the value of listening

Kyle Murray compares his experiences in the television industry to the complexities and the value of listening in the home care industry and caregiving.

By Kyle Murray

I find myself in a very unfamiliar position at my current job.  I work for Aware Senior Care, but as a social/content marketer, I’m only indirectly involved with its primary function: providing in-home care to seniors. I say ‘unfamiliar’ because in my experience in television for six years, I was very much directly part of the process.

I was in a position where if I didn’t do my job correctly, the whole thing could grind to a halt.  And if you weren’t good at your job, well, there were people beating down the door waiting to take your spot.

In TV, the typical job scenario was working for a production company at the behest of a network with a final say. Our focus was making stuff happen (i.e. – putting TV episodes together) for as little money as possible.  Don’t hire two people if you can stretch one person out.

Don’t update the Avid software if it still functions 80% of the time (but still crashes just enough to make the editors irate). Don’t reshoot when you can get a VO and “frankenedit” (i.e. – take two different sentences to form a possibly deceptive/misleading new one) clips together.

More importantly, each show followed practically the same format: Five acts, the same “off the cuff” (but not really) interview questions, the same feigned dramatic tension, the same “How did they do that in so little time?” (when the timeline was actually far longer).

For a creative industry, there wasn’t a lot of room for creativity or ingenuity in most of my jobs. It’s why I grew tired of it.  I felt like nobody cared what I did. Also, having a hyperactive, imaginative personality is probably not a good fit for something that requires a more mechanical mindset.

Social media, as I’ve learned over the past year, requires a lot of listening before taking any action. Gathering audience insights, assessing engagement rates on posts, monitoring similar pages for successful ideas, and so on.  The most successful companies on social make content that people want and need; they never assume what their followers/fans want.  

I moved “back home” to Cary, North Carolina from Los Angeles in February this year. I wasn’t born in North Carolina, but from the age of seven until I moved to California at 25, it’s the place I called home.  I had worked remotely for Aware Senior Care for most of 2015, with the exception of one week stays in November and December.

I settled into my new office as the social media manager, as well as adjusted to working alongside people I knew only in name/e-mail for the past 10 months (aside from my parents, of course).  My job at Aware Senior Care is to curate/create content for our audiences on our web site and social platforms that addresses a ‘PIN’ (Problem, Interest, Need).

I like this approach because it’s proactive and requires some in-depth research and experimentation to figure out what the community really wants.  It’s not posting links because they’re trending and hoping people click on our web site. And it’s certainly not making cookie-cutter programming based on the market assumptions of a network.

As I sat in on meetings, I began to understand the true complexity of caregiving and respect those that successfully do it. Schedules vary based on the needs of a client.  It could be one hour a day for four days, or 24/7 round the clock care.

Sometimes, those needs change in less than 48 hours and that affects the schedule of a caregiver. Additionally, caregivers not only obviously have their own personal lives, but unique personalities and approaches to caregiving.

I learned that Aware’s approach to caregiving was definitely not “next man in”; that is, send any caregiver who is available, regardless of how their style of care fits with the client and regardless of the caregiver’s availability.

The schedulers at Aware invest a lot of time not only helping train new caregivers, but also learning about them on a personal level to get a better sense of with whom they’d match best.  This includes hour preferences, location, consistent vs. ‘fill-in’ scheduling.

Communication is absolutely critical and every detail needs to be combed over so that everybody is on the right page.  It may seem tedious, but in most cases, this leads to an optimum working environment and lays the foundation for a successful scheduling relationship. This is critical to develop a positive and growing relationship between client and caregiver and the consistency is vital to meeting the needs of both parties.

And from what I’ve seen, it’s an absolute necessity. Some weekends go by with everything going according to plan…and some are absolute chaos with a limited “bench” of caregivers (those available for work, but not actively scheduled) to fill the gaps.

Put the wrong match together and you could lose a client, a caregiver, or possibly both.  For a bigger company, this may not matter much in any case.  But, for a growing small business, losing an employee is just as devastating as the hit to its bottom line.

I enjoy what I do because when I’m successful, that means I listened to somebody’s ‘PIN’ and fulfilled it.   Along the same lines, Aware Senior Care is successful as a small business in a competitive field because they are able to successfully listen to the needs of the client as well as to those of the caregivers.

I remember Aware parting ways with a client because of their constant schedule changes.  They felt wasn’t fair to keep caregivers on permanent standby in case they decided to make a last minute request again.

Caregivers are the backbone of a care company.

It can be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally draining work.  Aware has taken measures to incentivize those who are successful: training, educational opportunities, bonuses for going the extra mile, internal promotion opportunities. We have a mentor system that rewards caregivers for consistently performing well and allows them to get management experience with new trainees.

And it’s paid off.  Aware constantly gets e-mails, phone calls, and handwritten notes from clients about how much they appreciate their caregiver.  My Dad has one such letter from a son whose father Aware cared for pinned to his door. This, more than anything else, means the most to us.

What should you take away from all this?  To listen is to value someone and their concerns. I’m glad I get to work for a company that values its clients and employees alike and am looking forward to its bright future.

Kyle is the marketing manager for Aware Senior Care.