Improving your customer service for the holidays

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Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

As the holiday season draws near, more families will be passing through your doors to visit their loved ones at your facility. Out-of-town relatives will be making annual trips and locals will be taking the children to see Grandma during school breaks. This is an ideal time to provide extra services that showcase your high level of care and make the season more pleasant for families and residents.

You're the experts when it comes to eldercare – most of the families are going through this for the first time. Show your commitment to customer service by giving families the guidance they need to make the most of season.

Here are some ideas:

1. Provide info on planning time with loved ones

Let families know in advance not just about your visiting hours, but also about how to schedule passes home. Which staff members do they need to talk to about taking Grandma out of the facility? What arrangements should they make regarding transportation? Do they need to be giving medication and if so, what kind of training is required and who will be providing it and when?

Write this all down for them and put it on your website or newsletter and/or have an info sheet with holiday information at the front desk. Add an option to your telephone menu with frequently asked questions about visits and passes.

2. Suggest new rituals

People often have difficulty imagining ways to celebrate the holidays other than in the family tradition. They may need your help envisioning possibilities that take into account illness and a long-term care stay. If the family home isn't wheelchair accessible, families can create new traditions such as enjoying an accessible local restaurant, or they can keep it simple and go out for a manageable coffee and dessert.

If Grandpa isn't well enough to leave the facility for a celebration, suggest alternatives such as bringing food to him in his room or reserving a common area for an hour. Let families know your dietary staff is available to discuss appropriate foods and that the kitchen staff is ready to reheat leftovers or to puree or chop as needed. Suggest foods that are already pureed or chopped such as mashed potatoes or pureed soups to minimize the feeling of missing out on something.

3. Offer communication tips

We've all heard family members say with frustration to their parents, “C'mon, don't you remember when we…” while their parent looks ashamed or blank or sad because they don't remember. Enhance the holidays for your residents and their visitors by offering positive methods to connect with loved ones, whether it's ways to interact with those affected by dementia or tips on how to talk to relatives with hearing loss.

For a free list of ideas to print out and leave at the front desk for your families, visit My Better Nursing Home.

4. Facilitate connections

Holidays are a great time to set up a free Skype call center so residents can connect with distant relatives. All it takes is a computer, a quiet place, a little staff attention, and some advance planning of the calls. During a school break, local high school students can volunteer their help, bringing residents to the computer at the scheduled time and making sure the call is properly connected. For added cheer, make the Skype center available to your staff members as well.

5. Get contact info

Ask families to fill out forms at the front desk with their up-to-date contact info so they can stay informed about happenings throughout the year. Add the info to your database and to your e-newsletter list and keep in touch.

With a little effort on our part, we can help families transform holidays in long-term care from gloomy to grand.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, the author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is an accomplished speaker and consultant with over 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. This blog complements her award-winning website,, which has more on how to create long-term care where EVERYBODY thrives.