Sara Terry, as Vice President, Resident and Family Engagement at Brookdale Senior Living, discusses her team’s commitment to excellent quality care and service.
Can you give us some background about your role as Vice President, Resident and Family Engagement at Brookdale Senior Living, as well as what brought you there?
I have dedicated my life to changing the perception and experience of aging in the US, starting with my first job in senior living was when I was just 16 years old. I joined Brookdale in 2003, where my role is to support our residents and families so they can have the experience they desire and live the life they want in their later years. Our approach is to first understand their desires and expectations, and then to leverage the six dimensions of wellness-we call that Optimum Life® – to provide opportunities that support their dreams and desires. Enriching the lives of those we serve is not just Brookdale’s mission statement; it’s how we keep our residents and families engaged!
How do you make sure you are working within a customer-centric enterprise?
Our whole approach starts with our mission and culture-we listen to our customers, understand their needs, then partner to support their wants/needs and enrich their lives. We are committed to understanding everything we do from the voices of our customers-and that includes our associates. We have found that for so many of our associates, working at Brookdale is more than a job – it’s a passion. Associates know that they are contributing to something greater than just this company or their own advancement because of the important work they do serving seniors. It’s a noble cause and we recognize that every day. This keeps us focused on our customers!
“Our approach is to first understand their desires and expectations… we call that Optimum Life®.”
How is feedback of care gathered and compiled?
Our customers have the opportunity to provide feedback to their local community leaders around the clock, every day of the year. The local leaders take that feedback in and make constant improvements to their operations. At a company level, our associates and residents are provided with engagement surveys, toll-free hotlines, and online feedback mechanisms such as customer review and social media sites- to provide feedback. The results are monitored and followed up on to ensure resolution, changes are made, and improvement is tracked. We have a Standards Committee that looks at all aspects of our operations and sets standards based upon customer feedback so we can exceed expectations.
What do you believe are your customer’s top concerns and how do you work to address them?
Our customer’s top concerns are the care and services they receive, and they expect the local leaders of their communities to be trustworthy and to communicate regularly with them. So Brookdale provides outstanding training opportunities for associates to be able to meet and exceed these expectations. We also focus on quality and consistency across the company so all our residents will receive quality care and service. Our culture reinforces open and clear communication for our community leaders to partner with our residents and families.
“It is not the bricks and mortar that make an organization great. It is the people – good people who care, who have compassion, who have commitment. And always remember – good people beget good people.”
On the other side, how do you organize the administrative culture so to exceed customer expectations?
Our culture reinforces open and clear communication for our community leaders to partner with our residents and families. It is built into our cornerstones to respect others through honesty and understanding. All this builds a foundation of trust. We frequently quote Brookdale’s founder when we remind ourselves that “It is not the bricks and mortar that make an organization great. It is the people – good people who care, who have compassion, who have commitment. And always remember – good people beget good people.” That’s why we are thrilled when our associates recommend their friends and relatives for jobs with us.
Are there any ways in which you offer employees incentives in order to increase positive experiences for customers?
We don’t have a formal incentive program such as gift cards or logo merchandise. That would turn caregiving into a transaction, Rather, we focus on ways to free up our associates from administrative burdens so they can then do the large – and small – things that show our residents that they really care about them. And our leadership has various ways of showing that they, in turn, care about our associates, things like noticing outstanding service with special thank you’s and sending birthday cards. During their orientation training, our community leaders all participate in a presentation with our CEO about “servant leadership”, and we think this concept is prevalent throughout our system. It incentivizes leaders to make sure their Associates know how important they are.
“Our CEO routinely reminds us that our goal is not to be the biggest, but to be the best!”
With such a specific customer pool, how might you address the question of profitably and retention?
More than a few executives routinely remind us that if we take care of our residents, the bottom line will take care of itself. Of course, as a publicly traded company, Brookdale considers the needs of shareholders as one of its constituencies. But the other two constituencies – Associates and Residents – are of equal importance. So, every day, we stay focused on enriching lives. Our CEO routinely reminds us that our goal is not to be the biggest, but to be the best!
Sara Terry, Brookdale’s vice president of resident and family engagement, has been serving older adults and those who support them, for over thirty years. She is known as a passionate pioneer of changing the perception and experience of aging. Sara has accumulated her in-depth knowledge through serving in a variety of roles including operations, health and wellness, sales and marketing. She supports Brookdale’s Optimum Life® philosophy, Resident Programs, Resident and Family Connections, and marketing solutions. Sara oversees the Brookdale Partnership with Wish of a Lifetime®-granting over 1500 wishes since 2011.
Sara earned a bachelor’s of science degree in health and physical education from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She is an executive board member of Glamour Gals, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and organize teen volunteers to provide ongoing companionship and complimentary beauty makeovers to women living in senior living communities. Sara also serves on the board of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, a global non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of customer experience management practices. She is certified in Customer Experience by Medallia ®. She is a member of International Council on Active Aging®. Sara has a strong commitment to supporting the next generation of senior living professionals and serves as a mentor, as well as a visiting instructor, at Cornell University Hotel School.