A little program to gauge resident interest in learning new technologies has blossomed into a technology concierge program that one senior living provider sees as potentially transformative for the industry.
Four years ago, Watermark Retirement Communities’ IT director was working with the company’s Fountains at La Cholla, a Tucson, AZ, independent living, assisted living and memory care community, on introducing residents to Chromebooks through the Engage! Powered by Google program. Each resident received a Google Chromebook for the eight-week program, which included workshops and individual coaching sessions.
When the workshop ended, residents were clamoring for more. So Watermark Director of Strategic Innovation Tammy Farris asked if the community would pilot a technology support position.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Farris told McKnight’s Senior Living that Watermark initially had Best Buy’s Geek Squad in mind when they came up with the concept of a technology concierge, someone who would provide individual services and help residents fix their technology.
“What surprised me as it developed is how it’s grown into more of an education and support role for the residents,” she said. “It’s not just about fixing their technology so they can connect in the moment. It’s about building their confidence, building trust, teaching them about new technology, helping them consider things that might help them — especially with hearing- and seeing-impaired folks.
“This turned into a much greater resource than I ever imagined.”
Today, 10 Watermark communities have a full-time technology concierge on staff providing on-call tech support and offering classes through Watermark University, with topics including iPhone 101 and how to spot scammers online.
“I think they are probably the MVP in each one of their communities,” Farris said, adding that she initially was concerned that residents would have a difficult time grasping the technology. “We learned quite the opposite. They embrace it, they enjoy it, they want to learn.”
Although the program launched before the pandemic, Farris said, community lockdowns and visitation restrictions created an even greater need for the technology concierge role.
Farris said she has been asked to speak on panels about the position, along with Ricky Garrett, Watermark’s first technology concierge, who remains in the role today. Farris said she anticipates seeing the concept spread to more communities in the future.
“As our industry becomes more tech-enabled and we start to see the boomers coming and the different generations coming into senior living, it’s going to be more important than ever to have tech support and education,” she said. “But it’s also important to have them feel comfortable with it so they can be leveraging all the different tools and resources being brought to bear in this industry. It’s transforming all the time.”