95% of what individual senior living communities offer is the same.
Most provide healthcare services, meals, transportation, activities, and so on. To the consumer, selecting a community can be daunting — which is why so many are turning to referral services. Yet do they — the referral agencies, prospective residents or family members — understand what makes you unique? I’m talking about that 5% difference that sets you apart from your competitors.
With the increase of new development and what’s quickly becoming a saturated market, it’s more important than ever to know what it is that’s unique and different about each of your communities. Even more important is how you communicate it to each of your stakeholders: Prospective residents and their families, current residents, referral sources, and employees.
I’ll use my own company as an example. Bild & Company… hmm… what is unique and different about us? For one, we serve small to mid-size operators — that’s our sweet spot and where we do our best work. For prospective clients, this is important because it means we understand their unique business challenges. Another differentiating factor, as it relates to our training, is that we implement proven sales systems… not ideas or concepts, but systems that are easily implemented throughout an organization to ensure there is a standardized sales process company-wide. For small and mid-sized operators, this is critical as many have moved from the “mom and pop” phase and are looking to position themselves for future growth. What differentiates us is that we provide the infrastructure needed to grow — something that’s on the mind of many mid-sized operators.
So what about you? If I’m a prospective resident or referral source looking for an assisted living community, what can you say about your company or particular community that none of your competitors can claim? Perhaps you’re thinking, “We have an incredibly caring staff, our food is by far the best in our market, and we accept residents with high acuity levels.” Nice, but most of your competitors can say the same thing. So, again, what is it about you that makes you truly different?
When answering this question, it’s critical that you drill down and ask, “Is this something our competitors can also claim?” If so, it’s not unique enough and you will continue to blend in. This is an excellent exercise to do at a morning standup meeting and even to create a little competition among staff — who can come up with the most unique differentiating factors for their department or the community as a whole?
Here are a few examples to get you thinking — based on the ideas I’ve already presented:
- Rather than saying, “We have an incredibly caring staff,” your differentiating factor might be that “Our average care staff has worked at the community for eight years and were raised locally with strong roots in the area.” What this says to prospective residents or family members is that they are not going to have inconsistent care staff and that the people taking care of them are “one of their own” from their local community. While you may not think you can come up with something like this for your own community — trust me — you can come up with something even better if you put your focus on it and really spend time drilling down into what makes you different.
- Rather than saying, “Our food is by far the best in the area,” your differentiating factor might be that “90% of our meats, fruits and vegetables are sourced from local farmers or by residents themselves in our community garden. Our chef works in conjunction with our residents to create menus that suit the palate of those we serve. Many of our resident favorites, such as our Chicken Pot Pie, are recipes shared by our own residents.”
- Rather than saying, “We accept residents with high acuity levels,” focus on what you do really well and go deep with your referral sources, to be known as their solution for that particular type of care. For example, you might say, “We specialize in Cancer recovery. Whether preparing for treatment options or recovering from surgery, our caregivers work tirelessly to ensure your loved one is as comfortable as possible and that recovery is top of mind so they can return to you as quickly as possible.”
What do you do once you discover your differentiating factor? Thread it through everything you do!
- Tour Story: Create a tour story and tie it into the conversation as you talk with family members, prospective residents or referral sources on community visits. If it’s cancer recovery, how exactly do you improve their recovery via food, activities or care? Rather than listing features, think of a powerful story of recovery that you witnessed. Use this to create emotion and build value as to why a referral source should send their patients to you — or why a family member should consider you as a future living option for their loved one dealing with cancer. People forget facts, but they will never forget a story.
- Service Excellence: If what makes your food great is how it’s sourced and prepared, then create experiences, where people actually get to see how it feels to live and partake of this great food! Invite prospective residents to take a few things from your edible garden at the end of their tour, deliver a fresh basket of vegetables to your referral sources, or surprise them with a strawberry pie made from the fresh strawberries in your community garden. When someone personally experiences your food and what you say makes you different, they will never forget it — you will stand out and be memorable.
- Departmental Delivery: Once you come up with two to three differentiating factors, ask each department to come up with one to two ways they can deliver on what you claim makes you different. For example, if you are using the first example I wrote about staff with longevity and roots in the community, how might housekeeping build this into the resident experience? An idea might be to have each housekeeper create a bookmark with their picture and “story” and give it to the residents they serve. The story might outline how long they have lived in the local community, where they went to high school, their first job, favorite food or quote, etc. What this does is humanize their housekeeper and create a point of conversation that builds a deeper relationship. Rather than being “the housekeeper,” she becomes Mabel, who grew up on Hickory Grover Road and went to Urbana High School. She is not a staff member, but a person that grew up in the community too, just like them.
These are just a few ideas and what I hope you take away from this memo is that people desire to have wonderful experiences. When someone is looking for a community, they will visit as many as needed until they find what they feel is “a perfect fit.” So take some time this month to work ON your business versus IN it — and figure out what it is that’s unique and different about you and scream it from the rooftops so you no longer blend in, but stand out!
Not sure where to start, or perhaps you’re too close to your own community or company to figure this out? Reach out and let us help you get the conversation started.