Customer service excellence includes employees

Customer service seems to be the new buzzword within the senior living industry, especially as it relates to operations and corresponding losses. It is a simple concept—happy residents and families do not file claims or bring lawsuits. The notion of customer service also goes hand-in-hand with the advent of the hospitality business model that is sweeping the senior living industry in anticipation of meeting baby boomers’ wants and needs.

What if we took this customer service mind-set and culture and placed that same friendly focus on our employees? It can be an extremely effective measure in solving one of the oldest problems facing the senior living industry—employee turnover. Staff turnover rates in nursing homes have been persistently high for decades, ranging from 50 to 100 percent depending on the position, with certified nurse assistants at the high end of the scale. Losing employees negatively impacts the bottom line of organizations in a variety of ways including:

  • Decreased quality of care and services
  • Decreased employee and resident satisfaction
  • Loss of census
  • Increased staffing costs and contingent staffing costs
  • Increased recruitment and retention costs
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased injuries/accidents to both residents and employees

So what does it take to achieve a high level of employee satisfaction? We believe the key to success is to create a workplace culture that focuses on both residents and employees. To create and sustain a culture of service excellence, organizations must have an equal focus on the internal customers—their employees. Many studies have found a correlation between high employee satisfaction and high resident satisfaction. Furthermore, employee satisfaction directly affects employee retention; happy employees stay.

Create happy employees

Excellence in employee satisfaction requires the same work and focus as resident satisfaction. Take the time to fully understand employees’ needs and expectations, as well as address their concerns. An employee satisfaction program is more than a “good feeling” initiative; it is strategic and starts at the top of an organization. Leaders must send a clear message that stresses that all employees provide a valued service to each and every customer. Employees who do not feel valued tend to be more indifferent in their patient care, leading to an increase in injuries, losses and liability claims.

To enhance satisfaction, employees must understand how they contribute to the success of the organization. It is imperative all employees understand the values and mission of the organization as well as their specific job description and expectations. Developing “standards of behavior” provides the foundation for the workplace culture and defines the expectations of all employees.

Standards of behavior should support the organization’s values and may include key factors such as communication, confidentiality, privacy, teamwork and professionalism. As employees incorporate these standards into their day-to-day interactions customer satisfaction begins to rise; a smile and positive attitude can go a long way.

Enhancing communication is another critical component. Are all employees encouraged to speak up? Is management accessible to offer support and ensure employees have the tools and training to support their work? When employees are included in the decision-making process they feel empowered and make a personal commitment to their job.

Value employees’ needs, ideas and input. They can provide key frontline information to improve processes and, hopefully, reduce the potential for injury and higher workers’ compensation costs.

Finally, reward and recognize behaviors that promote service excellence. Recognition reinforces desired behaviors, builds relationships and promotes teamwork. Employee recognition is a universal motivator and driver of keeping your employees satisfied and engaged. 

These initiatives can be successfully implemented with relatively little cost to the organization; however, the return on investment is tremendous. Employees play an important role in driving overall organizational performance.

Positive outcomes

Happy employees lead to decreases in turnover and labor expenses, recruitment and retention costs, employee burnout/stress, absenteeism and employee and resident complaints and lawsuits.

Employee satisfaction also leads to improved working conditions, better performance, improved quality of care and services, an increase in resident satisfaction and employee engagement along with a higher level of resident and employee safety.

If the positive outcomes of happy, engaged employees listed above are realized, the natural side effect is a decrease in work-related injuries.

A reduction in absenteeism will also have a significant impact. Absenteeism has costly consequences when you are short staffed. Employees try to do more with less, so they are more likely to take shortcuts, which can lead to accidents. Stressed and preoccupied workers are more susceptible to injury also. In general, unhappy employees are more likely to file lawsuits.


Sustaining excellence in employee and resident satisfaction requires work and focus. Establishing a formal customer service program creates a workplace culture that improves risk management and outcomes, while increasing staff and resident satisfaction. Success lies in creating a culture of service excellence that is inclusive of customers and employees.

Marlene (Marty) Butler is Senior Vice President, Practice Leader for the Senior Living and Not-for-Profit divisions at Assurance, Schaumberg, Ill. She is actively involved in several associations, including the Illinois Health Care Association, LeadingAge, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living and Assisted Living Federation of America. For more information, call (847) 463-7287.

Topics: Articles , Executive Leadership , Leadership , Risk Management , Staffing