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How to build rapport with seniors over the phone

We sat down with Christine Edwards, a Kindness Warrior Volunteer at the Tweed Heads South office, to talk about how to build rapport with senior clients over the phone.

How long have you been a kindness warrior? 

17 months as I started on 23rd July 2020. 

What does your job entail? 

Making telephone calls to Feros Care clients for their birthdays, wellness check-ins or milestone events. I also send handmade cards to senior clients made by one of our other Kindness Warrior volunteers, Gail McTavish

When phoning for their birthday, I wish them a happy birthday, stating how old they have turned and ask how or what they have done to celebrate their birthday. 

When phoning to make wellness calls, I ask how they are going and see if they would like to have a chat about anything and everything. Due to COVID, isolation or loneliness, most clients love to have a chat. 

What do you think about just before you contact a lonely senior? Do you prepare yourself mentally or just dive in? 

I make sure that I am ready to make a call, set the right intention and check that I am in the right head space. I also check to see if there is any relevant information which may make the call difficult, for example, if they are on hospital leave or just been discharged. I also check their history of previous wellness calls and any other incident notes raised to see what we could chat about. 

What are some tips you could advise volunteers to use when contacting a lonely senior for the first time? 

Familiarise yourself with their status and history information, which includes whether they have an upcoming birthday. Their history can supply you with ideas of what topics to chat about or to check on. For example, if they have recently had any medical operations or tests done, you could inquire how they went with their results. They may require extra help at home depending on their Home Care Package level. 

I have listened to you and your conversation seems to flow really well no matter who you are talking with. I have also noticed you remember many topics of your previous conversations. Do you have these noted to remind you each time you speak to the client, or do you just have a fantastic memory? 

There are clients that I remember previous conversations with, but not always. I often check their history of previous wellness calls which we update after each call. We document any helpful information to know what to chat about without putting them offside. Taking down notes of anything important might give you something to talk about in a future phone conversation.  

Is there any advice you can offer on keeping a conversation going over the phone if the client isn’t much of a talker? 

Conversations can last from 1 minute to over 2 hours depending on the client. Sometimes they are not very talkative due to how they are feeling, or they just don’t want to chat that day. Sometimes they don’t have time to chat as they have visitors, or they are out shopping or at the doctor’s, in which case I let them know that I will phone again on another day. They like to chat or vent, so they like to have a lovely listening ear on the other end of the phone. The conversations can be about their interests, hobbies, their pets, health or even places they have been in the past or recently. We are all from different walks of life and most clients love to chat about their life. Some of the clients have things in common with me too, which always makes the conversation flow well. 

I can hear the sincerity in your voice when talking to clients and they must love the warmth you give in your conversations. Is this something you have actively improved over time, or does it come naturally? 

I speak in the manner that I would like to be spoken to myself. Most of the clients are alone or isolated, especially with everything due to COVID. By showing compassion, they know you care and are very happy to chat with them which places them at ease. I find that my life experiences help me to relate to my clients and I try my best to find ways to help if they ask for anything or pass their request onto the relevant person.  

Lastly is there anything else you would like to add for our volunteers that can help them give the best company over the phone without physically being there? 

Most clients just want someone to chat to or vent which means they mainly want someone to listen to what they have to say. There are times when they will ask for your opinion or help, where you need to tread carefully in how you answer. If they require extra help, it is just a matter of sending an email to the In Great Company Volunteer Team to inquire, and they pass on the request to the relevant department. 

If you'd like to become a volunteer with In Great Company and make a senior's life less lonely, whether on the phone or in person, you can do so here.

Young man and senior man fishing

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