Your Residents are Also Your Customers

It’s a problem found in every long term care facility: how do you get your front line staff, who have little or no training in customer service, to stop treating your residents less like patients and more like customers?

Referring to your residents as customers is necessary in order to change how your front line staff might think about them; a person to be served rather than someone who they are tasked to care for.

Do your staff members know why they should be in the “customer service business?” At your facility, your residents expect meals, activities, and a comfortable bed, but they also want what we all need every day: connection, respect, love, and belonging.

Changing your staffers’ frame of mind from one of delivering services to one of connecting with residents, prospective residents, and their families in the most genuine terms is a big challenge. And, not only is the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services requiring these skills be taught, but, the Quality Improvement and standard surveys are becoming more focused on interpersonal skills which are, in other words, “customer service.”

Unfortunately the skills training necessary to overcome conflict, manage stress, and improve communications have to share a packed schedule with other training such as fall prevention and pressure ulcer treatment.

There are solutions that address these training challenges, but which one is right for your facility’s specific needs?

Choosing a Customer Service Training Program

Here are some questions to consider when choosing a customer service training program:

  1. What specific skills should be taught? There are many soft skills that can improve communication, avoid conflicts, or guide an interaction, but which ones do you focus on?
  2. How much time should be dedicated to customer service training? Many training programs involve all-day or multi- day training, often away from your facility. These expensive and time consuming sessions usually result in low information recall and, therefore, poor on-the-job application. What alternatives exist that are more time efficient?
  3. How much can you afford to invest in training? Most facilities have few discretionary funds budgeted for customer service training. Do you have a per-head training line item for customer service?
  4. How much top-down support exists for improving your facility’s customer-centric focus? Will management join in the training? Are they interested in a culture change or just a few tips to improve service?
  5. How will training be conducted? Will it be instructor-led by an outside consultant or staff member? Participant-led using training materials? A combination of both?
  6. What materials should be used? Is the training content “evidence-based?” Do you wish to use DVDs? Written materials? Online training and testing? Interactive learning with role plays and exercises? Combinations of all the above?

As you can see there is much to consider when choosing a program to improve customer service at your facility.

Part Two will discuss how applying customer service principles positively affects the relationships between co-workers and its related effect on turnover.

Rob Anderson works with skilled nursing and assisted living facilities throughout the U.S. to develop and implement customer service training programs.  His staff training set, Long Term Care Customer Service, is now available through SeniorLivingU.