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.