There’s a Customer Service Crisis Headed Your Way!

senior man on the phone

A bank teller wants to do more for the customer who suddenly requests all their funds but is confused and forgetful throughout the transaction. A dentist wonders what she can do for a long-time patient who struggles to pay their bills because they can’t remember how to use their credit or debit cards and can’t find their cheque book. And security company staff are stressed by daily calls from a client convinced that things are being stolen from him each night when someone breaks into his home.

What do these stories have in common? And what can companies do to provide more support to customers in similar situations?

I’ve heard these stories – and more – in recent customer service workshops. They are examples of how dementia is impacting businesses and front-line workers. Dementia is a general term for diseases that result in a decline of mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example, along with paranoia, hallucinations, confusion, etc. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, representing about 65 percent of all cases.

Current statistics indicate there are 747,000 Canadians with dementia but, given that the disease primarily impacts individuals over 65 and with the top of the Baby Boom generation in their early 70’s, a dramatic increase is expected. Businesses need to educate staff and create protocols based on empathy, support … and legalities.

In Nova Scotia, when companies become concerned about an elderly customer or client, they can connect with a Seniors Safety Coordinator. These individuals are in place throughout the province (with the exception of three counties) under the Seniors’ Safety Program, a partnership between communities, municipalities, police and RCMP that receives some financial support through provincial grants. (Click on the link above for details on contacts throughout Nova Scotia.)

I recently had a delightful conversation with Sharon Elliott who has served as a community contact for seniors in Annapolis since 1994. She is the Seniors Safety Coordinator for the Annapolis County Seniors’ Safety Program Association. While the program provides information to seniors and delivers workshops in the community, seniors can call with questions at any time and Sharon also visits them in their homes. All the support is absolutely free.

Sharon often finds herself spending time helping people navigate calls with CRA, phone companies, and so on. “Just that support to help guide someone through a process can make all the world of difference,” she said.

When companies or individuals in the community become concerned about a senior, they can contact the coordinator, in confidence, and inspire a call or visit. Sharon also suggests companies make the referral to their customers, perhaps saying: “We want to let you know about this service. It’s free and provides information on safety, security, and fraud prevention.”

A potential protocol for some customer service teams could be: “We are sharing this information with all of our clients over 65 since this is such a valuable resource.”

Sharon added, “If they had a particular client they were really concerned about and they thought the client may not actually call, companies could offer to make the connection.” For example: “Can we make the connection for you and have (the coordinator) get in touch with you and tell you more about the program because we think it will be of real benefit to you.”

“If someone has a vulnerability that can’t be handled over the phone and they need another layer of assistance, these are the individuals we help,” Sharon said.

It is time for all companies to research, understand and develop protocols for how they handle this growing element of customer service. Is your company ready?

P.S. If you know of similar services for seniors in your city, county, province, state, country … please include the information in the comments below.





10 thoughts on “There’s a Customer Service Crisis Headed Your Way!”

  1. Thank you Mary Jane for sharing.

    Wow, what a great service in Annapolis. Do you know of any support like this in the Halifax area? A friend of mine is struggling with some challenges at the moment and that could help them a lot.

    ATM story: I went with my friend to an ATM to help with the process. They had trouble getting the card in due to an injury. Finally we got it in. Their eyesight isn’t that good anymore so it took a while to get the code punched in with a shaking hand. After the third number was pressed the ATM decided to time-out on us.

    Start over: Take card out put it back in and add the numbers again. At that point they asked me to take over and were visibly shaken up by the fact that they were not able to do this by themselves anymore.

    I’ve never realized before that the ATM only gives you about a 60 seconds window to add your code numbers. There is so much we don’t realize until we are old enough to experience it ourselves. It’s time to adjust to the needs of all ages. (smile)

    The one thing all of us can do right away is use bigger fonts in our newsletters and emails. (smile)

    Have a great week,

  2. Thanks for your current post Mary Jane. It is scary when all of a sudden I can’t remember what I was about to do! It is embarrassing too when I can’t remember my PIN at the check out in the supermarket. Fortunately, these are short instances, but, none the less, frightening as I wonder what the future will be like if little moments like these become more constant. I see what you write about in many of the people I see; fortunately we have the service for Seniors Safety in our area. I will take your advice if I see someone in need and tell them about the service.

  3. Hi.

    I followed your link in the body – Seniors’ Safety Program – to the Province of Nova Scotia website, and clicked on the map to take me to the CBRM region, which then took me to their contact page.

    I tried to email the CBRM office, but my email bounced back. So, I tried to call them, but the number is no longer in service.

    Does this program still exist?

    • I have replied to Richard in a separate email but am posting the information here as well. I got in touch with Sharon Elliott and she provided sent along this reply with contacts:

      I have just had the information confirmed that the Cape Breton County Program is not currently operating, however, there are programs in Victoria and Richmond Counties in Cape Breton.

      The contact for the Richmond County Seniors’ Safety Program is:
      Michele MacPhee

      Seniors’ Safety Coordinator

      902-587-2800 ext: 5

      And the contact for the Victoria County Seniors Safety Program is:

      Kristi Farrier

      Seniors’ Safety Officer

      Municipality of Victoria County


      The three counties that currently do not have the program operating are Inverness, Cape Breton, and Guysborough. I have contacted the Department of Seniors to ask if they could update the map.

  4. It’s great to see a post like this but I must admit that when I read the first paragraph, it wasn’t seniors that came to mind – it was individuals with intellectual challenges. I am a disability lawyer and have an adult daughter with developmental disabilities, so I deal with quite a bit with individuals with disabilities and their family members.

    Telephone calls can be challenging, particularly since my daughter (who is relatively high-functioning) wants to handle all her adult business “by herself”. We have come to a compromise of sorts. Although there are many routine calls she can handle, if it’s something out of the ordinary, she will make the call but I get on the extension and only interrupt if/when needed as an interpreter. She will often word something in a way that makes perfect sense to me (because I know the context), but is meaningless to a stranger. We really appreciate it when the other party simply accepts this and carries on with the conversation as needed, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way, particularly with entities like the CRA, in which case I end of with a fair bit ‘splaining to do. Once I explain, responses vary.

    I am aware of the Seniors Safety Program and am happy to see you promote this resource. However, as more and more individuals with intellectual challenges become better integrated into the community, it makes me wish that some similar service was available for them. I guess the bottom line is that you never necessarily know what you are talking into when you make or receive a call.

    • Hi Michelle, Thanks so much for adding these experiences to the conversation. There certainly should be a way for anyone who struggles with phone calls to reach out to someone to assist. You’ve got me thinking. I’m going to do some investigating and I’ll get back to you if I uncover anything of value.


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