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Teaching Our Team Members Not To Care

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By Steve Moran

I think mostly when people come to work in senior living or for that matter most industry sectors, they start out with good attitudes and are committed to and determined to do a good job. Yet too often over time, they go from caring to not caring and from providing great customer service to providing ordinary or even crummy customer service.

And it is always the fault of management.  

This has really hit home as I am sitting on a Delta Airlines airplane waiting for departure, trying to get home to Sacramento.  

Unequal Power

It could have been better. I realized I blew it and booked a flight home from LeadingAge a day late. I called Delta and they were glad to fix it for $1,100 in fees and fare differential. The fact that I have top tier status and mostly purchase first class tickets (including this flight) counts for nothing. That would not necessarily be so bad if when they caused problems they were willing to pay for it.

But that is not how it works. Even though I purchased a first-class ticket, because of something operationally, (not weather which I get since that is safety) my first flight was delayed by more than 2 hours, which meant my connecting flights were blown. In order to get home . . . I went from first-class all the way, to a short first-class leg followed by a long coach leg in a middle seat. Where I will have to purchase food that was paid for on my first class ticket.

And they give me nothing in return.

What then happens is that we consumers start looking for reasons to be mad. I ended up with two passes to the Delta Sky Club though I only need one. I crossed paths with a friend in Atlanta and it mattered not that I had two passes, I had to pay a 2nd person fee.  

One more reason to be mad.

Two Lessons for Senior Living

  1. I am sure all the Delta people who had no interest in making an exception to the fee rules for a great customer are lovely people who say they care about their Delta customers. Yet, they don’t really and that is because at some level the Delta leadership has sent the message that it doesn’t matter. Likely they have sent the message that they are leaving millions of dollars of revenue on the table by being too nice to their customers.  

    Of course, they would not phrase it this way, but it is the bottom line. And maybe because of government protection of unequal rules for airlines and passengers it sort of works. Though Southwest and Alaska have figured out that great and fair customer service works even better.

    I know there are many residents that feel like I do, about Delta. That once they move in, they are at the mercy of the community and that all the community cares about is money. I just received one of those comments in my email box this morning from a consumer family.

    The bottom line here is that we need serious empathy with our residents after they move in, not just before.  

  1. Our team members start out caring a lot. They want to care, they want to do a good job, but they take their lead from their leaders. If they begin to see that the leaders don’t really care about team members and that profits are more important than people they move from caring to not caring and they have the ability to see when they have gone too far in not caring.

Three years ago, I left American to go to Delta for better customer service. And -- with rare exceptions -- I have been glad I did, even though the flight schedules are less convenient. This morning, when I look back over the last number of weeks, I have come to realize that Delta has decided to more or less match American’s customer service. And so for me, the Delta difference is gone.

And because American has better schedules and the service is equally terrible, I might as well go back to American. And . . . tell everyone I know why.

This is the risk we face with residents. If we don’t give residents, their families, and team members a compelling reason to stay, they won’t. And that hurts revenue, occupancy, and recruitment.

It is also not a very nice thing to do.

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