“I’ve told you a dozen times. I prefer my eggs soft.”
“Sorry dear, that’s how they came from the kitchen.”
“Well it’s not good enough.”
“I’ll report it to my supervisor and I’ll get you to fill in our new customer feedback form.”
Service is not a new concept for aged care. In all but exceptional circumstances, which hit the media from time to time, dedicated staff carry out their duties in providing home care diligently, with the client’s wellbeing as their primary objective.
What is changing is the nature of the care, and the freedom choice offered to clients. In what now beckons as a competitive landscape, aged care service needs to mirror more and more the principles of customer service prevalent in the hospitality industry.
The level of service required by aged care clients follows a fairly simple hierarchy. At the basic level, clients need to have an environment in which they feel safe and secure and comfortable, whether they’re in their own home or a facility. They need, on top of perceived good medical services, the same level of civility and choice they have learned to expect from their experiences when enjoying similar services in their lives to date. For example, from their doctor, gardener, cleaning service, restaurants they like, or hotels they have stayed at.
Stray too far from that norm of security, comfort, civility, and concern for ‘me’ to which they have become accustomed from other service providers, and your service will be seen as unacceptable. For most clients this means service akin to most hospitals will be seen as unacceptable.
So once these basic needs are met is it mission accomplished? Not exactly; if these basic learned needs are met, the best an aged care provider can hope for is a feeling from the client that the service was ‘OK’.
To return to the example that opens this article, not being able to receive food cooked to your satisfaction after repeatedly explaining your preference will destroy any feeling of comfort and trust that might have built up. That comfort and trust cannot be regained through proffered apologies, or reporting of the issue. The absence of an apology or reporting can make the situation worse, but they certainly won’t redeem the situation by themselves.
Meeting these basic client needs is the foundation on which superior service is built, but is not superior service.
Beyond their basic needs, clients have wants which are individual, but common enough to a wide range of individuals to be called – in marketing terms – a segment.
Some examples: the relatives of your clients want to be able to park easily at your facility. They want to be able to get in easily, see that the premises are clean when they visit, and that the surroundings are pleasant, and that the people who are looking after their loved ones are pleasant too. When small issues crop up – as they will in even the most well-run and well-organised aged care home – they will want those problems to be dealt with quickly, calmly, and effectively.
Meeting these wants is not superior service either. It is good service, and it will create loyalty and a good reputation. It will not, however, create raving fans unless the clients have never had their wants fulfilled before.
Above and beyond their wants, customers have unexpected or unknown desires. For example, consider a family visiting their loved ones on a particularly hot day. They have a want to be in air conditioning, to have a cold drink in comfortable surroundings, so they can chat over the day with their friends.
Organise a cold refreshing towel, direct from the fridge as a service to them and their relatives who have just come in from the heat and you will be providing a service they did not even know that they wanted until it was provided to them. In the scale of things cooling, the gesture is off the scale because of the sensory impact of the cold towel hitting the hot skin and because it is personal, unlike air conditioning.
That is superior service.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is the best exponent of superior service that I have personally experienced.
When you arrive in their business lounge, you are greeted personally to ensure your details are correct for the limousine to take you home from your destination airport. You can order your meal for the flight in the lounge, or even eat whilst in the lounge if there is time so that you might sleep on the flight. Hostesses offer scalp and shoulder massages to help you relax in flight. The list does go on.
Providing superior service need not be expensive as the above examples demonstrate. So, anyone can do it even though few do.
In my view, experiencing a service that you did not know you wanted until you experienced it, is good start to a definition of superior service, but it is not complete.
What kills superior service are the small things that are more likely to be described as basic needs.
The book Broken Windows, Broken Business by Michael Levine clearly points out the need to attend to the basics. That when the basics are not attended to it is like a factory where broken windows are not mended and people in the neighbourhood think it is OK to smash more windows.
By not concentrating on the small things, by allowing broken windows, you are building a swish penthouse atop a rundown building. Customers will not be looking at the penthouse but the raft of broken windows below.
In our example, the lack of controls and care that means clients can’t make a simple request for food the way they like it is a bank of broken windows.
Delivering a cold towel from the fridge in a surly manner to a relative who found that their loved one can’t even get the food they like will not remain in a client’s mind as superior service.
Superior service must be built on a foundation of meeting the needs and wants of clients without broken windows. When that foundation is laid then experiencing a service that you do not know you want until you experience it is Superior Service.