Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A different kind of customer

Switzerland is one of the many European countries with a growing percentage of elderly people, as the baby boomer generation will be retired in the period 2015 - 2035. This year 2012 is the European Year for Active Aging. To overcome the barriers for an active life for older people, we have to improve our understanding of their most frequent illnesses and raise awareness of their impact on society at large.

Between the ages of 70 to 80 the risk of becoming dement is 5 - 7 %; up to the age of 90, 12 - 15 %; after 90 every third person is dement. Dementia is an illness that first slows down the pace of activities of an older person. Later, in a more severe stage, it makes difficult challenges out of simple activities. Therefore, we need to understand how dement people can have dignified lives and still be an active part of our society. As an example, this implies empowering them as customers.   

Only in recent years have we started to realize that due to the growing number of people with dementia, employees in shops, restaurants, banks etc. are confronted on the job with dement customers. Until now due to a lack of information and training, the employees are often not prepared for this situation, and in particular fail to understand the behavior of dement customers.

To raise awareness for such situations, the Alzheimer Association of Switzerland has published guidelines to support employees, who are in contact with people suffering from dementia ( Especially employees in the service industry often have contact with dement customers. Hairdressers for instance are quite often persons of trust for elderly people. Due to the guidelines of the Alzheimer Association they learn how to interact with these customers, and even how to help them realize that they might need additional help.

In these guidelines also employees of banks can learn to understand which symptoms might be a sign of dementia. For instance, dement people have troubles with appointments, they have problems to articulate themselves, they show up several times on the same day to get money, they have difficulties filling out documents etc. In each of these cases, it is important to approach these customers with respect and understanding. Sometimes such employees are the only contact they have and they place trust in them. As the illness of dementia progresses, it is important to recognize that these relationships of trust are an opportunity for elderly persons to receive support and understanding.

The guidelines of the Alzheimer Association are first steps to keep dement people better involved in an active life. Based on this, firms should systematically train and support those employees who interact with dement customers. Corporate proactive behavior will reduce costs as transactions will be more successful, but most importantly the quality of life for dement people will be better.

 Sybille Sachs

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