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LeadingAge magazine January/February 2013

From the Editor

Understanding Consumers: Providers Embrace Endless Effort

by Gene Mitchell
LeadingAge e-mag Jan-Feb13 Mitchell 226w

Gene Mitchell

The inescapable truth about innovating to better serve consumers, in any field of endeavor, is that it must, by definition, be a relentless process. This week’s great new customer service idea will soon be a routine expectation, and maintaining one’s reputation for great service will rely on developing your next great new idea.

It may be a daunting state of affairs, but it’s part of the job. And it’s hardly a reason to complain: An endless quest for improvement is what has given us lives that our ancestors could scarcely have conceived of. (I’m reminded of comedian Louis C.K.’s great routine, “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy.”)

LeadingAge members understand this, and embrace the challenge. I would argue that, because their work involves such intimate involvement in the lives of residents or clients, they have an instinctual understanding of how constant change is necessary. They instantly appreciate, for instance, the value of innovations such as those demonstrated in LeadingAge CAST’s new video, High-Tech Aging: Improving Lives Today.

We lead off this issue with a Vision column written by a consumer, Barbara Hoffnagle, who is also a member of LeadingAge’s Engaging Consumers Cabinet. Her experience in finding long-term care for her mother demonstrates both problems yet to be solved and the value of the services we offer seniors and their families.

Market research is always valuable, but providers are learning that something more—true “needs assessment”—is where they must put their effort if they are to understand a fast-changing landscape. See “Needs Assessments Take a Wide-Angle View” to learn more.

Instilling and maintaining an attitude of strong customer service is where the “relentlessness” mentioned above must begin. See “Maintaining a Culture of Customer Service” to see how providers build cultures that put seniors and families first at all times.

Offering “consumer choice” is not so simple when the consumers are seniors with few resources and funds to serve them are scarce. Read “Can We Boost Consumer Choice for Low-Income Housing Residents?” to see what affordable housing providers are doing to give their residents options and a sense of control over their lives.

The title of “Social Media Offer Low Costs, High Benefits for Providers” really says it all. Seniors and those who serve them are embracing social media to the benefits of all parties.

When it comes to creating a consumer-friendly culture, our members lead by example. In “‘Partnering With’ Rather Than ‘Delivering To’ Seniors," see what the LeadingAge Engaging Consumers Cabinet—populated mostly by members, by the way—is doing to help our field really engage the people we serve.

Reaching out to a wider audience must be part of LeadingAge’s consumer strategy for the future. One great vehicle for that is Next Avenue, a website created by Twin Cities Public Television for 50-plus adults. LeadingAge is one of a select group of content partners that provide material for the site. In “Next Avenue Helps Older Adults Write Their Next Acts,” we interview the president of this exciting new resource.

When We Are the Consumers” is a look at the experience of one member who observed his own organization as both a CEO and a client—when his father moved in. In this issue’s Wisdom column, this member tells us the many things he learned from what could have been a very stressful situation.

A Passion for Helping That Never Fades” was not really intended to fit into this issue’s theme, but it dovetails nicely nonetheless. It’s the latest installment in our series highlighting the amazing seniors our members serve, and the outstanding people who serve them. This “People We Serve” series is an ongoing effort, so please continue to send your stories of remarkable people to me at or 202-508-9424.

Finally, we have a member-written article about how a partnership with a university gerontology program can give students an invaluable look into the lives of seniors. Read “This Gerontology Student Lives for Homework” to learn more.