THE POWER OF HUMANIZING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IN ASSISTED LIVING
ASSISTED LIVING OPERATORS MUST PRIORITIZE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE TO DRIVE TOP LINE REVENUE AND BRAND DIFFERENTIATION NOW
Miss chapters one and two? Catch up now!
My son Noah is 15 and a pro OneWheel racer, sponsored by Lemonade Float Co and USA Raft. It’s his passion and that OneWheel board is an appendage of his body! He’s accumulated over 15,000 miles in just a few short years of riding. Last month we went to a race in Las Vegas that proved getting Noah’s coveted OneWheel to and from a race, much harder than any of us anticipated.
THE TALE OF TWO SHIPPING COMPANIES
When Noah and I were heading to the OneWheel race in Las Vegas, FedEx lost his board. Just before we left the house to head to the airport, I decided to track the package. We had shipped Noah’s board a good nine days early to ensure its on-time arrival and looking at the tracking results, my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw it was not arriving until the following Tuesday, four days after the race!
I immediately called and was quickly able to escalate the call to a supervisor named Amy. I shared the importance of finding this package kind of like this:
“Amy, my son is 15, he lives on his OneWheel and has trained for this race. We bought flights, a hotel, and rental car all so he could compete in this race, but he needs his board to do so! How do I tell Noah that we will make it only to watch everyone else ride and compete for four days? In fact, the terrain for this race is so hard we decided to go two days early so he could get familiar with it. Please, please you have to track down this board and get it there by Friday at the latest.”
After my mom-begging, Amy put me on hold and attempted to call the distribution center in TX where she saw the board was misdirected to. With no luck, she tried two other centers only to come back and tell me there was no way the board would make it as someone put it on the wrong truck. I was devasted for Noah.
Before we hung up Amy told me she would continue to investigate it and do her best to track the package down.
When Noah and I arrived at our hotel room in Boulder City, he pulled up his tile device tucked into the motor of his board and said, “Mom, it’s in Arizona now!” it seemed the package was on the move. “Please, please, please” I thought, “by some miracles let it arrive.” I then decided to go track the package again and was shocked beyond words to find that the package was going to arrive that very day, Thursday, as expected, not Tuesday, but that day and Noah would be able to start practicing right away! I was almost too afraid to tell him but when I did, we both started screaming and jumping up and down with joy!
Amy had done it! I will forever be in her debt and because of her efforts, here is the human side and impact– Noah, at 15, competed in the men’s pro division and out of 245 riders came in third, yes third! The race was insane and so competitive and to this day, we are still pinching ourselves that he was able to ride his board because of Amy’s efforts with FedEx and beat his idols Tahoe Dave, Floaty McFly, and Kyle Hanson to come in THIRD!
Stop and think about this for a moment. Amy with FedEx humanized my customer experience, she had empathy for our situation, went above and beyond as if it were her business and more importantly, her kid. Amy came through for us and her training, implementation of that training, her heart, and presence in that moment had ripple effects that will last a lifetime for my son.
But that’s where the happy ending stops. When the race was over we shipped our boards home via UPS. Two of the three packages made it to our house, one did not, and this was the beginning of my UPS ordeal.
Realizing Noah’s OneWheel was never going to make it home, I filed a claim to recover the cost to replace the board before the next race, just three weeks away. My first attempt, I spent over two hours on the phone getting the claim process started which for an impatient person, was not fun. A week later I wondered, “Why haven’t I heard from UPS?” I called them again and after talking to three different people I was informed the claim had been canceled. What?
There was no communication to me about the cancellation of my claim and the reasoning was lack of merchandise description, which was not true, I had put in detail that it was a OneWheel my son used for racing. I surmised that their hope was that I would just go away. Yeah, right. Like I wouldn’t notice!
I escalated the call to a supervisor and was told that I was responsible for filling out a claims form to receive reimbursement, yet she was clueless as to where this form was located. Again, I asked for a supervisor and was once again transferred only to find that not only did UPS cancel my claim but also my account which would make it more difficult to complete the elusive claims report. Hmm…how ironic! After being a UPS customer for 20 years my account is suddenly closed on the day I’m trying to re-open my claim?
As you can imagine my blood was boiling and in truth, was so upset that I was dizzy. The beginning of my customer experience began with a polite robot who refused to transfer me to a human until I was essentially screaming at the phone (come on you’ve been there). Then, after speaking with four different people, who were clearly untrained in customer service and just script reading, I was pushed over the edge. I literally sat through the entire closing of my mom’s home with an earbud in my ear, on hold for a total of 62 minutes, when I finally reached someone who said she would email me the claim form information (after making the agent read my email back to me only for her to have it wrong).
Upon filling it out and getting an error sign over and over, I had to call back. Once again, I was transferred to someone else, who knew where to have my account re-opened. Even then, their claim site would not work.
After all this I spoke with a gentleman who gave me an email address to send my claim report information to, due to the malfunctioning website, along with a telephone number I could call to follow up directly and quickly (I haven’t tried it yet so don’t hold your breath). If UPS had a leader, who put people over profits, their bottom line would be far bigger because raving fans are loyal, tell others about their experience; just as I’m telling you about mine, and spend more money with companies they love. Sadly, this experience ended my 20-year relationship with UPS; I imagine they really don’t care. And now I’m telling thousands of people about it.
THE FUTURE OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
As we learn in chapter three, “In the digital revolution, excellent human interaction skills are a premium advantage.” This is a truth and as I saw as a customer with two competitive companies, UPS failed to humanize our experience while FedEx did.
The best customer service companies recognize the competitive opportunity of using technology to perform basic jobs, enabling employees to focus on what is most important: building relationships that result in higher customer loyalty, retention, lifetime value, and job satisfaction.
The ability to build true, sustainable relationships is the biggest competitive advantage in a world where automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are eliminating millions of jobs and disrupting entire industries (as we learned in my last blog on chapter two about the restaurant industry disruption), businesses, and careers. In the digital revolution, human interaction, compassion, empathy, and communication skills have become a premium advantage. Your employees within the assisted living communities you own or operate must be taught the skill of relationship building and understand the importance of making an emotional connection where both the employee and customer feel something.
HIGH TECH MEETS HIGH TOUCH
As the pandemic has shown, we are social creatures and innately need relationships. The businesses that teach their employees to know their customer as a person- with a family, concerns, hopes, and dreams, will be the ones to dominate their industries. Nowhere is this more important than in assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing. We are selling one of the most difficult purchases an individual or family will ever make.
With just 9% of all inquiries converting into assisted living residents, it’s fair to say we are failing to connect with our prospective customers who only choose to buy when there is no other option available to them. We can do better, and it starts with relationships; the ability to build strong, solid, trusting emotional connections where employees exude compassion and empathy. While this may sound easy, and most operators assume their employees do this, the truth is they don’t. As our research shows here at Bild & Co, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing employees have not adopted the skill set needed to succeed in the Relationship Economy. Don’t take my word for it, look at the data.
- Just 22% of prospective buyers who call come in for a tour- limiting our buyer pool because no one moves without first visiting the assisted living or memory care community in person.
- Of that 22% who tour, 35% do move in, so once on-site we do a better job industry-wide.
- A mere 9% of all senior living inquiries move in, meaning 91% do not.
As an industry, we are not connecting or building value with our assisted living customers. While investments in technology are up in seniors housing, doing so without investment in people is a waste of time.
TRAITS NEEDED BY YOUR ASSISTED LIVING EMPLOYEES FOR EFFECTIVE CUSTOMER INTERACTIONS
In this chapter, we learn to look for employees predisposed toward a high level of customer service. Consider these seven key traits that lead to effective interactions:
1. Compassion and Empathy: Employees must be trained to understand the customer’s perspective, what it feels like to walk in their shoes. How would a 32-year-old, single mother of three understand what it feels like to be an 89-year-old widow who has watched her own four children move to other states only to see them once every few years?
2. Engagement and Warmth: Overall we do a good job of this within the seniors housing industry when interacting with residents. The buyer experience on the other hand needs a lot of work because it’s not happening. Our research shows that it’s quite the opposite, where prospective buyers are rushed, told to call back later, and treated as a mere transaction.
3. A Drive to Serve: Seniors housing employees do great here. Most people are drawn to assisted living because of their drive to serve.
4. Ownership: As an industry, we are missing the boat entirely here. Owners are at their wits end with trying to get operators to think like owners and of course if they don’t think like owners, their employees won’t either. Those few that do will dominate the future of seniors housing and care, a big competitive advantage.
5. Charitable Assumption: Meaning it’s important to act as if no customer has bad intentions as not to punish the 98% of customers for what you are afraid the remaining 2% might do.
6. Presence: Being in the moment, focused 100% on the person they are interacting with- which is a problem not just in assisted living but all industries. With the average person having 50,000 thoughts a day, being present requires a skillset few have.
7. The Desire to Exceed Expectations: This means a drive to go above and beyond. The interesting thing we see here on the buyer experience side is that sales and marketing people are such people pleasers that they fail to advise and drive the sale. On the resident experience side our industry does a great job overall of meeting and exceeding expectations. Now we must demonstrate this to those individuals who are not yet our customers but one day may be.
IS IT WORTH INVESTING IN YOUR ASSISTED LIVING EMPLOYEES WHO ONLY STAY FOR A SHORT TIME?The seniors housing and care industry has been slow to invest in training employees outside of what’s required by law. This is particularly true as it relates to placing value on the buyer and customer experience. The main reason is turnover; with over 50% and in some cases 75% of employees quitting within a year, it just doesn’t make sense to operators to invest in training when employees will leave and take that education to their competitor. Let’s look at Chick-fil-A who is also in a highly competitive industry with employees who make minimum wage and could easily jump from job to job. While they pay the same as competitors, Chick-fil-A is the highest-rated chain in customer satisfaction. The reason is the company invests more than other companies to train its employees and help them advance their careers, regardless of whether those careers are in fast food. The result of this investment in employees? Along with its top ranking in restaurant customer service surveys, Chick-fil-A has generated more revenue per restaurant in recent years than any other fast-food chain in the United States. The chain’s average sales per restaurant reached nearly $4M, compared to the average KFC, which sold $1M. Customer service is the key to Chick-fil-A’s ability to generate higher annual sales than KFC, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s, even though each of those has more than twice as many US locations.
WHAT IMPACT WOULD IT HAVE ON YOUR ORGANIZATION IF YOU HAD THREE TIMES THE REVENUE OF YOUR COMPETITORS DUE TO AN INVESTMENT IN SALES AND CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE TRAINING? DO THE MATH. CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE TRAINING OPTIONS NOW.
Now, with the intersection of technology and human interaction, you, along with thousands of others will hear this story and when considering which shipping provider to use will think twice before going with UPS. That is the power of the customer and why it’s so important to invest in your people because that single customer interaction can earn you fans or permanently damage your reputation. As a company, big or small, you are no better than your worst employee or as we saw with FedEx as great as your very best employee!