Care is More than Customer Service

January 22, 2013
Chris Perna, The Eden Alternative Blog

For many years companies have pursued great customer service as a competitive strategy. Think the Disney model. Organizations in the health care arena, especially long term care providers, have more recently taken up the same charge. Think “If Disney Ran My Hospital.” I hear about so many providers who are now focusing on great customer service as a key part of their competitive strategy. As I listen, I hear about providing the latest amenities and offering lots of activities to fill every day life. While amenities, activities, and yes,  “service with a smile” are important, I believe they fall short in our business of caring for people.

At the Eden Alternative we define care as helping a person to grow. To help a person to grow, we need to get close to them, closer than traditional customer service methods teach. In the aging and disability service arena, we actually have an incredible opportunity to get close to the people we serve by getting to know them and building relationships.  After all, they typically live with us for extended periods of time and we serve them in the most intimate ways. Yet, many of us do not take advantage of this opportunity by getting to really know each person we serve and  translating that into an incredible customer experience by offering genuine human care that nourishes growth of that person. This is really what culture change is all about.

An article in the current edition of LeadingAge Magazine  features Clermont Park, an Eden Alternative Registry Member located in Colorado.  Jill Vitale-Aussem  stated “It amazes me that we didn’t start out trying to improve customer service. We started out trying to eliminate institutional thinking and promote choice and growth. The astonishing customer service improvements have just happened along the way.”  

Creating a person-directed culture where personal relationships are encouraged allows us to care for people in a different way resulting in growth for the person as well as staff. It is this environment of relationships and growth that produces the magic of a life worth living. This is what exactly The Eden Alternative has been teaching for more than 20 years. So, let’s follow the example of Jill and her team at Clermont Park by focusing first on personal relationships and growth. What do you think?

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ANOTHER SIDE— “Customer Service as a means to Empowerment”
I feel compelled to offer another side to employing and learning from “Customer Service” strategies. Of course there is more to care than customer service. Indeed I agree that relationships matter most and better “customer service” grows out of love. However, sharing the philosophy of Disney and others, and books and programs can be part of a plan to empower care-partners and grow teams. Recently, a home decided to share a Dining Customer Service Program with hands-on care-partners (Certified Nursing Assistants) as a means to aid in blending roles. They are moving toward a dining experience where everyone participates and can benefit from improved communication and service skills. Ultimately they hope “better manners” will trickle throughout the organization. 

As we know well, not every personality type and thinker understands the philosophy of Eden immediately after attending a training or from reading our books. There are times when we need to introduce other examples of transformation from various areas of business, etc. to bring Eden to light. Some Eden curricula and books are somewhat lacking in concrete, real-life depictions or applications. I know of several examples where very “black and white” thinkers needed to investigate other arenas of transformation for Eden to begin to make sense to them. Actually, the Disney book helped to open the door to understanding Eden.

Empowerment [Knowledge, Information, Education/Training/Skills, Resources and Support] is a measure of care that helps people grow.

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