Customer service is the cornerstone of every business. The concept of excellent customer service is used in many brand taglines to assure customers that their wellbeing is the most important aspect of the customer-business relationship. Satisfaction surveys are issued by every industry, store and business; auto dealers call to see if you like your car, Target has a website to fill out information about shopping experiences, Amazon e-mails questionnaires to determine if the packaging was sufficient and if you will add a comment to their site about your purchase experience.

Long term care has long been an industry of providing care for senior adults. Historically, that care has been focused on the medical wellbeing of residents and spent little time focusing on the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of its customers. In years past, nursing homes had “built-in” customers who needed the services offered by nursing homes and there was little choice between long term care facilities.

The industry has changed along with expectations of consumers. In today’s market, consumers will voice their opinions and concerns not only verbally, but in writing and on social media. The resident and family members’ perceptions of the care provided are driven by the customer experience.

Good customer service is essential for satisfied customers and a strong reputation. But in most facilities nurses don’t shout “Welcome to Happy Acres!” when the new resident arrives. Customer service in long term care is different from any other industry, and must be addressed as such. Here are five elements that will strengthen a customer service program tailored to this industry.

#1 Service:  In the profession of care giving, serving the client is the one thing that drives the program.  Employees who select caregiving as a profession must put others before themselves every hour of every day. A resident who has immediate needs, whether great or small, requires staff to be “servants” to their needs without regard to their own personal needs. Caring for the elderly means nothing is more important than prompt, polite and friendly responses. Service for residents, families and coworkers is the obligation of caregiving.

#2 Honesty: That means providing honest interactions with kindness and compassion. Care providers seldom have something to hide but poor interactions with residents may lead the customer to believe something is off. Telling someone that their loved one has sustained an injury from a fall is never easy.  Being honest, open and sharing details is the best way to keep family members informed. No day passes in the long term care facility without some sort of negative event happening. But the manner in which the staff interacts with family will enhance or detract from a perception of honesty. Customers should never feel that the facility has something to hide because a staff member is perceived as not offering the full story in any given situation.

#3 Attitude:  Attitude is not measurable. It’s a conclusion derived from someone in an interaction.  Attitude is conveyed by body language, words and eye contact. A change in attitude by itself can positively affect the way someone is perceived. Staff members demonstrating a good attitude are genuinely happy to see residents and will typically smile and eagerly approach them – they are more likely to be perceived as happy individuals who draw others close.  In contrast, a staff member who uses sharp tones, short commands and barks orders will be perceived as someone with a bad attitude. Every day, every conversation and every encounter can be controlled in a positive way by choosing the right body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and words. Attitudes are contagious. Care givers cannot afford to convey an image of a bad attitude – because the collective actions of staff convey the attitude of the entire facility.

#4 Respect:Honey, do you need a drink of water?” This may sound innocent but an elder who is referred to with a term of endearment is actually being disrespected. One would never dream of calling a CEO of a law firm “honey,” but there are former CEOs, bank presidents, even physicians as residents in long term care facilities. An individual will often move in after losing their home, car and worldly possessions – so keeping their name is one last bastion of identity. As younger people bring their skills into the care setting, they bring their view of relationships which may be different than older generations. The customer is usually unable to grasp the perceived downgrading of respect – which means caregivers need to treat the customer with dignity – addressing them as Mr. or Mrs. is one example.

Respect among employees is also important. When a resident or family member is present, no conversation or interaction goes unnoticed. When employees treat each other with respect it’s an indication of the care they are providing to the elderly residents.

#5 Ethics: Much is being written and audited about ethics when it comes to corporate compliance programs – which are required in every facility. Insisting that staff continually demonstrate a strong ethical commitment is critical to customer service. Doing the right thing, charging for work actually provided and reporting suspicious activity are a few of the elements of ethical treatment. The golden rule is more than treating someone the way you want to be treated – it’s treating others the way they want to be treated.