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Posted: October 24, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Customer Service in a 'No Customer Service' World

If you have ever had the chance to hear Clark Howard’s radio program, you have probably heard him talk about our "no customer service" world. I agree!

This column is for professional elder-caregivers of all kinds, and as professional caregivers, we need to provide the most outstanding customer service of all time. Why? Because we are not dealing with stereos, TVs, or appliances -- we are taking care of a human life.

Over the last few weeks, I have moved into a new home and have been on the receiving end of the most embarrassing customer service of all time. I would call it "no customer service." You name it; we have had to call, and recall, and email, and scream, and get other people involved just to accomplish the most basic services. Not good.

As all of this is happening, I’m thinking to myself: What if these people were taking care of my mother, or father, or grandparent? I would be furious!

If you have ever had a bad customer service experience, think about how disappointed you were and how much wasted time the whole situation caused for you, your family, and everyone involved.

After some consideration (and experience!), here are my opinions and thoughts on outstanding customer service:

1. Communication. When I send an email or make a phone call and ask a question, I need a response. If I am calling to inquire about my family member, please call me back. Treat that phone call as if it was as important as answering a question about someone in your own family. Just correcting the situation, and never communicating that with me, does not make me go away. I need communication! I would bet that half of our customer service issues would be resolved if people would return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

2. If better is available, good is not enough. I have talked numerous times about fixing the inside of an organization before marketing it to the outside world. This truth will never go away. Every professional caregiver must be providing outstanding service to their clients every single day. Every CNA, LPN, RN, MSW, OT, PT should be treating Mrs. Smith in room 232 as if she were their own family member (or something close to that).

3. Involve family members. Sometimes when I speak professionally, groups will ask me how to handle the difficult family member. First things first with a difficult family member. Why are they being difficult? Do they feel guilty about something? Do they wish they could care for mom at home? Is this the type of person who has always been difficult? Is mental illness involved?

One solution to the problem of the difficult family member is to let them feel like they have some kind of control over a given situation. Ask them to join the family task force, or family council at your place of business. Ask their opinion on other matters. Ask them if they would like to join your group of volunteers, or help with a project. The more "in control" they feel, the less threatened or guilty they may feel.

Finally, sometimes, a difficult family member is very RIGHT in their observations and opinions, so keep an open mind, even if you are pulling your hair out.

How does your organization handle customer service? Do you think it is outstanding? What would the family members of the people you care for say if you asked them candidly how they felt about customer service at your place of business?

Something to think about in a world that almost expects bad customer service. This is another way that you can set yourself apart from the rest.


Valerie VanBooven RN, BSN, PGCM, is a registered nurse, professional geriatric care manager, author, and professional speaker. She is a leading expert on long-term care planning and crisis management. Valerie is president of Senior Care Solutions, a private geriatric care management practice in the St. Louis area. Her books include Aging Answers: Secrets to Successful Long-Term Care Planning, Caregiving, and Crisis Management and her website is She can be reached at .

© 2005 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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