I don’t get mad very easily but I was treated with so much indifference it made me mad.
I have suggested to readers… if you are up to the challenge . . . . that if I am in your neck of the woods I would be glad to tour your building or a building operated by your company. A fair number of you have emailed invitations. This past week, for the first time, I was able to pull the trigger on one of those invitations.
Honestly it was not a good experience and it makes it harder because I now have to write about buildings that the invitee thought would be good enough to shine. And, more importantly, I was invited to review this property by someone I have become friendly with.
I visited two buildings that are part of a Pacific Northwest regional senior living chain. The first building I visited was a large independent living / assisted living community that is geared to a lower or middle market. The parking lot in particular is showing some age with the various parking designation signs in serious need of fresh paint or replacement. The interior (what I saw of it) seemed nice enough, though the front desk was around the corner from the front door, not immediately identifiable, which caused me momentary confusion.
I visited both buildings between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. The receptionist was friendly, cheery, nice . . . something like that, as she proceeded to list the people, by position who could give me a tour or tell me about the building but were out of the building. She followed that up by telling me that “if I were a prospect” she thought the nurse or care supervisor (I am not quite sure which) would come and show me around.
Okay . . . She then did actually take the next step of call that person and proceeded to tell her I was there and clearly convey that even though she had called that I was not really important enough to bother with.
Of all the visits I have done, this one almost mad me mad enough to say something to the local staff member who blew me off because . . . . well you will see. The apparent/obvious street front entrance was to the memory care portion of a multi-level care community.
I walked in and there was a nurse manning the front desk (I believe this was while the front desk person was taking care of something). He was very friendly and I thought “this is going to be much better”.
He went and got a woman who came out to talk with me. I explained who I was and why I had dropped by. She said she had one thing she needed to do and would then come back and show me around. I was still feeling pretty good about this.
It was false hope. A few minutes later she came back, handed me the card of the marketing director for the building and told me that she was not going to give me a tour and that I would have to talk to the marketing director tomorrow.
I explained I was from out of town. It made no difference to her and the promise of a tour was rescinded, just like that.
The reason I was mad was that I went to the trouble of being interested in her community and she said she would be glad to show me and tell me. Then after waiting (a reasonable request) she came back and said I wasn’t worth it.
This is where writing this story gets hard. I am puzzled that I was asked to come visit, given how terrible the response was.
I guess . . . the corporate team really didn’t have a good feel for what it is like . . . or they know they have a problem and needed someone to help bring the point home (a great case for hiring a mystery shopping company like ServiceTrac) to their staff. I hope this helps them make it better.
In every single building where I was not treated helpfully I left at least one business card. It is particularly puzzling, disturbing and curious that, of the now half a dozen or so communities where this is true, not a single person has later called me to see what I was about or what I wanted.
I find this all so disturbing and frustrating. We think that many seniors would be better off in a senior living community than in the isolation of living alone or with just one other person at home and we wonder why we can’t seem to move off the 10% market penetration mark. Perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg as to why.
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If you had such a bad experience, why provide the perpetrators the benefit of “anonymity”? As long as there seem to be “gentlemen agreements” about not naming names, the bad things will just keep trucking along. Let the providers sharpen up, knowing their actual names may appear in a blog. Happens all the time. Why not spill the beans completely and really make a difference?
I agree 1000 percent with Jennifer. I want to know which community this is.
Jennifer & Joy: This is something I have given a lot of thought too. Given that this is not a consumer review site or even a consumer facing site I just cannot see how it would make the industry better or those communities better.
That being said, I do think that if I saw something that was life threatening or abusive I would feel differently. While I think it is possible that this behavior is a reflection of community behavior, that is not necessarily true. Ultimately the more likely looser in this is the community itself who will lose residents. In pretty much every single case where I have seen big service failures I am quite sure they have vacancies.
Jennifer you ask a legitimate question and one I have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with. There are two reasons. One of which is very self serving the other perhaps more legitimate.
1. The most legitimate: In dealing with employees there is a general rule that you should praise in public and correct in private. The reason of course is that when you call someone out is public it tends to build resentment and ends up not being a teachable moment.
2. More Self Serving: My goal is to increase the readership of my website and I am not sure that pointing out the faults of specific senior communities or companies is the best way to make that happen. I will tell you that with one exception I have corporate level contacts for each of the companies where the experience was not so great and in every case I have reached out to corporate level leaders with the name of the specific community.
In two cases (including this one) they are actively working on making it better. In two cases it has been a black hole, one of which surprised me the other one less so.
It may not be the right approach, but that is at least right now my thinking.
I appreciate learning about your reasons. Maybe there is a two-step dosey-dough (sp?) that could evolve: 1) a veiled post here, plus a “behind the scenes” effort to inform the management level that should take your observations and make changes for the better. 2) After a reasonable period of time, somehow find out if said improvements occurred. If not, a reveal.
Is it possible that the invitations you receive from residents are because they have been frustrated in their own efforts to get management’s attention? I would think that the ONLY residents who might be reluctant for any soiled laundry being “aired” would be those IL residents in a CCRC on a refund plan. If the residents know that as unsecured creditors, their hefty refund amount is contingent upon the unit being “sold” to a newcomer. Hence, residents find themselves over a barrel, since they don’t want to hamper demand.
If the “problem” community that prompted your post is not a refund CCRC, the two-step approach might accomplish something positive in the long run.
The invitations are actually coming from the owners and operators of the properties. I am trying to be proactive by doing as you suggest, talking to the owners or owner reps about the problems, but off line from the website.
I totally understand your frustration and disappointment! I’ve been preaching for years that in order to be superior to our competitors, we have to understand customer service. It doesn’t take much, unfortunately, to do better than most communities or “facilities”. Those communities who still refer to themselves as “facilities” breed in their employees that substandard attitude of indifference and inattention.
I tell marketing folks all the time that if you’ll just do 10% better in everything you do, you’ll move the meter 50% ahead of your competition. It really is that simple. Doing nothing is easy; doing better requires a commitment to paying attention. Unfortunately, failure to address basic customer service is the face of what our industry has become, and where the first lessons need be taught is with management, not staff. After all, they learn by example.
Hi Steve, as a referral agency in Southern California, my BIGGEST challenge daily by far is finding marketing people with a sense of urgency to tour my prospects, and then close the deal. Like some of the buildings you visited, I can call them on a Monday, and I would say that maybe 20% will return my calls or emails. And these are communities Steve that are not even close to being full. I do not understand it. My guess is that these communities are not paying well enough perhaps to attract top talent that are true professionals or sales people?
I own a referral agency on the East Coast. I noticed when I worked for a referral agency that some marketer’s did not have a sense of urgency. I then did work as a Marketing Director in a building, and realized that it is that building’s culture. I did have a sense of urgency and the three years I worked for that company I kept their building 95 to 100% full. But decided to leave and start my own business again because I got tired of fighting that building’s culture. The staff…explained away by the executive director thought that it was the Marketer’s sole responsibility to sell the building and that is what the marketer got their bonus for. Some buildings are just more happy with a B+ marketer, because it is less for the staff to manage and they are at Budgeted Occupancy.
Chris I think you are right about not getting top talent. It is one of those things where saving money can be very very expensive.
Steve–Welcome to my world! As you know by now, I have innovative technology available to improve the safety and ease of transferring a patient/loved one. I have both shown this device (with an advanced appt.) and left almost a hundred cards behind with the statement that “someone would get back with me”.
Both of these methods have fallen into that “black hole”. Many were also officers of national nursing/assisted living chains. Still nothing. California nursing associations, in particular, have done rigorous studies and claim to carry a torch to improve clinician safety. Nothing from them either.
Again, welcome to the world of medical professionals, congress people , etc. talking out of both sides of their mouth. Frustrating.
Don I am sympathetic to your frustration, but honestly selling something new is hard work. It just takes knocking on lots of doors and the same doors. I am just now starting to make progress on some Vigil prospects that I have been nurturing and cultivating for more than two years.
Steve–I neglected to mention that I have had dozens of experienced, LYC professionals and several dozen respected regional clinicians knocking on doors for over 2 years myself. Not just one person, but professionals who already have business at most of the places if not the exclusive contract for the majority of the medical devices purchased by said facility. To not have ONE who has said yes is more than frustrating. It points out the fact that you raise weekly…an edict from the top down and bottom up to stay with the status quo…no matter how many injuries to patients and clinicians the task is causing. I have esteemed clinicians across our country scratching their combined heads as to the conundrum this device is in. Plus, other products that would cut therapy budgets in Half…not only inn LTC but therapy operations in every facility nationwide. Don
As a resident of assisted living for 11 years, and someone who believes you are both an authentic and honorable man, I can empathize with your current dilemma; namely, “how does one serve two masters — when the goals of these masters (the LTC housing industry and LTC public advocacy).conflict so openly?
I believe the answer to this question of serving two masters is, “you can’t”,– at least not with a straight face.” In short, you can’t play baseball, Steve, for two teams simultaneously. Pick a team and get on with it. Respectfully, Martin
I appreciate your kind words. I am very pro senior living industry but I am also convinced that as good as it is, there are a lot of things we can do better. I am not sure that naming the specific senior communities or companies would be helpful to anyone. I am open to being wrong about this and would be glad to hear your thoughts.
They way I am doing it I am hoping is hopeful to everyone.
An Advocate, an Activist and an Entrepreneur Walk into a Bar . . .
When I “wore a younger man’s clothes,” I co-founded a long-term care insurance brokerage firm and adopted the nom deplume Mr. Long-Term Care. I also built a web site of the same name and published a monthly news journal – all to expand the consciousness of the American public on the subject of long-term care.
I reached out to educate both the public-at-large, and a growing base of insurance agents on a subject that was relatively new. And I succeeded. Beyond my wildest dreams.
And yet my real success was not measured in commission dollars or key-note speaking engagements. Not to me. No, it was measured in my ability to exist as an advocate, activist and entrepreneur simultaneously.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the greatest challenge I’d ever had. Example: when CNA announced they were putting their biggest blocks of their ltc contracts on the block, I was interviewed by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. I told them that despite CNA’s street cred at the time, and a highly rated ltci product from a company that still maintained AAA+ ratings from Standard & Poors and Moody’s, “clients would get screwed in the long run.”
I received more than one death threat on that one. Nasty stuff. But I stuck to my guns and refused to fold. (And by the way, CNA and my business partner and President of New York Long-Term Care Brokers, Kevin Johnson, had a solid, long-standing relationship, and was definitely uncomfortable about that disintegrating relationship. But he also knew I wouldn’t back down.)
Some years later, when the smoke cleared and CNA crashed and burned on those ltc policies – primarily because of faulty actuarial assumptions – the policy owners were notified of premium increases of over 150% in some cases.
Now, the lesson here, from my perspective, is quite simple: if you want to be both entrepreneur AND advocate, be prepared to lose clients. If you don’t have that luxury, stay out of the water.
Your Friend, Martin
Martin I absolutely agree. A number of months ago I wrote an article titled “Nursing Homes a National Disgrace” You can go see the negative comments on that one (there were a lot of positive as well). In addition to what is posted I received a bunch of emails from unhappy readers (or in some cases now ex readers).
I am not perfect at it, but when approach things I am writing about and how I am approaching them I try to always ask myself is the way that is going to move the industry forward to providing better care. I may be naive but I believe great care always results in great profits.
I appreciate the conversation.
Steve–Two comments: 1) As far as the “2 step” approach…Jennifer, while your solution may be valid, it would take a small army of advocates to keep up with informing mgmt. “behind the scenes, as well as to follow up on each & every case to see whether improvements were made or swept under the proverbial mat (the most likely of the two.
2) It would have to be an “unannounced” visit by someone with that state’s authority to do something about it. Good luck on that as they continue to cut staff. Finally, I find it amazing in this era of instant social media, that more abused parties don’t get their tech savvy children to post EVERYTIME it is warranted. Don Hamlin
I want to be very careful here. Just because I am not getting great treatment at some of these communities does not mean they are not taking good care of their residents (though I guess one might argue the likelihood of some level of correlation) I would further add that no matter how good a company or building is, because we are dealing with people and service failures can and do happen. They question really is how does the company deal with it?
I had to weigh in on this article, as I am so appreciative for your candor! As a vendor in Sr Living ( in the south) I am surprised at how few folks will respond to my requests – even if simply to learn about a product or tool that is available – should they ever need it. But as a human, who is currently attempting to help my mother find a CCRC and have weekends and long distance travel as a part of the equation, I am so ashamed of our industry! I was actually told by one marketing person that if I would not give her my information, she would give me no information on their community ( but seeing as how I know all the CEOs of these communities, I wanted the anonymity and efficiency of simply getting my few questions answered). Furthermore, of all the phone calls I have made, I would submit that only about 15% of them were answered by a person rather than voice mail. In a world where few folks have the luxury of time and few adult children still live where their parents live, it is time to shift our approach or our industry will suffer.
I am a vendor and yet I am sympathetic to how difficult it is for senior living executives to manage all the vendors who want to sell them something.
On the other hand your story of looking for information for your mother is distressing.
Steve, I have been following your blog with interest. I can understand your frustration, but I think that if you want a tour as a professional checking out a community for your professional purposes, I think you need to make an appointment. Should every person who walks in, no matter what the purpose, be given a warm welcome and time? Absolutely.
But if you know you are coming to tour, why wouldn’t you call and make an appointment? If you want to mystery shop, which is what I think you really may want to do without actually doing it, then mystery shop as a prospect.
I always appreciate knowing why a professional comes to see me, and I appreciate that you are trying to be honest by not representing yourself as a prospect. But I think it is professional courtesy to make an appointment in advance.
I have worked in buildings like this, and kept it full in spite of no support from the existing staff. Thank you for your support in this article. Some staff truly believes that it is only the “Marketer’s” job to fill the building and that is what the Marketer gets their bonus for. I feel sorry for the Marketing person in that building, and they might not have ever received your business card. I think some executive director’s need to do a better job in educating their staff., it should not be the sole responsibility of the marketer to do so. Unfortunately it is easier for that executive director to do the blame game, instead of trying to fix what it not working.
I was consulting in a building and watched five people walk past a piece of paper on the floor before someone finally picked it up. The people who didn’t pick it up said it was housekeeping’s responsibility. What??? Marketing (and many other responsibilities) is everyone’s responsibility. I work with many independent, smaller communities who spend an inordinate amount of time working on their brochures. They don’t often return calls in a timely manner, and try to avoid meeting people who might just be looking (while also complaining about the cost of working with placement agencies). They worry that they don’t have the sales skills of the larger communities. People choose communities because of the people with whom they connect – those that listen, those who are courteous, those who are responsive. With a huge number of options available, all it takes is to be handed a brochure (although beautifully designed) and told to come back another day to send most people elsewhere.
I appreciate this article and have enjoyed reading the various responses from different vantage points. And, as a ‘recovering’ LTC employee myself – this further solidifies why I left the ‘industry’ to begin my own company. To think that filling-the-building is simply a numbers game – to be played by the marketing person while the on-site employees are content to simply punch a clock and do only the barest of minimums – is it really any WONDER why no one wants to move into long term care? The industry already fights an uphill battle – that LTC isn’t HOME and it’s a tough enough sell – from a brick & mortar perspective. But, add on top of it – folks who are simply warm-body position holders, with no oversight, leadership or accountability. And, certainly not proper for Compassionate Care for a vulnerable population – and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Regardless of whether you are the front desk person, the housekeeper or the Director of Nursing…..you should be So Proud of your community and be at the Ready – to Show it off and share it with – Whoever walks in the door. Whether Steve is a Pro or Not. Whether he had an appt. or Not – doesn’t matter a bit to me – Every person who crosses the treshold of a ‘home’ should be treated warmly with respect and humanity. The mailman, the delivery man or a perspective move-in. Whatever…..it’s NOT rocket science! Oh, and FYI – in my current role as company owner – I ALWAYS encourage folks who are seeking LTC for their loved one; to show up un-announced for a ‘tour’. I think it gives a ‘real time’ snapshot to the seeker and it’s not some pre-planned orchestrated side-show. In addition, I also encourage them to show up After 5pm for that improptu tour – as again, this will give you a ‘snap shot’ of how the building is run, when the leaders are gone for the day. Remember, they are trying to decide if they want to place their Loved one and pay the on-going bills…..They have a right to expect perfection (or near perfection) any time of day, night or day of the week. It’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously – as you try and convince people to leave the comfort and familiarity of their own HOME and move into a LTC.
I really liked the information you shared. What constantly amazes me is the lack of basic customer service skills exhibited by a majority of the people working in senior living facilities.
I have been in sales and running my own business in some form or another since I was ten years old. I learned how to serve the needs of my clients or customers. It wasn’t rocket science–I treated people the way I wanted to be treated.
I don’t know if it is laziness, lack of motivation, or just basic ignorance that promotes the kind of behavior you experienced.
I cannot believe an employee told you the marketing director couldn’t give you a tour after you explained that you were from out of town. What kind of impression does that create? Someone can’t get off their behind and give you a brief tour? Or only give you a tour if you were a “prospect” ?! Give me a break.
What kind of impression does that create of the organization? I would certainly think twice about having a family member in that place. The first contact is when the place is supposed to be on its best behavior. What do you think will happen if you end up living there?
I work in a CCRC and I give tours to anyone who wants them. I’m not in marketing but I look at everyone who comes in as someone who, if they like our community, as someone who can contribute in some way, even if they don’t end up moving in. I want everyone who comes here to have a positive experience.
By the way, my father is looking at a CCRC in his area. I emailed them several days ago to set up a tour for us, on the only day I was going to be in town, and still have not heard anything back. What other business treats its customers this way and survives???
I can also identify with your frustration. As the owner of a placement agency, I have a policy of personally visiting the places I will potentially be recommending to our clients. Whenever possible, I make an appointment for the first visit, but also find it very enlightening to make unannounced visits and have at times been given tours by even kitchen staff and maintenance workers who were very helpful and welcoming. I am willing to be flexible and wait if staff is busy with other duties, but hope to be treated with respect and courtesy.
I also advise our clients to have the courtesy of scheduling their first visit so staff can reserve time to answer their questions, but before making a decision it is also advisable to drop by unannounced at different times of the day to get a truer picture of what life is like in that community, and to talk with other residents, families and employees, not just the marketing director. This approach is not always welcome, but it’s more important for me to know my clients feel secure in their decisions.
One pet peeve I have is when a family requests that I do not share their contact information with communities. On several occasions I have worked with families of well-known celebrities who for obvious reasons do not want their personal contact information or other sensitive details released. I will indicate “information withheld at request of client”, and have been told by a few communities they will refuse to work with anyone who will not provide contact information. I have had communities threaten to cancel their contracts with me if I did not provide phone numbers of clients who wished not to be contacted. I have to think, if they are so inflexible about their policies before someone even moves in, (even a potentially well-paying future resident), these policies seem to be more important than respecting the wishes of the people they are trying to attract, therefore not a good choice.