Questions to Ask

I was at the drug store the other day, and found myself standing in front of multiple rows of cough drops. I was paralyzed by the many choices staring back at me. There was no differentiation in the packaging, the ingredients appeared to be the same, and they all claimed to do the same thing. How could I choose when I saw no difference? A fellow shopper walked up next to me, immediately chose a brand, and started to walk away. “Excuse me,” I blurted out, “may I ask why you chose that cough drop?” He very confidently replied, “It works.” Well that was a good enough answer for me, so I immediately purchased his brand.

This same philosophy could apply to looking for senior housing for you or your loved one. If you have just begun, or are in the middle of the search for the perfect senior housing, then you are aware the options can appear to be the same: the packaging can look similar, the services and programs look alike, and they all claim to offer living as you’ve never known it before.

Just for fun, I put several brochures for senior housing side-by-side on my kitchen table. Except for the photos, I couldn’t see any real differences between them. There was no taste test, if you will, so I could distinguish between Pepsi and Coke. As timing would have it, I had the good fortune to read Andy Sernovitz’s new book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. His tips are not only useful to organizations, but consumers can also benefit from grabbing onto his ideas. He encourages readers to be smart about looking for those things that get people talking, and in this instance I mean talking about senior housing.

He talks in length about companies being honest with their customers ethical behavior. The next time you are shopping for senior housing, try some real-life questions to get more than a canned response. Some of my real-life questions would be: As my needs for services change how are rates adjusted? What happens if my health declines to the point that I am no longer appropriate for this community? How does it work if my husband’s health declines, and the community can no longer properly care for him, but I can still benefit? What happens if I outlive my money?

Consider your real-life situation, and come up with questions that are not on the “most frequently asked questions” list. You want to find out how the community will accommodate your changing health and circumstances over time, not just meet your needs the day you move in. Ask before you sign on the dotted line, and keep asking until you get an answer that you’re comfortable with.

According to Andy, as consumers, we should be looking for word-of-mouth recommendations from “people like us.” That means someone who has lived the experience, understands the anxiety, and knows that my mother’s emotions define her circumstance just as much as her decline in health. To put it another way, happy residents are a community’s best advertising. Are they talking? What are they saying?

I enjoyed Andy’s perspective, which notes that any organization’s goal is to make happy customers. That being said, ask to speak to a resident or family member to check on the level of “happiness.”

In a similar vein, he suggests that it is the experience that counts more than what the organization or community says about itself. How are residents and family members treated, especially in those out-of-the-ordinary situations, which may call for staff to apologize or fix a problem? Do residents and family come away feeling that the apology was sincere? Once a resident has expressed a concern how has that been handled? According to Andy, a good business strategy is a simple, “Please, Thank you, and I’m Sorry.” Doesn’t sound too difficult, but does it really work like this at the community you’re considering? This would be a great question to ask a community representative as one of your real-life questions, and to ask “someone just like you.” Just how are difficult situations resolved?

Andy Sernovitz was a delight to meet, and his book was an excellent resource. While geared toward the marketing professional, it gives considerable insight into what one should pay attention to when, in our case, choosing a senior community to consider as home.