Conference keynote: What makes your residents happy?

When it comes to creating living spaces for older Americans, what aspects lead to the highest customer satisfaction? It usually isn’t the building design or the food, said Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of ProMatura Group, LLC, Oxford, Miss. Her research has shown it also isn’t the landscaping, the lobby décor, the beauty spa or the activity programming. And it’s definitely not about bocce ball or bingo.

Wylde’s keynote address was a bit of an eye-opener for the 530+ attendees at the 2013 Environments for Aging conference, most of whom come from the architecture and design markets. When asked what really matters to them, most of the people residing in assisted living that Wylde has surveyed overwhelmingly chose two things:  a place that feels like home and a place to make friends.

But what defines a “home-like feel”? For many, Wylde said, it is living in a place that doesn’t feel like a retirement home or nursing facility. “Older people don’t want to live in a ‘care facility,’ they want to live in a living place,” she explained. “To them, having a good day is about being with friends, getting out in the sunshine and visiting with family.”

The “5 C’s” for customer satisfaction are control, customization, competence, connection and comfort, Wylde told the audience. Customization is a trend in everywhere now, so it must be a prominent value in housing design for older people, too, she said. And sometimes, that includes making efforts not to lump everyone together. Wylde provided an example of what we miss when we assume everyone’s priorities are the same: One of her survey teams asked one couple why they disliked the dining amenities in their facility. The husband answered, “My wife and I haven’t eaten a meal alone together for four years.”

Those who can figure out how to design livign spaces that take all five components in account will have a successful site with plenty of occupancy, she said. “But to a great extent, we’re not quite there yet.”

Related article: Read more about the changing attitudes in mature housing in Long-Term Living’s one-on-one interview with Margaret Wylde.

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Topics: Articles , Design , Executive Leadership