet in that way.
This may seem daunting — perhaps even more so than keeping your frontline staff focused on service. However, you'll find that when combined with a little creativity and fun, this process can keep your customer service vibrant —and do the same for your employees' commitment.
It can pay off in growing a reputation as an outstanding service provider. Remember — as your reputation grows, don't get complacent. The competition is working to implement their own customer service systems and innovations that may, someday, make your now-extraordinary efforts look ordinary. That's why we need to stay motivated to continue to improve; in the end it helps us all — most especially, current and future senior living residents.
Gale Morgan is the vice president of sales at Mather LifeWays.