Jonathan Ruchman, CCXP, Expert on Customer Experience

Contact Jonathan
08 July 2019

“Home is where the heart is.”

It’s a common saying that relates to the comfort we feel when we are in our own environment. The warmth and familiarity of the surroundings make a house a home. But what if that home is a senior living community? A place where dozens of other residents live as well. A place where some people come to work. A place that provides services spanning the gamut of meals, activities and, in some cases, health care. That’s when “home” can take on a more complex meaning.

At Brookdale, our residents are at the center of our communities. They are living with our brand. It’s our promise; our mission is to enrich the lives of those we serve.

It’s a lot to deliver 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Thinking of residents as customers

Here is something you may not be aware of, but is interesting to think about. Customers take on a different “relationship label” depending on the product or service. Along with each label comes different expectations and, in some cases, rights. For example, once you step foot through TSA security, you become a “passenger.” You expect to transport from Point A to Point B safely and timely. As soon as you check into a hotel, you are a “guest.” You expect your room to be clean, comfortable and safe. You become a “patient” when you are admitted into a hospital. You expect a diagnosis, treatment options and for your records to remain private. In the event that your expectations are let down, you presume the company will address your concerns in a timely manner and to your satisfaction.  

Senior living is no different. When an older adult moves into a Brookdale community, they become a “resident.” Meaning: we are their home. It is the only product or service where the customer lives with the brand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This is significantly longer than hours on a plane, a night in a hotel or a week in the hospital.

Service doesn’t stop when the clock strikes 5:00; it takes place day and night. There are no breaks.

Feedback is a gift

We are committed to constantly improving our resident and family experience, which is why we regularly survey our residents and families and adjust our service accordingly. Based on survey data we know that residents and families highly value our commitment to resolving issues in a timely manner and caring community management. We consider this when working with residents and families and when hiring associates.

There are key moments of truth when we know we exceeded these expectations. These key moments of truth are revealed in situations when a resident or family really needs us and we are there for them.

A great example of resolving issues quickly and engaging caring staff is our response to a natural disaster. Given that we have more than 800 communities in 45 states, we are likely impacted when there is a hurricane, wildfire or earthquake. Our teams spring into action and work diligently to keep our residents safe. During Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, I knew of a divisional leader who drove through the night to deliver a generator, an associate who moved her whole family—including children!—into a community so she could work around the clock, and heard countless stories of associates who knew their own houses were flooded or swept away but continued to hunker down at their communities just to keep their residents safe.

These disasters often include evacuations and power outages, so communication with family members is key. We use Brookdale’s online newsroom,, Facebook and phone trees help us reach family members. During the 2018 hurricane season, the newsroom saw a dramatic spike in visits. Family members were grateful for the timely updates and information.

Challenges of delivering brand 24/7

Meeting these expectations can be a challenge considering we are open for business 24/7. It can also be a challenge considering we are not only serving our residents but their families as well.

We are always on. There is little room for bad days. The right processes and the right people can mitigate the challenges, but it takes a lot of commitment, effort and training.

Another unique challenge is resident and associate relationships. What happens when a resident’s favorite executive director leaves? Remember, we are their home. It can feel like a family member moving out when there is turnover.

Successfully delivering your brand promise

Living with the brand means that our “product” is not just a place to live; it is a community in the truest sense of the word. There is an overall feeling of social connection which is proven to improve quality of life. Residents create bonds with each other and our associates. It’s proof that we are successfully delivering our brand promise. You see it at Brookdale Sunwest where roommates and best friends Marjorie and Joan host open house events to recruit new residents to their community. It’s the “buzz” you hear at Brookdale Galleria when the resident kazoo band takes the stage. When surveyed, 5,100 Brookdale residents said they met their best friend at their community and more 770 residents said they met their soul mates.

In my career, I’ve never seen a closer relationship between customers and employees, than that of our residents (customers) and associates (employees). The reason? Because they live with us. Together, we make a home.

I frequently ask community associates to tell me about their relationships with residents. More often than not, it brings happy tears to their eyes. When I ask residents to tell me about their associates, I get the same response!

That’s when I know we are delivering our brand promise and our house has become their home.

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