Stephanie Erickson, director of Erickson Resource Group, has more than 15 years of experience as a geriatric social worker. She has worked with seniors living autonomously at home, placed in care facilities, at the hospital and living with family. Stephanie founded Erickson Resource Group, a comprehensive and simple resource for caregivers to obtain all of the information they need in an efficient and easy way. Stephanie’s areas of specialty include cognitive assessments, placements for seniors, home assessments, palliative care and family and individual counseling. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and is licensed in both Quebec and California. Erickson Resource Group works with specialists from all areas of care such as social workers, physiotherapists, dieticians, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, physicians, nutritionists, notaries, attorneys and financial planners to ensure the information provided is comprehensive and up to date. Below, she answers some common questions from HME providers who look to her for advice. Visit ericksonresource.com.
HME PROVIDER: My customers describe in depth what equipment they need, but then come back a week later saying it’s the wrong product. How can I get it right the first time?
SE: When customers are buying products for medical and health concerns, they are likely under stress when they are shopping, so it is not unusual that they do not describe accurately what symptoms they are trying to address. It is suggested that you create a checklist of symptoms related to larger areas, such as balance, respiratory, general safety, arthritis, etc.—or perhaps arranged by areas within the home such as bathroom, kitchen, walkways, stairs, etc. Have your sales team go through the checklist with your customers to ensure that every symptom group is addressed. You may want to organize your store in the same manner to allow customers to easily identify their concerns. The client may say that they are looking for a walker when, in reality, they were under the impression that a walker is an appropriate solution to help them climb in and out of the bathtub.
It is suggested that you employ or contract a specialist, such as an occupational therapist, respiratory therapist, or physical therapist to provide an Ask the Expert day at your store. Give your customers a professional evaluation of their needs and offer the solutions with your products. Make sure that this contractor is available to provide follow up home visits if your customers need an evaluation within their environment (bathroom safety, mobility safety, etc.). Of course, you will need to evaluate how to fund a project such as this but you may find private practitioners in your area who are willing to partner with you in your store in the hopes to obtain future business. You may want to partner with a community organizations or foundations. If you donate a portion of your sales from that day to their organization they may advertise the Ask the Expert day in their network.
HME PROVIDER: Most of my products solve certain problems, but some customers need alternate interventions such as medical, nutritional, physiotherapy, etc. Should I address my sales team concerning referrals in this situation?
SE: Yes! Success in your business is dependent upon establishing yourself as the expert in all areas related to health and medical challenges.
Dedicate an area in your store to literature and resources from community and online support groups for all sorts of concerns, such as the Parkinson’s Society, Arthritis Foundation, Alzheimer’s Society, etc. All of these types of organizations will happily send you literature and brochures to offer to your customers.
Gather a list of private practitioners whom are available for customer consultations.
Include all of these resources in one document (on your company’s letterhead and store location) that you can email to customers when they contact the store, and hand out to customers in person.
At some point they will refer to that document and be reminded which store has the solution to their problem. Additionally, these organizations may suggest products to your customers, as an indirect endorsement. You may also want to include a symptoms checklist to help your customers identify that they have a problem.
Another great way to develop referrals is to host a community event with an organization that serves your clientele. These organizations will be loaded with resources that can address many of your clients’ needs.
Again, equip yourself with as much information as you can so whenever your customer has a new problem, you will be contacted as the solution to the problem.
HME PROVIDER: My customers are interested in my products and they know that their parents need them, but they cannot seem to convince them to say "yes." Do you have any suggestions?
SE:This is such a great question and one that I get all of the time! It’s normal and expected that anyone with a physical (or cognitive) limitation resists help. Often, an acceptance of help is somehow translated into an acceptance of decline, and nobody wants to admit they are getting older. I suggest that your customers first and foremost lower the expectation that a loved one will admit he or she has a problem. A gentler approach generally works better and, in the end, does it really matter if a person admits to the problem or agrees to the intervention? Families must learn to let the “I’m right” part of the discussion disappear for the benefit of their relatives.
It can be helpful if your customers (and your sales team) acknowledge the fear that most seniors and family members feel when the challenges of aging emerge. Adult children are scared that their parents will be hurt, and seniors are afraid of needing help. It helps to ask a basic question such as, “What is it that scares you the most about your mom refusing to install bars in her shower?” Discuss the source of fear with your customers to understand from where it’s coming. Is it a fear of aging? Relinquishing help to a family member? Losing independence? Losing privacy? Falling? Hospitalization? Financial stress? Caregiver responsibilities? Guilt? Always meet your customer where they are emotionally, not at the sales step. Vulnerable families need to know that you understand their stresses and concerns first. They are not shopping your products because it’s fun. They are shopping because someone in their family has a health or medical issue and they are worried. A display of empathy will help you evaluate your clients’ needs and provide the appropriate intervention and product.
If your customers are met with severe resistance on the part of their relative, suggest that they start with small steps of assistance introduction. For example, have them purchase a gift of housecleaning, snow removal, window washing or a personal chef for a night. Start off with a nonmedical gift to facilitate a dynamic of giving and receiving between adult children and their parents in a nonthreatening way. Seniors need to know that their children are not always hovering over them or interacting with them only out of concern for a specific issue. Seniors also have the right to privacy, and sometimes concerned adult children and other family members can make seniors feel intruded upon. Perhaps your customers can bring their relative to your store and then take a walk around the block, allowing their parent to exert their autonomy and show themselves (and their family) that they are still capable to evaluate what they do and do not need. We all need to feel capable!
Suggest that your customers purchase a product and causally leave it in their relative’s home as a “just in case.” For example, “Last week when you were getting out of the shower, Dad, you tripped and fell. I brought over a sample of a shower bar and some literature about it. I’m not sure if you need it but I’d thought I’d just inform you of what’s out there.” In this way the control is still with the senior and the utilization of the product is at his pace and not the family’s. You may also want to consider making creative return policies so that products can be purchased with the understanding that they may go unused for weeks before someone is willing to try them. This flexibility will foster customer appreciation and loyalty because your company developed policies to address their unique client population.