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Lessons from overseas: taking customer service to a new level


An exceptional customer service experience for all who walk through the door including entrances that are welcome, homely and approachable is the key initiative aged care CEO Daniel Findley is implementing in his facilities following a recent visit to the UK.

In this online series, aged care executives tell Australian Ageing Agenda about their overseas study tour experience and the learnings they have brought back to their organisation.

Mr Findley, who is chief executive officer of Masonic Care Tasmania, visited the UK on a SAGE study tour in April this year where he says he learnt so much it is hard to quantify.

AAA: What was your motivation for undertaking the study tour?

Daniel Findley: My key motivation was to get a greater insight into the UK aged care system and have the rare opportunity to visit some of the country’s largest and most innovative aged care and retirement living communities.

I viewed this as a great chance for me to learn from others in a similar field, a group of other CEOs from Australia, New Zealand and Canada and also to share Masonic Care Tasmania’s journey and recent achievements.

I really looked forward to being able to share my learnings and experiences from the trip with those I work alongside with the aim to inspire, inform and drive change.

What were the aged care sector related highlights of the UK tour?

The Chocolate Factory

By far the greatest highlight for me was having the opportunity to explore The Chocolate Quarter run by a not-for-profit organisation called the St Monica Trust. Located just outside of Bristol, this premium retirement and care home was once an old Cadbury Chocolate factory.

Now, it’s home to 140 apartments and a 100-bed care home. What made this a standout for me was how the site has been transformed into an extraordinary, integrated, collaborative community. It’s also home to large commercial office spaces, retail outlets, leisure facilities, plus a 50-seat cinema and pizza restaurant with a wood-fired oven.

What I liked most about the Chocolate Quarter is how they developed the ground floor to look and feel like a real village. The atmosphere and energy was enhanced with a woodworking shop, pottery barn, hairdresser, barber and meeting rooms, just to name a few things. The facades that transformed these spaces made it feel like you were walking through a busy village.

Another highlight was the design of the commercial office spaces. To get to their office, staff had to walk through the village and from what I saw, they truly engaged with their surroundings. Office staff actively utilised the wellness centre, pool, restaurants, bars and hairdresser. Generation, age and status all come together as one in this remarkable location and this is why a true village has been created and embraced, rather than just a village feeling.

Whitely Village

Whiteley Village was another highlight for me. Set on 225 acres of woodland in Surrey, this retirement community was developed in the early 1900s and now deemed a national treasure. The Village has a couple of churches, a museum, a shop and registered post office, launderette, library, therapy pool, licensed clubhouse, café, putting green, bowls green, golf club and houses for more than 500 older people with limited means.

I liked that while everyone who lived there had what they referred to as limited means, as part of each person’s welcome process, they are asked what they will contribute to the village. Some people teach English, others teach crafts or painting classes, provide pastoral support or help in the garden. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to village life. There is a real sense of togetherness, belonging, care and neighbourliness.

From your experience, how does aged care in the UK compare to aged care in Australia?

Customer service was a true experience in many of the locations we visited. Some places took this concept to a whole new level and the result was something to aspire to. There were some basic things such as acknowledging the importance of kitchen and butler staff as part of the team. When one of the visiting CEOs asked where the staff come from, they answered “from leading hotels, off course.”

This really highlights that as an industry we have some work to do from a customer service perspective and I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience this for myself.

Tell me about one aspect of aged care that you saw on the tour that interested you.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement community and care home

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement community and care home for around 300 people who have served in the British Army and who would otherwise spend their older years alone. I was conflicted with this model. Residents were known as the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ and were required to wear uniforms every day, lived in tiny bedrooms and were required to give up their pension on admission.

Life for these people appeared regimented. On the other hand, these men and a few women had lived most of their life in the army and appeared really happy with structure and their role.

The Chelsea Pensioners are well known and highly respected around London and often invited to open significant community events.  I am not sure I could live in this kind of regimented environment but the men and women I met and witnessed, appeared happy and content with life.

What did you see that you intend to implement or adapt in your aged care service?

My experience on the tour significantly highlighted the need to update and transform our entry areas at Masonic Care Tasmania’s three residential homes with a key focus on providing an exceptional customer service experience for everyone who walks through the doors. Designed some years ago, our current welcome spaces are more clinical in look and feel, rather than approachable, and it’s our aim to dramatically improve this perception.

This transformation will include a redesign over the next 12 months and provides us with a strong opportunity to create a community space that is welcoming, homely and approachable. Our traditional reception area will move from ‘behind a counter’ feel and instead take on a concierge position. Those who live and visit us will be personally greeted that will help to promote a warm, friendly atmosphere. Where possible, we plan to develop services such as a hairdresser, barber, cafes etc. at the front of our buildings to help further create and enhance the sense of community.

What key learnings from the tour can you share with your counterparts in the sector?

I learnt so much it is still hard to quantify. The team at Masonic Care Tasmania is getting sick of hearing about my trip to the UK. My real challenge moving forward is finding ways to show the team there are different ways of doing things and one of the ways we are doing this is by taking our senior staff on a short tour of other facilities around Australia.

The networks I made with some of Australia’s leading aged care professionals on the tour have already been beneficial. Spending so much time – about 12 hours a day – with these great people over a couple of weeks has meant the connection from colleague to friend happened naturally and quickly.

Do you have a study tour experience to share? Get in touch at editorial@australianageingagenda.com.au



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