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179: Rebekah Stratton

Building trust within a company means hands-on action for Rebekah Stratton, Corporate Director of Sales and Marketing at Cambridge Retirement Living. As Rebekah shared in the LinkedIn post that caught the attention of BTG, customer service is a theme that defines her team’s culture.

Lucas: 

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Another exciting guest on today! We want to welcome Rebekah Stratton. She’s the Corporate Director of Sales and Marketing at Cambridge Retirement Living and we are going to be talking about customer service team culture and what it means to be a team player leader. Welcome to the show.

 

Rebekah: 

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

 

Lucas: 

Rebekah, we’ve been connected on LinkedIn for a while. For our longtime listeners, they know that LinkedIn is a great stomping ground for us. We have many conversations and many connections and great networking on that platform. We really appreciate what you’re doing in your current role. Recently, you posted a photo that caught the attention of a lot of people, including ourselves. And you wrote a great post talking about customer service. Talk to us about that.

 

Rebekah: 

Customer service is not just applied to our customers. It can be anyone, it can be the vendors who walk in the building. It can be even your own teammates. So as a very young company, Cambridge is a very young company. The majority of our facilities are new to us within the last 18 to 24 months. Wo we really come into these facilities and in addition to remodeling the physical building, we really look at culture building, the team in the building, what it means to them, what support they may need that they may have never had and how do we support them? I think the pandemic spent hard on everyone and senior living, but a couple of that with brand building and creating a footprint and also coming in and providing support to brand new team members. Residents that are brand new to us, their families building that trust with them. Customer service has really taken the front seat for us and how do we educate and support everyone providing that care?

 

Rebekah:

So I had arrived at our newest acquisition. We acquired at the end of last year, and it’s just a secured memory care building. They were really going through some staffing challenges the day I was there, no cook and the resonant cure aids were scarce on the floor. So for us in leadership, we look at that household model, where everyone can be a team player, because I think you also can gain a sense of pride and ownership in what you’re doing. There was no cook and with memory care, there can be a lot of special dietary needs. And my background is actually dining hospitality. I started out in skilled nursing as a dietary aide and worked my way up to become a cook and working in independent living. But you never forget how to puree a hot dog. You know, I can make a mean pureed hot dog. And so they said, does anybody know how to do mechanical, soft liquids? Does anyone know how to do pureed and thickened liquids? And I said I do. I said, give me that food processor. And so, that was a million times more important that day to provide the best possible outcome for everyone. Customer service can apply to your team members. It can be stepping in and stepping up and doing whatever you need to do to provide the best possible outcome because customer service looks a little bit different in senior living. You know, it’s not just a product, it’s not a widget, it’s an ongoing thing. And so I had the skill set they needed that day to be able to step in and do that, just took the load off of everyone’s minds.

Rebekah:

And they said, Hey, the corporate person came in and her high heels and she put on a PPE apron and she made pureed hotdogs for dinner. Like she didn’t have any qualms about doing that. And I said I always do that because that is what we believe in. We have operations directors who hung drywall last year during the pandemic. We couldn’t find construction workers to fix water damage. And they’ve gone up on roofs. They’ve provided care on the floor. So that’s really important to us as leaders that we model that to the teams in the building. So it’s not just something that I do. It’s something that is really at the heart of what we provide. So we take it pretty seriously, even if it’s just a pureed hot dog.

 

Josh: 

So Rebekah, I’m trying to get past the thought of a pureed hot dog right now. It’s kind of early where I am and that’s kind of unsettling to my stomach to think about it, but realizing that’s the reality of what we do in senior living. And you jumped in there to do that. I want to go back in the conversation. You kind of went over very quickly about building trust. That’s something that we’re really focusing in on a lot through the summer and the fall on the Bridge The Gap platform. And, you know, I hear that theme of building trust in what you’re talking about in these culture change moments and customer service and things like that. Talk to us a little bit from your perspective, the importance and the value of building trust when you’re trying to change an environment and a culture and optics in, like, obviously you’ve given us some examples, I think, but kind of break that down for us. How building trust plays into culture change in your environment?

Rebekah:

Definitely. The customer service training I’m actually putting together for our staff, I actually have a portion where I go over with the actual direct care workers, but I also apply it to my sales team. You know, we talk about it a lot, but when you’re faithful in the small things, families tend to trust you in the big things. So in senior living, when you’re dealing with a human to human experience, it’s not a business to business transaction, it’s human to human, and you might not always be able to provide the outcome that they want, whether it’s regulatory, compliance, a company policy. But if you can find ways to build trust in the small things, you know, my mom likes to have ginger ale every night at bedtime. You know, How can we make sure she gets that? Or follow up. That transparency communication when you’re faithful in the small things, you’re making deposits into a trust bank and when something big does happen, whatever that might look like to that customer, to the vendor, to a family member, to the resident themselves, they have the trust that you’ve always handled the small things really well.

Rebekah:

And you’ve always come through whatever that outcome looks like. They’re going to trust you with the big things. And so I always start there with the team that we must be faithful in the small things.

Josh:

Oh, I love that. So, I’d like to kind of dive in a little bit more on that trust and that transparency. Recently, and some of my friends followers commented on this, I had an awesome service recovery as I refer to it. An experience actually at a hotel that I was staying at on business. I was actually with you Lucas. We stayed at this hotel. I don’t even know if I told you about this story, but essentially a bad situation of customer service. They actually turned and made me a loyal, faithful follower through that. And I think they did some things with transparency, but can you talk about a little bit more, you were just alluding to maybe when things aren’t exactly right. How you can build trust through that because you’re obviously training your teams on this customer service. How do you address that when things don’t go right? How do you continue to build trust through that moment?

Rebekah:

It’s really listening. Listen to what they’re saying, you know, giving them their full attention. Empathizing with them, acting with authority, and demonstrating follow-up are the key things that I always say. You know, even if you can’t give them an answer right now, you know, say, okay, I need to talk to my executive director about this, or, you know, as a salesperson, let me look into that. But I will get back to you. And just taking that time. Because again, it goes back to human to human. That’s the one thing I try to leave with our team members is we’re in the people business. There’s no one size fits all solution, for the people that we serve and their families and everyone has different needs. So when you take the time to say, Hey, I hear you, I understand what you’re saying.

Rebekah: 

Let me follow up with you. Being transparent with them. Okay. I understand what you’re saying. We cannot do XYZ because of regulations, but maybe we can find an alternative solution so that everybody wins. Just being honest with them and definitely following up, that is the one thing I preach. Even if the outcome isn’t great, even if you get a phone call from a lead and you know, maybe the finances aren’t there or the care, they don’t meet the scope of care, follow up with them. You know, when you talked about building loyalty, that’s the one thing, you know, because when you’re in sales and marketing, there’s a few different stages of senior living, customer service. You have, you know, the pre-purchase, you have that new inquiry, they really are just getting to know you.

Rebekah:

So that first impression is going to be huge. Everybody talks about first impressions. But then you have the existing customer when they move in, you know, right away, you get to start building on that when they move in day of move-in. And then, you know, even after maybe after their loved one passes away or moves out for whatever reason or a vendor leaves your campus, you know, that last impression is the lasting impression. So when you think about customer service and you think about it in those three phases, how you are working with that customer and that resident, that family member, where they are in the stage. It all still boils down to your a human and transparency communication. You know, you talk about the loyalty and are even if they’re leveling leaps or passes away. If they had a great experience, you’ve built loyalty with them, that positive experience, they’re going to tell others, Hey, my mom was there and they took the best care of her.

Rebekah:  

You know, things weren’t always perfect. And I had a family member telling me that once, recently she goes, you know, things aren’t always perfect, but your team and you, and even our chief operating officer, we were there that one particular day, you always follow up. I can see that you really want the best. And she goes, and that’s why I will tell all my friends and family about you. So you build that loyalty with them. Even if it’s just simple, as, you know, making sure housekeeping our shower day happens on the day that you promise it will happen on even if the administrator has to do it herself.

Josh:  

Well, the intentionality underlining, all of that, I think is a key that represents what you’re doing Rebekah. So kudos, the culture that you’re building, you’re transforming. And, you know, I agree that you know, it’s not easy. You have to be very intentional. It takes time to research and to find solutions and then to go the extra step and follow up, even when it’s something maybe that, you know, the person is not gonna love to hear it. At least you are taking that extra step. You know, Lucas, in this conversation that we’re having, in this short conversation, I’ve heard about everything from pureed hot dogs to hanging drywall, that’s your world. You know that, but I was just sitting here thinking that kind of represents senior living. If you’re going to be involved in taking care of our elders, of other humans and leading teams, you better be prepared to my gosh puree a hot dog, all the way to hanging drywall. And what other profession do you do that? And the commitment level that it takes. I mean, you have any thoughts on that?

Lucas:  

Yeah. This is a drum that I’ve been beating for a while and I’m going to continue to beat it. This is the reason why I love senior living and working in senior living so much is because of the people, people like Rebekah and the people that she’s surrounded with. It is interesting. I talked to my personal team. I’m going to go personal for just a little bit here at our Bridge Group Construction Company. We are in senior living communities every single day working. And I often tell them, I said, look, we’ve got to do everything that Rebekah just talked about. We’re not always perfect. Construction is far from perfect. And what I tell them is though, we’ve got to come with solutions and we’ve got to follow up. And the most amazing thing, even when things go wrong, an order doesn’t come in, people don’t show up.

Lucas: 

Something happened that causes delays. When we’re transparent about that, what I often find 99% of the time, they’re like no big deal, thanks for telling us. And it is so different than other industries. And here’s what I, here’s the reason why I think that is. And Rebekah, I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Cause then it just kind of goes more macro at this point is because in senior living, they’re dealing with human beings and when they hear, oh, that carpet didn’t come in, it’s going to be delayed. It’s not as important as the human beings in that building. And they’re used to dealing with challenges and facing them and coming with solutions. And when we’re transparent and we follow up and we show up and, you know, talk about these things, oftentimes it seems to be not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life.

Rebekah:

You got it. I laugh. I agree with you. I, fortunately, have worn a lot of different hats in senior living, and probably one of my favorite hats was I actually did interior design and renovations for independent living. So I’ve been right there. I’ve had to call someone and say, Hey, your carpet didn’t show up. Your Villa, your apartment is going to be delayed. And when you communicate that to them, to that resident moving in, they’re like no big deal. We still can move in. Right? If everything’s going to be fine, it’s going to be yep. Got it. And when you communicate that, you’re right. It really just boils down to the people. And as long as we’re doing that, right, everything else can be fixed.

Josh: 

Well, you know, Rebekah, love what you’re doing, what you’re standing for, the culture impact you’re making. I started to refer to you as the Jack of all trades, but you’re like the Jill of all trades. And I think we found you through a LinkedIn post or something like that. So continue to make that impact. It’s impacted us. It’s going to impact our listeners. We’re going to continue to connect you with more listeners and viewers on our YouTube channel. Lucas, this is fun. I love having these kinds of conversations. 

 

Lucas: 

We do. We enjoy talking about what Josh has referred to as the love stories of the business.

Rebekah: 

Yes. I say to my team all the time.

Lucas: 

That’s right, this is one of those love stories. It’s a customer service experience, leadership story in our industry and Rebekah, you’re the centerpiece of that. Thank you for what you’re doing and being a great influencer in our industry. And we want to make sure that our listeners are able to connect with you. We’l put a link to Rebekah’s LinkedIn page on the show notes, and you can go to BTGvoice.com and get the transcript and get the links to all the different media pieces to this and connect with us and Rebekah. Have a great day. Thanks for being on the podcast. Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.

Outro: 

Thanks for listening to Bridge The Gap podcast with host Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. If you were informed, educated, or influenced by this episode, we want to know. Leave a comment on social media or contact us in the show notes, powered by supporting partners, Propel Insurance, Enquire, LTCREIT, The Bridge Group Construction, and Solinity. Learn more at btgvoice.com.

 

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179: Rebekah Stratton