The Santa Claus model
The Christmas holiday season is less than a month removed, so Santa Claus is still fresh in our memories – possibly even catch a glimpse of him on a still-running TV commercial or holiday film. There are a couple of big takeaways from what he represents that we can use in building our aging in place services businesses.
We can learn some great lessons from Santa on how to relate to our clients and discover what they need. If we approach our discovery process like Santa, we will find that people are willing to share their needs with us.
Those of us who are parents, office Santas, or just enjoy shopping for friends and business acquaintances know how rewarding it is to select a gift that is meaningful to the person who gets it as well as how challenging it can be to find that right or appropriate gift. How does Santa do this so well?
Looking at Santa’s role
As children, we look forward to going to the mall and meeting Santa. Of course, very young children often are frightened by this larger-than-life character who is dressed in a manner they don’t normally see. Their parents and others around them seem to think Santa is OK so eventually they warm up to the idea of talking with this stranger and sharing some of their secrets with him – maybe they have shared these with siblings or parents previously and perhaps not.
Santa serves as a counselor. We (collectively) come to him to reveal what we would like to have to make us happier or have our lives be a little more comfortable. This is the parallel with being an aging in place services provider. In a similar role, we are learning from our clients what they need, want, or both, to make their lives simpler, safer, or better in their homes.
Our initial goal is to figure out what people want or need, and what they would appreciate having if they didn’t know ahead of time that they were going to be getting it. There is a close parallel here with being a good salesperson also. We listen, ask questions, listen some more, clarify as necessary, and confirm. We determine what people want and lead them to a decision. Of course, it’s always nice when we can toss in something special or unexpected.
Santa needs help
While we often attribute to Santa the ability to know what we want and to get it for us, he needs help. Just as we when shopping for our children, siblings, parents, friends, or colleagues need some hints as to what would please them, Santa can’t know everything. He asks questions and he listens.
Thinking of the department store or mall Santa, children meet with him and tell them what they want. He asks them questions. When he hears a request that he thinks might not be a good choice for them or the parents, he asks for clarification and for them to provide some rationale for that choice. He wants to understand why the request is being made and how that is a wise choice.
Notice that he is asking questions, reflecting, listening, and reflexively posing additional questions for clarification. He doesn’t presume to fully understand why a request is being made, and he wants to know why that is important to the person asking for it.
In short, Santa needs our help, and we as aging in place service providers do as well.
Being Santa-like in our role
Just as a child writing a letter to Santa or meeting with Santa in public expects that Santa will concur with their desires and that their wishes will be granted, our clients may think that we can perceive what they need before we ask them. They might also think that we have Santa-like powers to make things materialize without any consideration of paying for them.
So, to be a good Santa to our clients, we need to be approachable as a helpful ally in creating solutions for them, receptive to listening to their needs, able to interpret them and make suggestions for addressing them, and work within their budget – possibly even suggesting alternative or creative ways of achieving a similar outcome for less money.
We want to create effective solutions for people so we have to understand what they need and how to achieve them. It starts with effective communication.