I recently was staying on-site at a retirement community where I had been invited to speak. It was early in the morning, so I went down to the library of the community to have a cup of coffee and catch up on a few emails. While getting my laptop out, I overheard a resident in the hallway telling a member of the maintenance staff that the daily newspaper had not been delivered to his room that morning as it normally is.

Staff member: “I’m sorry, it’s the newspaper carrier’s responsibility, and he must have missed his delivery to your apartment.”

Resident: “Well, is there anything you can do? Can you call them maybe? See if they can drop one off?”

Staff member: “I’m sorry sir. Once they make their delivery, we can’t do much.”

The whole time, I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t the staff member go tell someone right now so they can get this man a newspaper?! He is paying good money to live here!” Or the staff member could at least tell the resident that they plan to call and have a conversation with the delivery service to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But ultimately, the issue wasn’t so much what could or should have been done about the newspaper; it was the generally dismissive attitude of the staff member.

Treating residents like valued customers

Think of Amazon, Costco, Chick-fil-a, Apple, and other companies known for their outstanding customer service. Top-notch service providers like these do everything they can to keep their clients happy. If you’ve been to Disney World, you also have witnessed this. And there’s a reason why the term “Disney experience” has been coined: That company has perfected the art of personalized customer service with a smile.

More than once, I’ve heard continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also called life plan communities) compared to a cruise ship that never leaves the dock, and for some communities, it is a fair comparison: great food, countless activities, and staff members who are trained to provide impeccable service to residents. But, it isn’t necessarily whether the provider is the glitziest; it’s about a community’s culture. After all, the kind of service we might get at a resort or on a cruise isn’t necessarily what we want in everyday life. Remember: It’s not the Ritz-Carlton; it’s your home. So, while good customer service is nice, it’s also important to find a retirement community that emphasizes a culture of respect for the residents.

How to spot a customer service-focused community

Although there are many different aspects that make up a life plan community (a.k.a., continuing care retirement community), providers that exhibit the following characteristics are more likely to lead the pack in the future:

Value residents and their voices

This harkens back to my story of the resident who didn’t receive his daily newspaper. Residents of life plan communities should be viewed as guests, clients, and stakeholders…all at the same time. And don’t forget that without the residents, the staff wouldn’t have a paycheck.

The next generation of retirees wants their voices to be heard. Communities need to encourage an active resident council and have adequate resident representation on the board of directors. This doesn’t mean an organization can implement every suggestion or meet every desire, but residents’ opinions should always be cordially welcomed, and problems should be addressed as soon as possible.

Prudent financial management

Today’s consumer is more educated and increasingly leaning on professional advisors for assistance with making decisions about senior living options. Would-be residents will not invest the substantial lifetime costs required of most CCRCs without assurance that the community is financially prepared to meet its commitments to its residents, both today and in the future. This includes strong financial ratios and an up-to-date actuarial analysis performed by a professional actuarial firm.


The most successful CCRC providers understand the needs and wants of their target market and have up-to-date strategic and marketing plans. They realize that what worked in the past may not work for prospective residents in the future. Services, amenities, and facility design and decor are all influenced by the desires of the next generation of retirees. This leads to continued demand and high occupancy numbers, both of which also impact the financial viability of the community, as described above.

An example: Is the community equipped with wireless internet and other recent technology? This may not have been a must-have for previous residents, but recent data from Pew Research revealed that almost 60 percent of American seniors over age 65 are now using the internet on a regular basis, a number that is increasing each year. Forward-thinking communities recognize such trends and find ways to provide residents with up-to-date amenities.

>> Related: Seniors and Technology–Embracing the Digital Age

Diverse board and management team

Diversity is a hot topic these days in just about every industry. It is important to remember that, while a CCRC is a home to its residents, it is also a business, and time and again, the most successful businesses have diverse leadership. A CCRC with a culturally and professionally diverse board of directors and management team can increase employee retention, improve staff members’ productivity, and foster an inclusive environment that encourages innovation and betters the community’s overall financial performance.

>> Related: Why You Should Look for Diversity on a CCRC’s Board of Directors

Searching for your ideal community

Ready to start looking for a life plan community that will treat you like a valued customer? One that has the amenities that you desire and the services that you need, now and in the future? Our free online community search tool is a great place to get started!

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