Is person-centred care the same as great customer care?

My daughter, Meg, and I recently had a fun few hours of shopping, as she decided that, aged 20, she would like to find a ‘signature scent’ or perfume.  We went to a big, old-fashioned department store as I have always found these to be the places where you can expect to find staff who have the time to spend with you, and who know their products well.   We were not disappointed!  The woman in the Chanel section so clearly loved her job.  She genuinely wanted to find out more about Meg, about her personality and about the kinds of scents she liked.  She told us that the best part of her job was when she felt she had really helped someone to find “something that will bring them joy.”  It struck me right there that is what true person-centred care is all about. Meg noticed it too. She said the first perfume that the woman showed her was the one she really loved, and we ended up buying.  The shopkeeper’s instincts and passion helped her serve Meg well. In that 10 minutes we were with her, it was like no-one else mattered.  Again, this is the essence of person-centredness?

We all notice when shops, hotels or other services go the extra mile to help us feel special.  When a hotel has provided hot chocolate as an option, not just tea or coffee, or they have turned the sheets down on the bed or given soft face cloths and lovely smelling lotions in the bathroom.  This kind of attention to detail can really make a difference to our experience.   We also notice the kind of welcome we have from the reception team and how that makes us feel.  When someone’s eyes are just looking down at the screen and the member of staff seems rushed or inattentive, it affects our impression of the hotel right from the start.

Do care homes and day services do enough training on what ‘good customer care’ involves?   Some care services in the UK went through a period of calling people using their services ‘customers’ as they were keen to convey the status of a customer to individuals – that is that they are paying for the service and are therefore worthy of regard and respect.   I didn’t personally like the word ‘customer’ in this context, but I can see where the directors were coming from. The ethos the ‘customer is always right’ establishes that the power lies not with the staff but with those they are supporting.

An Executive Director in a Canadian care home recently told me she had run a whole ‘Town Hall’ meeting on social etiquettes about how you talk to and treat people living in the home, family members or others visiting, and each other; “Ultimately whoever you are, you deserve the same consideration and respect.”  She felt there was a need to get back to basics on good manners. These are the things we can take for granted as best practice, but we may sometimes need to reinforce these expectations.  

Person-centred care is more than ‘just’ good manners of course, but the desire to give someone full attention and to find the things that bring them joy must surely be an excellent starting point.

Consultant & Trainer

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