Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Too often that is how senior living front desk staff come across to the public (think prospects and referral sources), residents and family members.

It is funny how things work. . .

I was recently talking to Freddi Hoffmann, Strategic Marketing, Sales & Fund Development Specialist with Sage Age Strategies. We were chatting about a workshop she conducted for one of the state LeadingAge Associations where she presented lessons learned from secret shopping. You can see those lessons in my article Lessons from a Secret Shopper, published last month. A big part of that discussion was about phone etiquette and how front desk people come across to the public. And then this happened . . .

Discouragement In Action

I was recently doing some work at an upscale senior living community in Colorado. My first impression came on my first day on the job during an interaction with “Rosie”, the front desk team member. The lack of attention and personality from this receptionist was memorable in the wrong kind of way. I initially chalked it up to Rosie having an off day. Except that, as the days passed, she just never got better. She was not exactly rude, but far from exuding the warm, welcoming tone that I expected, particularly from the “Director of First Impressions”. (There’s an article title…stay tuned!) After several days of “Hello-what-do-you-want?” and “Why-are-you-bothering-me?” attitude I reached my breaking point. “We have to conduct training for our front desk, staff…really…like now.”

Preparing For The Fix

Trying to set Rosie up for success I started by trying to make friends. After a few hours, I discovered that I really liked Rosie. And yet . . . while I like all the characters inhabiting Winnie the Pooh’s hundred acre woods, it’s just that I would never put Eeyore at the front desk. Rosie was great and certain things like filing and keeping order amidst the orchestrated chaos that always surrounds a busy front desk and yet the negativity she exuded was enough to force Pharrell Williams on to Prozac. Another complicating factor was that the residents loved Rosie precisely because she had this tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve. Rosie loved to discuss her personal problems with residents. These front desk rap sessions were cathartic for her and they were terrific fodder for the resident rumor mill – win-win!   “Did you hear about Rosie’s daughter? She ran off again with that awful boyfriend of hers. This time to Vegas.” “Oh, my, how is Rosie handling it?” And so on (don’t lie, you want to know too).

A Teachable Moment or Not

I was sure Rosie saw me as a good guy and that, if I began the coaching process confidently, she would get the big picture and make the changes that were needed. Why not? It would actually make her days better.

It just didn’t take.

She wasn’t game and flat out refused to engage in any form of role play whatsoever. After several days of trying, I became convinced that Rosie was just not going to change the way she performed her job. She didn’t, or wouldn’t, see the problem. It was just more of the same, “Good morning, Pooh Bear…If it is a good morning…which I doubt,” (try it with your best Eeyore voice).

The Final Straw

One afternoon, I was in the Business Manager’s office within earshot of the front desk when a call came in. I noticed Rosie opening and closing drawers and rifling through papers for several minutes, until she stepped into the office. “How much do we charge for a one-bedroom?” We stopped talking. The director responded with the price and Rosie, satisfied with the answer, turned and started off. “Why?” I asked. “Oh, someone’s on the phone asking”, Rosie responded as she went back to the phone. In urgent unison the director and I called out “Transfer the call to me!” The next sound we heard was Eeyore’s voice lethargically wafting down the hallway saying, “Never mind, they hung up. Oh well.” No phone number, no name…just dial tone and the sound of Eeyore’s tail dragging down the hallway. “Oh, bother!”

Getting The Phone Thing Right

In my conversation with Freddi she offered these three key rules for a successful phone interaction:

1.  A friendly and warm greeting (with your community’s name)

  • Always smile (yes, this comes through over the phone!)
  • Answer within 3 rings
  • Never, ever, ever have the first response be a recorded message.
  • Don’t make your greeting too long, “Apple Field Retirement. We are the people who really care for you and your loved ones. My name is April. How can I help you?” may be TMI.
  • End your greeting with the phrase, “How may I help you?”
  • Be positive and outgoing

2.  See the call as the first step in the “connection” process

  • Introduce yourself (Good Morning, ABC Senior Living, this is Jamie, how may I help you?)
  • Be prepared to write information down on your community Inquiry Form
  • Always get the full name and telephone number of the person calling (in case we get cut off, may I have your name and number?)
  • Speak with clarity and confidence
  • Avoid giving out information you’re uncertain about

3. Demonstrate the caller’s importance

  • Don’t rush through the call
  • Listen Carefully
  • Use the Caller’s name when appropriate
  • Avoid becoming distracted or speaking with others while on the call
  • Only put them into voicemail or on hold when absolutely necessary
  • When putting them on hold:
  • Ask them for permission to put them on hold or through to voicemail
  • Make sure you’ve already written down their name and phone number
  • Close the conversation politely, thanking the caller for calling.

We made the Sage Age Slide Deck available in the earlier article but in case you missed it you can download it here.

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