You have probably witnessed this, or perhaps even caught yourself doing this. Take intelligent and rational adults, and put them in front of young children and/or the elderly, and watch these once articulate adults reduce themselves to speaking like a Saturday morning cartoon character in a singsong falsetto voice.
Check in with some of your senior friends and family members, and ask them how often (albeit well meaning) service people talk ‘baby talk’ to them and you may be shocked – I know I was! I find this irritating enough when people do this to young children, I can’t imagine how offensive this is to older adults.
What may have started out as an expression of endearment, can soon devolve into an unintentional demonstration of ageism. I can hear the objections now, suggesting that we are taking ‘political correctness’ and ourselves far too seriously. I get that, and many times I do think that we do take ourselves too seriously. When unsure, however, my personal litmus test is to investigate the underlying assumption that might be driving the behavior. Take a moment to think about the assumptions that would cause us to change our demeanor, elevate the tone of our voice, and reduce the intellectual level of our conversation with any individual – independent of their age… and we will soon see if our behavior is accommodating or patronizing. Personally, when I have applied this criteria to my own actions – I have yet to find an instance when changing the quality of my communication is truly accommodating to the other person.
It was Emerson who said, “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” Who we are is what we bring to every interaction and communication, and what we believe informs who we are. If we want to create more engaging and respectful interactions, embrace beliefs that contribute to your objective. With a good solid ‘belief base’ foundation, we can then move to some general communication tips when serving anyone, especially older customers.
Here are some general communication tips to apply when serving anyone, especially older customers, to help you create more engaging and respectful interactions.
On the Telephone
• Whenever possible, provide an opportunity for callers to speak to a real person without having to cycle with a long list of menu items.
• If you are leaving a telephone number or instructions, let your client know that they will need a pen and paper handy.
• When leaving a phone message, SLOW DOWN when you leave your phone number. Repeat your name and number at the end of the message. That gives the other person the opportunity to write down your information or instructions.
• Keep your sentences short. Offer one step at a time and make sure you have stated the information clearly.
• Look directly at your customer or client when you are speaking, and keep your hands away from your face. That helps you project your voice and gives your customer the opportunity to read your lips and your expressions.
• If your client is seated, remain seated while you are having a conversation so that you are not towering over them.
• Ask your customers how they wish to be addressed. I have yet to hear anyone ask to be called “Dearie.”
• Avoid professional jargon, use familiar words, and keep your voice conversational.
• When a person asks you to repeat something, his or her challenge might be clarity as well as volume. State the same information in a different way and provide a bit more context.
• Above all, use the universal language of THE SMILE! It goes a long way to making someone feel welcome, valued, respected, and appreciated!
Rhonda Latreille, MBA, CPCA
Founder & CEO