CUSTOMER SERVICE HAS BECOME NOTHING MORE THAN LIP SERVICE AS PROSPECTIVE BUYERS TRY TO NAVIGATE ASSISTED LIVING OPTIONS
TO RECOVER ASSISTED LIVING OCCUPANCY AND REVENUE LOSSES YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT BUYER EXPERIENCE; IT’S BROKEN
I have a question, “Where have all the humans gone?”
Seriously, there is a crisis in service, where people; prospective buyers or customers- no longer matter. I simply don’t understand it. How can a business expect someone to make a purchase if there is no one available to process the sale?
When it comes to daily sales and revenue, whether a company is trending up or down; why is it that executives consistently blame poor performance on external factors (competition, the pandemic, or lack of consumer confidence) rather than first looking internally at the buyer and customer experience? I imagine it’s easier to pass the buck if it’s not your fault.
On the flipside, something as simple as prioritizing the customer experience can have an immediate impact on sales performance and transform the trajectory of an organization and its cult-like following.
Let’s look outside the assisted living industry for a moment. Like many of you, I make most of my purchases online and typically on Amazon; well, because it’s easy. Whenever possible, I try to support local retailers but honestly, that is getting harder and harder to do. Over the last week I’ve had the following buyer and customer experiences that were mind numbing:
- I headed to the mall to buy a few shirts. As I scanned Dillard’s, shirt in hand ($69); I couldn’t find a single employee to ring me up. After stopping at three different counters, I finally put the shirt down and walked out of the store.
- My mom needed a wireless keyboard, so I decided to stop at BestBuy on the way to her home. The one I found on their website was nowhere to be found; just like the help I need to locate it. I looked around, found no employees to help, and ended up standing in a long line to ask the simple question, “where is this particular keyboard?” Even worse as I went to set it up, a part was missing! All I could think was, “Do I just eat the money spent and order one from Amazon?” I for sure didn’t want to go back to the store and wait in line to return it!
- It’s decision time for my daughter Paris who is off to her first year of college. Torn between two universities, I emailed, called, and Facebook messaged UCF to speak with someone who could answer our admission questions, and nothing (for three weeks). Paris ultimately submitted her deposit to GMU, a competitor who did take the time to answer our questions and court our business.
WHEN WILL WE RETURN TO A SERVICE-BASED CULTURE WHERE CUSTOMERS MATTER?
Day after day each of us encounters companies who want our business yet fail to provide the employees to sell the product to us or to provide customer service on the products already purchased. What is going on? While online businesses driven by technology are thriving, brick and mortar businesses are dying due to the incredibly poor buyer experience.
THE MAGIC GENIE IS GETTING EVER MORE POWERFUL
It’s no wonder Amazon dwarfs all other organizations. What’s the point of taking the time to get in a car, travel to a physical store, search for an item only to stand in line to have it rung up, or not be able to ring it up at all (as was the case with my shirt)?
If I can shop online from the comfort of my couch, search for the exact item needed, read reviews, click a button, and have the product arrive on my porch 24-48 hours from the time of order, with no frustration, why wouldn’t I do that?
This is a real problem and why, despite our reservations, Amazon will only continue to grow and small businesses, as well as large companies with a local presence, will disappear. If there is no advantage to shopping in person and in fact, if it’s more of a hassle, people will always choose the easy button.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ASSISTED LIVING SALES AND MARKETING?
People are starving for customer service, to the point that when its received, they will write a raving review, tell their friends, and become incredibly loyal. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that people want to connect and that relationships matter more than anything else.
While you may be wondering what this blog has to do with assisted living, I’ll start by saying it has everything to do with assisted living. What’s happening at BestBuy, Dillard’s, and UCF is happening everywhere; and it’s absolutely happening in the seniors housing industry. The buyer and customer experience are created by people and without proper training, inspection of expectations, and retraining to stay sharp; people will continue to drop the ball.
The experience prospective customers have starts with the CEO and is facilitated by operations. If customers are important, they will feel it and if they aren’t, they won’t- it’s that simple. That’s the difference between a company like Southwest Airlines, an industry titan and its many competitors who try to emulate the airline but can’t come close to its cult like following. It took years of consistent delivery for the airline to achieve its status, but that effort has paid off ten-fold as it’s in the top most profitable airlines in aviation history!
If Southwest Airlines can deliver a personalized, one-on-one experience, so can BestBuy, Dillard’s, and UCF; and so can you!
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IT’S TIME TO OWN THE ASSISTED LIVING BUYER EXPERIENCE AND REAP THE RESULTS IT CREATES
I’m a firm believer that the difference between you earning a customer, or specifically a new resident, and you losing that person to a competitor is in the buyer experience. It has been proven time and time again that emotion is what drives the sale, particularly in assisted living. People want to know they matter and that they’ve been heard. While communities have employees from front desk concierge to sales and marketing directors available and physically on site; many are mentally checked out, going through the motions, and in order-taking mode.
When an adult daughter like myself calls, in crisis and weighing future options for her loved one, the last thing she wants is to deal with a “salesperson.” She wants to talk to someone who is empathetic, understanding, caring, and interested in helping her find a solution to her very complicated problem.
Assisted living sales is one of the most difficult and complex purchases one can make. This decision involves:
- Guilt for adult children
- Lots of family dynamics
- Multiple decision makers
- A difficult and timely packing process
- An overwhelming physical move
- The selling of a home
- Spending $5,000 or more per month
- Incredible emotion for all involved
Yet the people we hire to serve these families who inquire, are rarely trained in the process, underpaid, taken for granted, and completely misunderstood. The assisted living industry has never fully understood the value of a strong salesperson and those that do are the few who consistently experience 95%+ occupancy and zero lost revenue days.
DON’T THINK WHAT’S HAPPENING AT RETAILERS IS HAPPENING IN YOUR ASSISTED LIVING? THINK AGAIN. IT’S TIME TO OPEN YOUR EYES AND FACE REALITY.
Each day here at Bild & Co we conduct dozens of mystery shops posing as prospective buyers at assisted living communities nationally. While it used to take a week to turn shops around to clients, today it can take upwards of two weeks. Why? Because our shoppers can’t reach anyone who can help them at the site level, it becomes a game of phone tag, and honestly if they were real buyers; each would have long moved on. Executives simply don’t believe this is happening in their own portfolio until they hear it for themselves and then they are so upset it moves them to immediate action. Sometimes you must face the hard truth and that creates room for growth.
How am I as an adult daughter supposed to move my mom into your assisted living community if I can’t reach a person who can help me when I call? When the front desk tells me to call back later because the marketing director is in stand up, I don’t know what that means! All I know is that you are not available, and it leaves a poor impression. No, I’m not going to call back, I’m going to call your competitor.
Ultimately, when buyers like myself are persistent, someone will answer our call and if our timing is right for your staff, we’ll finally get some help. Yet upon reaching the sales and marketing director at the site level, buyers will be spoken to, sold to, and provided so much information; to include rates, discounts, fees, and more that we’ll leave our discussion so confused and overwhelmed that we won’t think there is any hope for getting our loved one the care they need.
PERHAPS THIS IS WHY JUST 9% OF ALL ASSISTED LIVING INQUIRIES ACTUALLY MOVE IN.
What people really want is to be:
- Empathized with
- Provided a solution to their problem.
We are not even close to giving prospective buyers what they want, but that can change and fast! If you have 20 vacant apartments and are looking for a fast occupancy rebound, giving people what they want is a game changer. We make the buying process so complex in seniors housing and then are frustrated when people fail to buy.
IT’S REALLY QUITE SIMPLE BUT IT’S NOT INTUITIVE TO SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTORS TO DO
To hear what prospective buyers have to say, your sales and marketing directors must be trained to listen, ask a series of open-ended questions to draw out what it is people want and need so that a solution can be tailored, and their wants and needs met.
When people share their truth, about what’s happening with their loved ones, they desire someone who can emphasize and understand. In 20 years of consulting with senior living communities, when a sales and marketing director is properly trained and takes the time to dig in and understand what’s happening before daring to selling anything, they are incredibly empathetic. Most got into the assisted living business because they love to help people. Yet it’s hard to be empathetic when you don’t have a clue as to what’s happening because you’re too busy talking and selling to listen.
While it seems easy to do these simple things in an assisted living sales environment, it’s not. We are in a fast-paced, do it yourself world. The natural tendency is to provide the facts, deals, and wait to take an order. And that is why occupancy fails to thrive. As an industry we will slowly rebound because there’s pent up demand. But the truth is, you should be able to fill your communities to capacity by year’s end and continue to develop and grow to meet the surge ahead.
WHETHER YOU SIT AT 80% OCCUPANCY AND PAY THE BILLS OR 98% OCCUPANCY AND PAY INVESTOR RETURNS IS UP TO YOUYou have a choice. Whether you are an operator, owner, investor , or developer, it’s up to you to determine the type of experience prospective buyers will have upon reaching out to your organization. In life and in business we get what we focus on. Start by curating a raving fan buyer and resident experience and that is what you will get. While that is the harder road, it’s ten times more satisfying to transform lives, and success begets success. A community that is fully occupied with raving fan customers rarely has high turnover because employees are happy and when employees are happy residents are happy. When residents are happy, they tend to tell their friends and family, ultimately generating more referrals, keeping the community full. When people are told there is a wait list, they want it even more because, well we always want what we can’t have and there is a cult like following of those locations where “you’re lucky to get in (as my best friend found out when calling to get her dad into a York, PA assisted that had a wait list and made her want in even more).”
So, it’s up to you- while we think it’s impossible for someone like Amazon to come in and take our customers, think again. Did Blockbuster ever think the VHS would become extinct along with their company? What about pay phones? In 1999 there were over 2M in the United States, today, just 5% are left. Companies like Sprint and AT&T once the largest phone booth providers have all left what was once an incredibly profitable endeavor. Today finding a pay phone is like seeing a dinosaur in person, our kids don’t even know what they are!
Times have changed and it’s showing in our financial statements. It’s time to move those old mission and vision statements from your websites and training manuals into living, breathing, actionable experiences that transform lives and bring the rebrand that senior living so desperately needs.
If you could like to discuss your portfolio’s strategy, click here to schedule a call with myself and Jennifer Saxman. We look forward to talking with you!