Most post-survey focus groups only scratch the surface of what the community is really thinking and feeling

by Sue Saldibar

Remember that popular E.F. Hutton tagline from the 80’s: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Here’s one we like even better: “When ServiceTrac listens, people talk.”

Why do the people at ServiceTrac, a Senior Housing Forum partner, put such high strategic value on listening? We caught up with Michael Johnson, VP of Research for ServiceTrac, to find out more about the use of listening as a tool in senior living communities, particularly as it is used in the follow up phase to conducting a survey.

“Most post-survey focus groups only scratch the surface of what the community is really thinking and feeling,” he said. “That’s why we don’t conduct focus groups. We conduct Listening Groups.” That got our attention. So we asked Michael to explain.

What is a Listening Group?

Some of the best research companies offer to finish a survey project with a focus group. They ask residents follow-up questions and try to expand on what they have said in the survey.

Unlike traditional focus groups in which the primary goal is to collect data, a Listening Group concentrates not only on the data but how it relates to the individuals providing it. Using the survey input as a springboard to discussion, the Listening Group seeks to remove traditional barriers and create an atmosphere conducive to open and thoughtful contributions by all participants.

In a focus group, once the data is gathered, the person providing that data is thanked and dismissed. In a ServiceTrac Listening Group, not only is data collected but residents are empowered to be key contributors to the success of the facility.

The Benefits are Transforming

Some of the most powerful benefits of conducting a Listening Group are additional to the valuable data that is collected. Key benefits include:

  1. Richer, deeper information set – Enjoyment of more “Aha” moments; since the data has been given meaningful insight and dimension through your resident’s personal feedback, you are more likely to make actionable discoveries about the status of your senior living facility. Through Listening Groups, survey results are supplemented with candid, qualitative input that is commonly based on the residents’ personal life experiences. The Listening Group allows you to ask important questions that came out of your survey results.
  2. Insightful community input – “We have had Listening Groups that have brought forth insight from former journalists, consultants, airline pilots, even former senior living executives,” says Michael. “I’ve seen residents make cohesive suggestions about process improvements that eliminate waste and save the community money, even in areas that don’t directly impact them,” he added. “There are some remarkable minds out there. And, as residents, they see and hear everything. Why wouldn’t you want to leverage their input?”
  3. Heightened sense of self-worth among residents – Residents leave the Listening Group session with a sense of purpose; something many may have not felt in years. The collaborative environment helps foster a sense of usefulness; a sense that their ideas still have value and are being considered seriously.

    Incidentally, there is tremendous ‘pass along’ value in Listening Groups, according to Michael. “Even if only 10% actually participate, the others will feel its impact and will relate the experience to relatives and friends,” says Michael.

  4. Better understanding between staff and residents – Trained Listening Group facilitators understand the perspective of the staff. They also are experts at learning the perspective of the residents or family members. Once a session is completed the facilitator can sit down with staff and translate the feeling and emotions of residents in a meaningful and helpful way. This process leads to clearer feedback, more humanization and a stronger relationship between staff and residents.

“What we are really creating with the Listening Group is a listening culture, an environment tuned in to both the individual and the collective wisdom of your community,” says Michael. “That’s a very different approach to many survey projects that end when the results are turned in and are forgotten until the next year,” he added.

Finally, and most importantly, Listening Groups help eradicate stubborn, preconceived notions about seniors and their ability to contribute meaningful input.

Michael says, “The unfortunate truth is once a person is labeled a ‘senior living resident’, an incorrect assumption is often made that their opinions and ideas are now officially ‘out of date’ and that their past life and all their former experiences have somehow become null and void. We feel that our Listening Groups actually revitalize residents’ past lives and experiences and bring them back to a place where their value can be embraced. As a result, the residents feel valued again. What’s that worth to you?  We think it’s priceless.”

We agree. What do you think?