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Senior Housing Forum on Tour: I Was Invisible and It Was Not Good

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By Steve Moran

I think I actually just experienced ageism from our own industry!

I recently was the closing keynote speaker at LeadingAge Washington State where I talked about how to be the leader that everyone wants to follow. The meeting was in Spokane, WA, a place I had not spent much time. However, Senior Housing Forum Content Manager Extraordinaire, Kandi Short, lives in Spokane with her family.

Every time I go to a conference, I have leaders tell me how much they “enjoyed” reading the tour articles simply because they create such powerful teachable moments. Consequently, I have decided to bring the series back. So while spending time with Kandi after the conference, she and I decided it would be fun to do a senior living tour.   

We talked about how to play it and decided that she would take the lead, saying she is trying to figure out senior living for her grandmother and that I was her father-in-law who was tagging along. I figured she would take the lead and I would ask a few questions along the way.

It went far different than that.

Arghhhhhhhhh . . .

The community had assisted living and memory care. When we drove up, there was a sign on the curb saying stop in for a tour. So we did.

We were immediately greeted in a very friendly way which was quite impressive. When Kandi explained that she was there to find something for her grandmother, she was told the marketing director was off that day, so we were steered to someone else who works in the administrative office.   

This young woman was extremely friendly and enthusiastic about the community . . . to Kandi. However, she never said a single word to me -- though she did glance at me a few times, so I know I was not completely invisible. She led with what they had and their prices. While some might argue that is bad, I actually really like it because it gets the big question off the table.  

She then offered us a tour. She was trying so hard, but she got lost -- and in one case, she even had to call back down to the desk while we were upstairs, just for directions to get to one of the apartments. At first, it seemed she must have been a new employee. Yet, she shared that she had been at this specific community for over a year and with the same company for over 7 years.

She asked no questions about "grandma," so Kandi had to volunteer everything. I actually thought we were going to get all of the way through the tour and out the door without ever being asked for a name or phone number. As we were leaving, Kandi asked for the marketing directors card and it was then that she finally asked -- for the first time -- for Kandi's name and phone number.

And no . . .  not once in the 30 or 40 minutes we were there did she ever speak to me or even acknowledge me, except for a very occasional quick glance in conversation.  

Further Unpacking

The community is apparently almost full so maybe it is unfair to be critical. The young woman who gave us the tour was really passionate about her job and the company, which was great.   

And yet . . .

  • She seemed to have been given almost no training on how to work with prospects, even though she had worked for this company for over 7 years. In my mind that was unforgivable. In less than an hour, she could have been given enough training to really make a difference. She would have asked us some basic questions. She would have asked our names from the very start. She would have at least talked to me.

  • My initial reaction was that she was not the problem at all, and I laid all the fault at the feet of the executive director and the marketing director. But I think that was too hasty. How in 7 years do you not learn how to give a proper tour if you work on-site in administration at a community? Is that her fault or managements? And why would the marketing director take the day off -- apparently the same day every week -- without having someone else specifically trained for tours scheduled as back up?

  • There was some really basic stuff she just didn’t know that she should have known. For example, we went into a room that was freshly refurbished and there were no call devices on the wall. Kandi asked about this and she was completely flummoxed by the question. She said the units normally all have pull cords. But there were none in this unit. (I assume they use a wireless system and they had not been reinstalled after painting . . . yet why didn’t she know this?)

  • Kandi also asked about their policy about marijuana, saying her grandmother was kind of a hippie and had a medical marijuana card in California. Yet, again, our substitute-of-the-day tour guide had no idea how that was addressed. How do you live and work in Washington
    State and not know your company policy on such a hot topic?

  • As of today -- more than 4 days later -- Kandi has not received a follow-up call from the marketing director.  

We have to do better than this if we are going to ever get the seniors and their family members to take us seriously. While our tour guide was very very nice, there was no compelling reason for a family to come back based on this level of service. 

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