Communicating With Your Clients to Get the Information You Need

By Leslie Shankman-Cohn, ASID, CAPS and member of the ASID Aging in Place Council

When you hear the term “senior” or “older adult” what comes to mind? For most of us, it is the vision of a frail, hunched-over “grandma” or a lonely, shuffling old man feeding pigeons in the park. These images are no more than stereotypes and thus fail to account for what an older adult person is or is not capable of doing. The reality is that a sizeable majority of this group leads active lifestyles and wants to remain independent, contributing members of their communities as long as possible. However, not all people of this “certain age” are computer- and technologically savvy. So, forget the slick, high-tech, loud music sales pitch. Instead, keep your marketing strategy simple, straight-forward and un-cluttered. Remember that printed materials need to be easy to read and in a simple layout. As in any good design, “less is more.”

Mastering the fine art of being patient is a MUST in this field! Unlike many of your other clients, as a rule of thumb, this segment of the population wants to develop a personal relationship and a feeling of trust with you BEFORE they will entrust you with their project. This may take time and patience on your part! It is essential to schedule ample time with the client. By doing so, you will build the trust necessary to ensure a successful project.
It is also very important to treat older adults and special needs clients like the adults they are, showing them respect and consideration. Each person is unique and deserves to be treated as such. Speak to them rather than about them when other family members are present, and make sure that you show interest in what they are saying. Realize that you might be the only person with whom they have had any social contact all week!

You need to be aware that major changes at this stage in life, whether they involve remodeling or moving, are stressful and sometimes confusing. At times you might encounter someone who feels as if they are giving up everything that defines their lives, memories and home. How do you create an environment that makes them feel comfortable, secure and “at home” in unfamiliar surroundings?

Sit down and talk to them, but, more importantly, LISTEN to what they feel are their most important possessions and work around them. It may just be an old rocking chair, a nightstand, dresser or the breakfront that great-grandma brought over from Europe. But these are the items that define who they see themselves as; they are comfortable and familiar in a life altering, and often, depressing move. This is a time when they are forced to acknowledge that this will probably be the last place that they will ever live. You will be surprised how fast someone can adapt if there are just a few cherished items around.

Sometimes, the client cannot or will not be forthcoming in revealing issues that they may face or might have to face in the future. Therefore, you must learn to collaborate with others, working as a team to provide the most appropriate solutions to each and every project. These perspective team members might include a few or even all of the following: homeowner, spouse, adult children, caretaker, case managers, healthcare professionals, and others. These different team members usually have different views of what issues might need to be addressed. For example:

  • The homeowner might not be able to (or want to) discuss or reveal what difficulties that they might have with issues of limitations or abilities that they encounter.
  • A spouse is a good source for understanding daily routine and issues that are faced, however, they might have a different view and opinion of what the issues might be.
  • Adult children or other family members might have an ulterior motive as to how the final project should be accomplished, including total scope of the project, time frame and/or financial issues.
  • Case managers, therapists, doctors and others usually can give you very informative input as to the nature of ability issues and prognosis for future problems that might arise.

Therefore, it is essential to understand the importance of collaborating with these different groups, as crucial information can be gained about your client’s current and future limitations. Each brings valuable information to the table, and it is up to you to be able to glean the important and pertinent information they might offer, so that you can present the best possible solutions to the issues that the ultimate end-user faces. Keep in mind, however, that the actual decision maker (your client, the one that you have contracted with) may not be the ultimate end-user.