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All I Really Want Is To Know You Care:  Building Resident/Family Loyalty Through
Compassionate Care

by Sonya Sullins



Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear some mention of “occupancy”.  As a whole, we’ve stepped up our marketing efforts and we’re looking for any stone yet unturned.  The networking meetings are bursting at the seams – everyone feels a sense of urgency.  And for good reason.  The economy has presented us with a variety of challenges. 

Statistics are staggering…  Adult children have lost jobs and many are currently “underemployed”.  Adult children and seniors have lost value in their retirement assets and their homes.  Mortgages are “upside down” – that is if you still have a mortgage and haven’t lost your home.  We all know that adult children are shouldering the burden of care and stress levels are high. 


With this have come some shifts in perspective.  Expectations are high and consumers are evaluating every purchase decision very carefully.  I’m sure you’ve noticed this.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s taking longer to get a commitment, that people are comparison shopping more now than before, and that the competition is formidable!  Add to that technology.  We now live in an age where the first step in the process is likely to be the internet.  Today’s consumers are savvy, they’ve done their homework and they are now  looking for the relationship.  They most likely have a good idea of your features and benefits…but can they trust you?  

New Paradigm: 

Research is showing that one of the strongest differentiators comes from the “soft side”.  This is not necessarily congruent with traditional wisdom.  And this is not necessarily in your budget – at least not anymore!  How prepared are you to meet the challenge of “soft” skills?  First, let’s talk about what I mean by that.

What would you look for if you needed to place your spouse or your parent?  Once you made the placement decision, what would be important to you?  Here is a list of things you might look for:

  • Staff knows how to do their job
  • You feel your loved one is safe
  • The community is clean
  • The food is good
  • The staff is courteous and polite
  • The staff greets you with a smile
  • The care team knows the preferences of your loved one and honors them
  • The care team and management team knows your preferences for your loved one and honors them
  • Your loved one gets personal attention from the care team
  • The staff responds positively in even challenges circumstances
  • You’ve come to know, like and trust the team members who care for your loved one
  • You feel confident that if something went wrong, it would be handled immediately, appropriately and with personalized attention to the matter.
  • You are amazing at the level of compassion and empathy of the team members
  • You feel at peace. 

You probably want all these things, don’t you? 

Research shows that there are three components necessary to build customer loyalty… or what I like to call “customer devotion”.  Those three components are, Competence, Courtesy and Compassion.

Compassion vs. Efficiency: 

In healthcare and senior living, compassion is more important to building loyalty of residents and families than efficiency.  This creates a major challenge for us!  We must carefully balance our demands, as it’s easy to put efficiency ahead of compassion.  And, many times we choose efficiency.  Let’s look at why we need to balance that with compassion.

Resident/Family Loyalty Survey Scores: 

If we look at resident/family loyalty survey scores, we can see quite clearly, what is truly important.  We’re going to match up the three competencies (Competence, Courtesy, Compassion) against the scores we see on the Resident/Family Loyalty survey. 


We hire and fire based on competence.  We train our staff so we can maintain and improve the level of competence.  So, we can agree it is essential to have a competent staff.  And if we do, but we stop there, our residents will give us a score of 3 (Neutral) on the 5-point scale.  If they perceive us as lacking competency, they will rank us a 1 or a 2.  The conclusion we can draw from this is that competence does not create satisfaction or loyalty.  It is expected.  Therefore, we must do more.


Let’s add Courtesy.  We don’t necessarily hire or fire based on courtesy- but we can try.  If you are an organization focused on resident and family loyalty, you will probably start to stress it in orientation and train the skills and competencies necessary to demonstrate courtesy consistently.  You may include it in hiring criteria and performance coaching.  It is very possible to create a culture where courtesy is a standard.  If you master competence and courtesy, your residents and families will give you a 4 “Satisfied” on the 5-point scale. 

Now isn’t this fantastic!  No.  It’s good, but not fantastic

Why isn’t this fantastic?  Because research shows that it’s only a score of 5 “Very Satisfied/Loyal” that reflects residents and families that are truly devoted to us.  What does it mean if they are truly devoted to us?  It means we’ve created an emotional connection with that resident /family to us.

“The emotionally loyal resident/family feels an attachment to the organization that transcends functional attributes.  This is a loyalty that is likely to last even in the face of competition that offers a more “functionally-attractive” alternative”.

In other words, there will always be some new, bright shiny object (your competitor)!  You will exhaust yourself and spiral down if your differentiator is based solely on how “functionally-attractive” you are.  Eventually, you will not be! 


To reach this level of loyalty – or devotion – you must have Compassion.  Compassion, as defined by Wikipedia, is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others.  More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to help. 

How do we achieve Compassion? 

First, we must create a culture that is supportive and nurturing of compassionate people.  If you do this, you will also see your employee engagement levels increase.  As we all know, this is critically important because high levels of employee engagement increases customer loyalty by 38%, increases productivity by 22%, increases employee retention by 39 % and increases profits by 27%. 

Next, we must provide the resources and training for people to improve the skills and competencies needed to deliver compassionate care.  Research also shows that high self-awareness, high empathy and excellent communication skills (among other competencies) are essential in mastering compassion. 

Just as with Courtesy, we can hire for naturally compassionate people, we can make it part of our culture, we can emphasize it in orientation, and we can include it in our performance coaching.  Because it is so essential, we will want to provide the opportunity for our team members to improve in the areas that are foundational to compassion – and we can do that through Emotional Intelligence

Research estimates that 80% of career success is attributed to high emotional intelligence.  Providing this for your team will help them achieve their goals both professionally and personally. 
Improve your Employee Engagement and improve your Resident/Family Loyalty.  Get started by building the “soft skills” of each member of your team so they may contribute at the very highest level and offer compassion to each resident and family member.


The Author

Sonya Sullins

Sonya Sullins MBA, Human Capital Consultant, Executive Coach and Speaker is also the founder of Human Capital Management Institute.  We specialize is helping organizations select, motivate and retain top talent and create fiercely loyal and devoted customers. 

With over 20 years experience as a trainer and workshop facilitator, and a dozen years as a consultant in Senior Living and Health Care, Sonya works exclusively with professionals and organizations who are ready to develop the skills that drive outcomes and create sustainable excellence for their organization.

After seeing for herself how hard it is to get and keep top talent, how challenging it is when a customer is frustrated with their experience; Sonya quickly realized that most organizations are full of people who are frustrated and overwhelmed.  She gets people “unstuck” from thinking that there’s no solution and shows them how to overcome these challenges.  After all, high standards and excellent results make life at work engaging and fulfilling!

Toll Free:  877-HUMAN10

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Copyright 2010 by Sonya Sullins. All rights reserved.

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