Customer Service? Not Exactly…

While I’ve written about customer service before, a friend’s recent experience prompts me to write again.  My friend, Amy, was asked to help find a facility for a relative with memory loss.  This relative had been diagnosed with dementia some years ago and needed more care than could be provided at home.

Amy spent countless hours over the course of three weeks attempting to find a facility for him.  She called fifteen facilities, eventually toured six and in time, found one for her relative.

What is important here is what happened to Amy along the way.

The initial phone call:

  • Amy called facilities to gather information, and set up a tour.
  • Rarely was there someone available to speak with her at the time of the call.
  • Most of the time, the person answering the phone took a message, said someone would call.
  • Others answering the phone told Amy to call back later.
  • Even when someone took a message – her call was not returned.
  • Five facilities did not return the initial phone call.
  • Two facilities didn’t respond to multiple calls.

Response to phone connection:

  • Amy felt that her calls seemed like an “inconvenience” or an “annoyance” to the person answering the phone or the admissions personnel.
  • One admissions coordinator was very abrupt and argumentative, demanding she send/fax records prior to any discussion about admission.
  • In one facility the person answering the phone asked:  “And you are with?”   Amy could only reply she wasn’t with anyone, she was calling for admission information.

Concerning conversations regarding admission:

  • One admissions director asked Amy if her relative with dementia might be “too far gone.”
  • Another stated that if “he hits people in the hallway, we can’t fix that.”
  • Yet another stated, “If we can’t handle it from the get-go it’s pointless to be on a waiting list.  They usually don’t get better if they have a behavior.”


  • Multiple facilities provided a list of requirements without inviting Amy to tour.
  • Two facilities said no tour until they had reviewed “paperwork and a med list.”
  • When admissions were done with Amy – they were done.  They did not help her, and few offered any assistance or referrals.
  • Most were reluctant to provide suggestions or direction.
  • One facility said Amy’s family member wasn’t “appropriate” for them.
  • Another indicated that they had no availability for an individual with “dementia.”
  • Few seemed genuinely willing to “accept” residents with memory loss and “behaviors.”

Signs of Hope:

  • Four of the fifteen facilities were kind, attentive, accommodating and helpful.
  • Two were sensitive and provided additional resources.

My experience has been that when a family finally comes to the point of deciding to turn the care of someone they love over to another, it is usually because of a crisis or it is the “last straw.”  Families do not take this lightly and many family members say that this is one of the most difficult decisions they have had to make in their life.

So when they are ready and pick up the phone to call, it may be the only chance you have to help them – one chance.  And when a family member finally gets up the nerve to call, they need help and information now – right now.

I know that each person in need of care in any healthcare setting – acute and long-term care is important in the life of someone.  Each and every resident or patient is the “love of someone’s life.”  All staff need to understand this, especially receptionists and admissions personnel.  All conversations should be respectful and sensitive to the needs of all people.

I believe that there are a great number of facilities who do a wonderful job with individuals and families in need, and that those who don’t simply have not taken the time to reflect on the impact of their words and behaviors.  We find that assisting an organization to view their work in another light, raising their awareness of their actions and words creates a more sensitive culture and better customer satisfaction.

As a simple review, here are some ideas of what facilities can do:

  •  Sensitize all staff to the impact of this decision for families.  Make it personal, help them to understand it – through discussions about their own family, people they love, what they would want and how it would feel.  Share stories about people like Amy.  Have a discussion about her feelings, how they might feel if in the same situation.
  •  Provide staff education on the “expectations for performance,” to be welcoming, accommodating, helpful and kind to anyone who calls, tours or visits the facility.
  •  Have processes and systems in place that accommodates all calls immediately, 24/7/365.
  • Have multiple people on site or available who can talk to a family or tour an interested party.
  • Ensure that receptionists and any staff who answer the phone are trained and understand that a call for information or a tour is a priority, and see that it is addressed quickly by a designated person on staff.
  • Develop systems and processes to be prepared for a tour, including a communication system for all staff to know when a tour is scheduled or occurring.

Educate staff on the emotional and physical impact of memory loss on a person or family, and act accordingly.  Remember that each person is special and loved by someone in this life.  And that their job is to help them, care and nurture them – serve them.




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