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Laying Out the RED CARPET Program

October 1, 2004
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A 2004 OPTIMA entry: Ideal Senior Living Center, Endicott, New York, learns the meaning of hospitality by Maria Motsavage, President/CEO
BY MARIA MOTSAVAGE Our organization had been struggling for years with declining resident satisfaction scores, increasing employee turnover, and a highly competitive market. Not only were we competing for residents, we were competing for employees. Each year, our team met to strategize and set priorities for the coming year. Each year, our priority for world-class customer service was outlined. Each year, specific tactics were created that would move us in the direction of improving satisfaction scores and filling vacancies. But each year, we were unsuccessful in reaching our goal.

We had listened to representatives of the Disney Institute share the success they had achieved by creating memorable experiences for their customers. We had visited other organizations that had implemented customer service programs. Our planning meetings included an assessment of our strengths, our weaknesses, and our economic "engine." We knew that if we could really wow our customers, our residents, and our employees, we could demonstrate the value of our services and our impact on the community. By improving our services along with demonstrating uniqueness and value, we would create an environment that would make raving fans out of the residents and family members we cared for.

And yet the inspiration for this project did not come from any training session or even from a literature search. It came from a dining experience that I, the facility president/CEO, had while vacationing in Florida in early 2001. At a restaurant, I had ordered my traditional salad: "no dressing, tomatoes, or onions...just extra cheese and lots of croutons." Usually I hear, "I'll check, but there may be an additional charge for the cheese," or, "I'm sorry, it's already prepared in the kitchen." This time, though, I was delightfully surprised when the waiter, without a moment's hesitation, said, "When you're a guest in my house, you can have anything you want."

I can only describe the feeling of my response as awesome. This employee was empowered enough to want me to be very satisfied with my dining experience. His response changed everything for me-and, as it turned out, our organization.

Planning the Project
When I returned, I approached our management team almost bursting with excitement. What could we do in a long-term care residential and skilled nursing center that would have that same impact on our residents? How could we make them feel as if nothing they could ask for would be too much, the way that waiter made me feel? We brainstormed experiences that we had had in hotels, restaurants, physicians' offices, veterinarians' offices, etc., that made us feel as if we were getting "the red-carpet treatment." We then discussed how to translate those episodes into everyday experiences for our residents. The outcome of this exercise is what we now call our RED CARPETSM Program.

The experts had been telling us that in order to satisfy our residents, we needed to treat our employees in such a way that we would raise their level of satisfaction, too. So we developed a RED CARPET Program for our employees, as well. We set a goal that resident satisfaction would be above the national mean for 2001 (as reported by Press Ganey Associates, Inc., from their national client database) and that employee satisfaction, as measured by employee turnover, would improve significantly. We also anticipated measuring employee satisfaction through a standardized survey process, with the goal of being above the national mean for long-term care facilities.

We began our journey to excellence by service mapping the actions and behaviors that we would engage in from the moment a resident entered the facility. This included having red carpets and a sign announcing that we "roll out the RED CARPET for you" at each entrance along with brass luggage carriers. Management offered warm greetings with a gift of a teddy bear wearing a "Welcome Home" T-shirt. Beyond this, a series of specific actions were developed that would be carried out consistently and routinely by managers to create a special feeling for residents. Residents would receive a welcome letter from the president, as well as visits from key staff and managers soon after their admission. Special events would be scheduled, and family meetings would be held more frequently and attended by management staff to ensure that all issues would be dealt with in a timely manner. Following each meeting, a written feedback report would be shared identifying issues that were raised, the proposed action plan, the responsible party, and the time frame.

Meanwhile, we focused effort on the RED CARPET Program for our employees. As with the resident service mapping, we strived to create an "awesome arrival" sensation for applicants and new hires. We redesigned the facility's application-completion area to appear more welcoming. Each applicant would be greeted by a member of the Human Resources team and offered an interview on the spot, if feasible. Applicants would be told when they would hear from us with a decision. Once hired, they would receive a welcome note from the president's office within 24 hours, a call from their supervisor within 48 hours, and then regular calls from the supervisor up until the start date offering any needed assistance. The night before the start date, the supervisor would call to confirm where they were to arrive and ask if there were any further questions.