Leadership Series: Getting Excited About Clear Communication

SeniorVu’s Valissa Smith may seem like an unlikely candidate for a technology company focused on senior living until you learn more about her.  After a 24- year career in broadcast journalism, Valissa chose to leave the grind of television news to spend more time with her daughters (then 14 and 10) and husband.  After more than a decade as the owner of a small video, event production and communications company, a weekly television movie critic and a short stint producer for a pay-to-play television lifestyle show, Valissa joined SeniorVu. 

Valissa’s unique contribution to SeniorVu has allowed us to offer some unique services to our client communities – professional video production and virtual events are two among others. However, what perhaps makes Valissa a great fit for SeniorVu is her personal life experience.  Within a 3- year span, she and her husband Rick lost all four of their parents.  Their various health issues exposed her to everything from memory care, to skilled nursing to independent living. That sparked her passion to be part of a company whose mission is to improve the experience for families seeking senior living answers.

We asked Valissa some questions regarding her career (including how to beat that pesky writer’s block!):

  • Communication is so incredibly important in senior living. How can senior living communities do it better?

I think many of them are doing it very well!  Those caregivers in communities across the country already understand how vital communication is when caring for their residents.  They know that communication isn’t about our mouths.  It’s about our ears, our hearts and our actions.  That’s the sentiment of most people who choose to work in senior living and care for some of the most vulnerable in our society.  I think where communication often breaks down is from the inside out. From the corporate office out to the communities, and often from the communities out to the families.

Senior living is one of the most personal industries out there. Think about it. When a family member reaches out to senior living communities, they’re probably in the midst of a serious issue – maybe even a crisis. Because someone they truly love is at the center of it, emotions are real.  If they’ve never navigated this industry, they don’t know where to start so they jump into Google. That’s when the communication can become confusing. They just need a genuine guide, not a company trying to stuff their pockets on the backs of the industry, but a trusted guide to work with them through this rough stage with a person they love. They need a listening, knowledgeable ear with resources to point them in the right direction.  That’s what we do for our client communities every day and NIGHT.  And it’s why our founders started this company.

  • You mentioned a “trusted guide.” How do communities build trust with their customers?

It starts at the very beginning and that’s NOT when someone moves into their community.  We’re talking WAY before that.  We’ve done studies that prove that the majority of families stay connected with the very first community they feel a genuine connection with.  When a community is so busy doing the important work of caring for residents (which is where they should be spending their valuable time,) then often calls of help from the outside are missed or significantly delayed.  That’s a bad experience for families and for the community too. It sends the wrong message to the consumer who doesn’t know why the community is unresponsive. “Will they be unresponsive to mom if I move her in there? No thank you!” But when families extend a cry for help and they receive the communication they need in a timely, knowledgeable, problem-solving and compassionate way, then a genuine connection can be made. That’s where trust begins. We all know that it’s a lot harder to build trust if your first communication with someone or some brand seems disingenuous.  Do it right the first time and build more trust from there by doing what you say you’re going to do.  

  • How do you stay creative in your communication role and manage writer’s block when it hits?

It can be difficult to “stay” creative in communications and yes, there can be writer’s block. When I’m wearing my writer hat or producer hat, it’s all about storytelling.  I always put myself in the shoes of the person who will be watching the video or reading the blog or listening to the podcast.  For me, the story is all about the receiver. It’s the old “why should they care about this story?”  “What do they want to hear or need to hear right now?” “What are they experiencing around this topic that is important to them”.  If I don’t already know that answer, then I research the topic further. Once I can answer that question then the vision and words begin to flow faster. My story is only effective, though if the person receiving it is moved in some way. Maybe it’s an Aha moment or motivates them to take action or simply helps them to better understand a situation.  If they don’t receive the message I’m intending for them to hear, then the communication is meaningless.

Writer’s block can be difficult but for me the best remedy is a vacation or a few days off to regenerate those creative cells.  When I don’t have that luxury of time, it can be as simple as a walk around the block or a shower, believe it or not. The act of doing something brainless seems to free up the space in my mind to make room for creativity. I also find inspiration by indulging in someone else’s story.  I purchased a membership to MasterClass last year which is a series of short videos that provide a great escape into some of the most creative and brilliant people in the world.  I click on one of those over lunch and it will often do the trick. 

  • What is an Emmy award winning broadcast journalist doing in the senior living tech world?

This broadcast journalist is feeling really blessed to be in the senior living tech world with SeniorVu.  When I started talking with Co-founder and CEO Tim Donnelly five years ago about his passion and vision to improve the experience for families searching for answers in senior living, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I’m grateful he wanted me to join the team and that the team consists of people who are tech engineers, analysts, digital marketing gurus and all of those other important roles necessary to solve an industry wide problem together. And we’re doing it!  I’m excited for what is ahead for SeniorVu but even more excited for what’s ahead for families who find themselves in the midst of a crisis with a loved one. By the time SeniorVu matures to its fullest potential, those families will receive the care and support they need exactly when they need it, and client communities will too. I can’t wait to get there! 

Happy Holidays

Answering inquiries for your community is what our Family Advocate Managers (FAM team) love doing, even on most holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the only two days we close up shop. We believe all of our team members deserve time with their families. By the next morning, FAM is right back at it to follow up on any inquiries that may have come in the day before.

What about all those other holidays? Rest assured SeniorVu has your time zone covered from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on each of the following holidays:

Black Friday
Christmas Eve
New Year’s Eve & Day
Martin Luther King Day
President’s Day

Memorial Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Veteran’s Day

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