Change has good ROI Changes made at Senior Lifestyle are part of what propelled it to the top customer satisfaction honors in assisted living and memory care from J.D. Power during the most challenging year anyone in senior living has experienced. As Senior Lifestyle sees it, a big part of what made the

difference was their changeover from paper surveys to the phone survey system from Senior Living Alliance (SLA), which offers an ongoing resident and family customer satisfaction survey platform. Throughout the pandemic, the company continued to survey

residents and families through the system—and its responses during the pandemic were and continued to be fast and agile. “Many of our customers were staying in their homes and were

easier to reach via phone to conduct the voice-to-voice surveys,” wrote Cherie Dupor, senior vice president of communications at Senior Lifestyle, in an email interview.

“We were thrilled to learn that our satisfaction ratings remained consistent and even slightly improved compared to pre-COVID ratings. Even though operations had changed drastically during the pandemic to protect our residents and teams, overall, a majority of our residents and families were understanding and felt we had their best interest at heart.” The regular and frequent communication helped with

engagement, as well—and to provide personalized services. “For example, when the daughter of a resident stated that

her mother missed the Blue Bunny ice cream treats offered with dinner, our team was able to read that feedback and act quickly,” Dupor writes. “48 hours later, our dining team visited the resident with an ice

cream cart featuring her favorite treat. The look of surprise and delight on the resident’s face when opening her door and seeing the ice cream cart was priceless!”

Tips on Creating and Managing Change

Trust is top. “Surround yourself with a team you can trust,” says Merrill Gardens president Tana Gall. “You need their expertise to manage through uncharted territory.”

Be transparent. The leap in technology use fits in well here—plans and data are more difficult to silo and store away. Sensight uses an online portal to post action plans, so everyone from the CEO to a community manager can see it and track progress.

Be flexible. “Give yourself permission to change your mind or adjust your strategy,” says Gall. “Our mantra throughout was not to let perfect get in the way of being good. During COVID, we saw many examples of how making a good decision quickly was better than taking too much time to make a perfect decision.”

Stay focused. “We try to keep the goal somewhat narrow,” says Ackerman, “because one of the things you don't want to do when someone's trying to make change is to ask them to bite off more than they can chew.”

Communicate fully. Tell residents about the changes you’re making and tell them again. They’ll notice, and wonder, so bring them in. It’s a measure of responsiveness and engagement as well as giving one more set of accountability tests.

Communicate often. Cherie Dupor of Senior Lifestyle writes, “We learned early on that we needed to dial up the frequency of our communication. Executive directors began sending daily, and later weekly, communications

when the COVID pandemic began. The surveys allowed our executive directors to immediately incorporate and address the feedback received in the surveys in their customer communications. Our community leaders were then able to demonstrate that the feedback given by our customers is a top priority and that we continue listening and acting based on the input received even during a pandemic.”

Set goals and measure. If you can show that a change had a positive effect, the next change will be that much easier. The record of measurements will help you understand where a change in a process may have stalled and where it went successfully.

Iterative change is still change. Going in small steps, testing, communicating, gaining feedback, and putting the next step into effect with what’s learned can work very well for some kinds of change. Just be sure it is communicated well that you’re using that process, and that the measurements reflect it. Otherwise, it can feel like an endless loop to employees who may be used to more sweeping disruption.

Give it time. Ackerman says she’s heard that it takes 12 positive experiences to erase the effect of one negative one. “Sometimes it takes months for residents and family members to notice the difference,” she says. “Often, change is slow. It requires communication and constant monitoring to make sure you’re actually moving in the right direction.”


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