Why should you want to make your business senior-friendly? Well, the silver tsunami of aging Baby Boomers is just starting and is only going to get bigger as those age 85 and over are the fastest growing segment of our population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were more than 20,000 people in Chelan and Douglas counties aged 65 and over in 2017, and that number is increasing daily as more and more retirees from the “wet” side of Washington come to the Wenatchee Valley for our sunshine, recreation and outstanding medical facilities. So how can you attract and keep, these seniors as your customers? Here are ten tips for your business to start implementing today:
1. Make eye contact. Hearing loss is the No. 1 disability in this country. Many people compensate for this loss, especially before an official diagnosis, by lip reading. Did you ever notice how it’s harder to hear when you’re not wearing your glasses? Or how a TV show or a movie is easier to understand with captions? You have begun to lip read!
So, train your yourself, your cashiers and customer service agents to make eye contact when they speak to a customer. When they finish ringing up a sale, have them turn and face the customer, make eye contact and then tell the customer how much the sale totaled, instead of reading the total from the cash register while facing away from the customer. It works!
2. Speak low and go slow. Not only do we lose our hearing, but we also tend to lose hearing the higher tones, such as women’s voices, before we lose the lower tones of women’s voices. Strange, but true! So, work with your cashiers and customer service agents, who may be younger women, to consciously lower their voices and speak a little more slowly for older customers. Raising the volume of your voice, like talking more loudly, isn’t as helpful as speaking face on, lower and slower.
3. Make it black and white. Because of normal changes in vision, older customers will have an easier time reading signs and directions where there is higher contrast between the background and the lettering in a sign. Choose Georgia or another easy to read font. Make sure there is plenty of white space — not too many words taking up space!
4. Easy reading. Signs, posters and reading materials should be in a size 14 font or larger for easier reading. Size 18 is even better. My personal tip is to keep a set or two of “reader” glasses in your desk or behind the counter for those clients who forget their glasses at home. That way the customer can be successful, feel good about themselves and will appreciate your excellent customer service — and they will tell their friends!
5. Chairs and benches. Senior-friendly chairs and benches will not be too low to the ground, have sturdy arm rests and be covered in leather or other easily-cleanable fabric. Place a comfortable bench or chairs and small table with reading material, a light and maybe coffee near the door for customers who have to wait for their ride when they are done. Who knows — maybe they will think of something else to buy while they wait.
6. Let’s talk about carts! Many older people have bad knees, arthritic hips or just need a little more help with balance in the store, but don’t have the strength to push around a regular-sized shopping cart. And they won’t have the strength in their arms and shoulders to carry a basket around, especially when loaded with heavy liquid items like a gallon of milk and a quart of laundry detergent.
So, I suggest investing in some smaller sized versions of carts with two baskets, one at waist level and one underneath, so that a senior who needs only a few items can still use a cart and comfortably purchase even more items in your store.
7. What about the floor? Sure, a shiny floor looks neat and clean, but if the sun shines in on it, then the glare can be troublesome for older folks. Deep pile carpet and decorative throw rugs scattered around can cause accidents as well.
8. What about the outside? Take a walk around the outside of your establishment and see it from an older customer’s point of view. Even better, I suggest you give an older customer or two a small gift certificate for acting as your “aging experts”, and ask their opinion about accessibility, ease of finding the front door, width of the parking spaces, signage, decorations and ease in crossing the parking lot or finding parking. You may find they can be very helpful — and ask them about the inside of your business as well!
9. Doors and stairways. Are the handles easy to use? How heavy are the doors? Logan Dralle of Now Horizons in Home Care suggests levered handles for inside doors and making sure that the steps are easily distinguishable from the risers by using contrasting paint colors or markings. If there is an elevator, make sure the controls are easy to use and that the door stay open long enough for someone with limited mobility to enter or exit.
10. Meet and greet. Lastly, don’t forget that people want to be seen and heard when they enter a business. Great customer service is what will keep them coming back. It’s not just the job of a specially designated greeter to make sure everyone feels welcome in your business. Its everyone’s job! Train yourself and all your employees to notice when someone comes in and give them a simple good morning or afternoon greeting, introduce themselves and ask how they can be helpful.
So — remember that we are all aging, more and more of us each day. When you use your own customer “aging experts” to tell you what works and what doesn’t in your store, you’ll improve your relationship with that customer and many more!
Christina M. Davitt is an attorney in the Wenatchee office Ogden Murphy Wallace P.L.L.C. Her practice focuses on elder law including estate planning, guardianship and general business matters. Davitt is also a Washington State Certified Professional Guardian. She worked as a geriatric nurse practitioner for Saint Vincents Medical Center in New York and is a co-author of Case Studies in Geriatric Medicine.