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What senior living can learn from Southwest’s customer service

October 6, 2017
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With this strategy, there will be times when a front-line team member fixes a problem, but you don’t agree with the approach. It’s important for administrators and department heads to acknowledge their initiative and praise their attempt to fix the problem, while using it as an opportunity for skills-building and training on alternate ways to handle complaints.

Team members also need training in what not to do or say. In emotionally charged situations, it’s easy for team members to fall back on certain responses that can be damaging to the customer’s interpretation of the situation and their loyalty to your community.

Things front-line staff should avoid:

  1. Don’t get angry with the customer for the frustrated behavior that results from a complaint. Try to put yourself in the customer shoes.
  2. Don’t make excuses. The most damaging excuse team members use is: “We’re understaffed!”
  3. Don’t dismiss the family’s complaints because they are “crazy” or have unrealistic expectations. This absolves the team from responsibility for fixing the problem because it is “unfixable.” Avoid this behavior at all costs.


Provide the unexpected

On numerous occasions I have received from a Southwest employee a “Luv Voucher” to compensate me for my travel challenges even when it was something out of their control. I am always appreciative of these efforts. I am even happier when I don’t expect it. Southwest isn’t the only company that does this.

Consider giving families who have complaints a gift card to a restaurant or send flowers to their home as an apology. If the resident is paying privately, give them a discount on their next bill commensurate with the severity of the customer service challenge they have experienced. Even a small nicety like offering to get the family a drink, snack or a meal from the kitchen could make a difference. Trust me, I do appreciate it when Southwest gives me a free drink when a flight is late.

By the way, providers don’t need to wait for a customer service complaint to offer families small niceties. Provide a “welcome basket,” offer free newspapers for residents (and caregivers/visitors), provide a small fridge for families and stock it with water or juice. Here’s another example: Hampton Inn, a Hilton Hotel brand, offers free afternoon cookies and newspapers for travelers.

Say thank you

Consider this: A first-time patient who is admitted to your sub-acute rehab center is very likely to need those services and perhaps even long-term care services at some point in the future. Medicare Home Care providers also experience multiple admissions from the same patient. Assisted living, independent living, hospice and adult day care providers may not experience multiple admissions from the same individuals, but could become a resource for multiple members of the same family.

Focus on how to develop customer loyalty from the initial experience with a new patient. Great care plus small niceties are a proven way to start a long-term relationship with a patient and family.

You may not be able to create a program to incentivize Medicare/Medicaid patients to return, but you can do small things that make a resident’s stay memorable and keep the individual and family connected to you after discharge. Here are some ideas:


Luke Fannon


Luke Fannon is founder and CEO of Premier Coaching & Training, Unionville, Pa., which...