A city for all ages
With a new training programme by Centre for Seniors and NTUC LearningHub, businesses can become more understanding towards seniors and those with dementia.
BY: Eleanor Yap
One hundred retail assistants from NTUC FairPrice have been trained in the first in-market programme called Serving Senior Customers so they can provide better service to its senior customers, especially those with dementia. The stores serve over 170,000 seniors weekly during FairPrice’s Senior’s Tuesday and Monday Pioneer discount days.
The programme jointly developed by NTUC LearningHub, Centre for Seniors (CFS) and Dr Oon Chiew Seng Trust, is targetted at businesses, particularly retailers and consumer services, where participants can understand and anticipate the needs of senior customers. They also learn to recognise the signs of dementia and other difficulties the customer may encounter so they can communicate and respond better to his or her needs.
Tan Kian Chew, chairman of CFS and group CEO of NTUC FairPrice, said that with a greying Singapore, we need “to rethink the way all of us interact with each other in our community” and “continuously strive to do more for the seniors among us”.
Added Kwek Kok Kwong, CEO of NTUC LearningHub, “We must build a city that is for all ages. Our physical spaces must be age-friendly, and our senior customers must be treated with a little bit more support, patience, understanding and kindness when they visit us.”
He added that the programme will empower staff to identify customers’ needs and take action, and will also help them deal with similar challenges at home with their extended families and with their neighbours. “As our society ages, our lives and that of our staff will face eldercare challenges in our families and surroundings, and such a step would only make us more prepared to deal with these challenges,” said Kwek.
Survey highlights a gap
Tan shared that earlier this year, CFS conducted a survey with NTUC FairPrice’s frontline cashiers and staff, and focused on their level of confidence in serving seniors. The findings found that while they generally had no issues interacting with older persons, they did notice that a fair number of them were frail, or seemed to be exhibiting signs of dementia. These customers are sometimes wheelchair-bound, or required special attention from the staff in moving around the stores.
As such, CFS decided to work with NTUC LearningHub and collaborated with medical pioneer in dementia, Dr Oon Chiew Seng. Dr Oon, who recently turned 99, is the founder of Apex Harmony Lodge, the first nursing home for dementia patients. Through her trust, she invested S$55,000 in the training programme.
One of the first staff trained, Sree Devi, retail assistant at NTUC FairPrice Bukit Merah outlet, said, “This course helped us to understand how to help and communicate with seniors by role-playing various scenarios. Although I have assisted senior shoppers in the past, now I feel more adequately prepared to help them according to their particular needs.”
Added another staff at the Bukit Merah outlet, Yolly Macapagal, team leader at the Frozen Chilled Department, “The course was very helpful. [At the beginning] I had no idea how the seniors feel and their situations. During the course, we had scenarios that involved dealing with customers who have blurry eyes and cannot see the prices well, and customers who complain. I now understand their situations and have a better idea on how to handle them.”
She added that she would someday get older and be like the seniors she deals with. “I am also getting my kids to understand seniors too.” The trained staff will sport a Serving Seniors badge.
NTUC FairPrice hopes to have over 500 of its staff trained under the new programme in the next two years. The one-day programme is also open to other service professionals from service industries.
Said Dr Oon, “Ageing including dementia is a normal part of our everyday life, and it will be a big part of our society. We cannot just keep these things to the clinic or the old folks’ home. We cannot expect only medical personnel to be able to handle this. All of us need to know about dementia, recognise it, and help someone with dementia when we meet them … we need to grow this awareness in our whole community.”
Besides putting its staff through the new programme, FairPrice has started a pilot project at two of its stores in Bukit Merah Central and Lengkok Bahru which have a higher frequency of senior customers to incorporate senior-friendly features within its stores such as call buttons to alert staff for assistance, magnifying glasses to help seniors read product labels, double bay trolleys which are lighter and easier to manoeuver, and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the unlikely event of a cardiac arrest. FairPrice is currently monitoring its customers’ feedback on these new features and will look to expand them to additional outlets where possible.
NTUC FairPrice’s Tan encouraged others to follow suit as a result of an ageing population – “Every organisation and institution in Singapore must take active measures to address this issue so as to create an inclusive society for all ages.”
** To find out more about the programme, contact 6266 5482 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The one-day programme costs about S$3,000 for a class of 25 people.