When I first became Brookdale’s CEO, I reached out to Bill Sheriff (Brookdale’s longest-serving CEO, leading from 1984 to 2013) to see if he would serve as a mentor for me. One of the most poignant experiences we had was spending time together talking with residents and associates during a community visit. I learned so much during this visit that I decided that our senior leadership team would also benefit from working side by side with our associates in the communities. If the entire senior leadership team could spread out across the country for a week to work within the communities, we could learn a lot and help accelerate our strategic goals.
Really Understanding the Customer Experience
It was incredible to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our community associates and directly serve our residents. This allowed us to connect with our mission in a new way and hear directly from our residents about their experiences. We did everything from cleaning rooms to cooking and serving meals, discussing dining, participating in visits with prospects, and shadowing our executive directors to better understand “a day in the life.” If you combined the experience of all of our leaders who participated, we connected with associates performing almost every role and all of the critical activities and processes in our communities.
We listened carefully to our associates to understand how we could better enhance our processes and improve their work experience, and we engaged deeply with our residents to discern what was working well and what areas we could improve.
When we created these opportunities to get close to the customer and truly understand and listen, it was then that we could deliver an even better experience. Our community learning visits provided an incredibly valuable firsthand experience to our senior leadership team and energized all of us in the years following.
Only occasionally do corporate associates get the privilege of working directly in our communities with residents and community associates, but when they do they get to see the tremendous impact we can make. Through these community visits, we all got a closer look at who our residents are as people and what is most important to them.
In recognition of the critical work our community associates perform, we encourage our corporate associates to follow the guideline, “If you aren’t serving a resident, serve someone who is.” In other words, if you aren’t directly serving a resident on the front lines, help support our associates who are doing so. The community learning visits allowed leaders to see firsthand the direct effect our associates can have on residents’ lives.
Create Opportunities for Feedback
In addition to physically visiting our communities to better understand our residents, we needed to provide opportunities for residents to offer their direct perspectives on life in our communities. We created a national resident advisory council (NAC) to provide Brookdale with accurate and timely perspectives about the resident experience living in Brookdale communities and suggestions on how Brookdale can help to improve resident services and enhance the resident experience.
Before COVID-19, NAC members from around the nation traveled annually to meet with our leadership team over the course of a few days and participated in other meetings via conference call. When the pandemic hit, traveling wasn’t practical, so we transitioned our NAC meetings to virtual meetings. It was fortunate that we already had the NAC in place before the pandemic because it provided the corporate leadership team with an incredibly valuable forum for understanding how our response to COVID-19 was affecting our residents. We were grateful to hear their perceptions of what was working well and suggestions for improvement.
Brookdale is a better organization because of the actions we have taken in response to NAC feedback. For example, at their suggestion, we communicated directly with residents to reinforce their understanding of Brookdale’s financial strength during this uncertain and somewhat volatile time. Residents’ feedback helped shape the rollout of a new telecommunications package to residents. Additionally, we have formed an NAC subcommittee on resident technology to help guide continued improvements.
One of the greatest joys of working in the senior living industry is the opportunity to serve the incredible people who join our communities as residents. Our residents are filled with wisdom and deserve to be honored, supported, and encouraged to share their perspectives and passions. The more that we can learn from their experiences, the better.
When we gather as much feedback as possible from our residents we can better gauge the effectiveness of our response. One specific survey of residents and their loved ones received almost ten thousand responses. This helped us assess our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the execution of our operating strategies to support and engage the residents within our communities.
Because of the excellent efforts we make as a team serving our incredible residents, we continue to enjoy the highest senior living operator brand awareness (among unaided mentions) by twice the amount of our next largest competitor.
Keeping the customer’s best interests at the center of every action you take helps you succeed. Without your customers, there is no business. Maintaining your focus on what and who matters most will also pay off when the unpredictable happens. During a global health crisis, keeping lines of communication open with residents and their loved ones proved to be an important factor in helping keep residents safe, healthy, and pleased with our Brookdale experience. Even in the best of times, it’s critically important to understand the experience of your customer and also have a desire to consistently hear from your customer.