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Posted: August 11, 2004

Professional Caregiving

Excellent Customer Service is Spelled S-M-A-R-T

I have just completed reviewing the end of year statistics of our adult day centers. I love numbers and have a grand old time looking at ways to understand them, utilizing the observations to implement continuous quality improvements.

One thing that always hits me is the push-pull between marketing to potential customers versus marketing to our current customers. One mode is external, reaching out, connecting and bringing clients into your facility or service. The other is internal, looking inwardly at your service package, your staff and the environment in which you work while constantly tweaking them to keep your customers happy.

I tell my center managers that it?s easier to keep a client than to find another to replace them. In our industry, we compare the number of inquiries to those that convert to admissions. Usually we have to connect with twice as many potential customers to successfully turn half into customers. The costs associated with external marketing increase the fee your service needs to collect which in turn narrows again, the pool of potential clients.

On the other hand, if we look internally and review the processes that relate to converting interested callers into long-term satisfied customers, we can learn how to extend the time we are providing services and/or care, if not indefinitely, to all of our callers.

The concept of ?SMART? customer service incorporates a variety of methods to be employed ongoingly with the caregiving families with whom we work

Let?s look at each of these pointers.

S -- Sensitive to the needs and wants of others.

Whether we are aware or not, we are drawn to fix problems. Caregivers, especially professionals working with caregivers, are the ultimate caregivers and want everyone to go home at the end of the day happy and satisfied. But until we realize that our own barometer of ?satisfaction? may not be the same for the next guy, we have to work at attending to both the needs and the wants of our clients -- care recipients and caregivers combined.

If you take the time to get to know your clientele (and staff can and should be part of this group you consider your customer!), you begin to see personality differences that warrant different responses to make them feel heard. Some expect a sit-down face-to-face meeting; others need a quick note to tell them you are sharing their suggestion with the staff, and still others just want to see the action that you promised. This takes a high level of sophistication to stay on top of the variables that you draw upon to respond appropriately to each customer type.

Try this at your next staff meeting: Read a short scenario describing an angry caregiver and a demand they are making of you. You can ask each staffer to say how they would respond to the client, or you can group your staff into response types, discuss the different ways any of us can respond to a situation and in consensus, select the one you feel most appropriately meets this particular caregiver?s scenario. To further make the point, ask them for the last time they made a request of someone, and to give two examples of what would and wouldn?t have worked. Examine why, and help the group see that different people need different types of responses to their requests and demands.

M -- ?Make it Happen? attitude.

When is the last time you called an agency and were put on hold, then were talked to as if you were the last caller of the day, calling about something the person at the other end could not begin to help with? Or how about the sighing you hear over the phone with workers taking your information? They are obviously bored to death in the process.

At one point in my career, we were subjected to intensive training on customer service. It was called Training from the Phone Doctor, or something like that. The one thing I remember from the hours of training, is that if you smile when you answer the phone, that?s enough to make your voice sound as if you were pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to talk to the caller, so that is the first step if your staff can?t muster it genuinely. Hopefully, this is not the case but if it is, this is the first step in the attitude switch from, ?Sorry, no can do? to ?Sure, let?s see how we can fix that.?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and your voice or your facial expressions set the tone for the rest of the interaction. So, set it up with a smile, and no matter what is being asked, hear it in a way that is a challenge to how creative can you be on the spot. How can you take this request/demand and turn it into an opportunity to show the demander what amazing skill you have to resolve the problem?

Consider it an invitation to demonstrate your ability, charm and unflappability. Even if you don?t know how to FIX the problem you certainly can find a name or even title at your facility/agency that might be able to solve their problem. You then simply promise to give that person a call and you will get back with the customer with the response they are seeking. THEN DO IT!!! Even if you cannot fully satisfy their demands, your response and unflappability will satisfy their need to have been heard and taken seriously.

A -- Accurate in the information you give out, and your knowledge of client, customer

Know Thyself, Know Thy Customer! If there is one thing that goes the distance with clients and customers is your familiarity with their particulars, their names, family, situation, condition. Be accurate in the resources you give out and the answers to questions asked. Don?t ever shy away from saying you don?t know, if you don?t! Offering to get the information and then get back with the person is perceived as a high value response to a request or demand. Don?t forget to make a note, or mental note at least, as to how they seek to be heard, how they derive their satisfaction from your assistance.

R -- Respect of customers is the overarching value.

No matter what, your customer is king or queen. This is picked up by more than words. It?s body language, it?s timeliness of response, it?s sincerity of speech, it?s follow through. Administrators must model this to their clients, customers and staff if their staff is to be expected to handle client/customer concerns with the utmost respect. If you can?t authentically demonstrate this, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

T -- Take care of self and maintain a balance.

Enough with all the caring for the client, what about caring for yourself? We are no different than our customers?If we don?t take care of ourselves, we will have a difficult job taking care of our customers. What does this mean? Working hard and playing smart are important as long as you also get rest, eat well, and know how to relax. You can?t do one without the other!

Customer service -- that is, EXCELLENT customer service -- requires attention to each of these aspects. Be SMART and share them with your team.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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