Dear Prospective Resident, You’re Really Not That Important, Can You Call Back Later?
“Thank you for calling ABC Village Senior Living, please hold, your call is important to us,” BUT- we are too busy to take it right now. We have a staff meeting and while we want you to move in, we’ll have to talk about that later because my meeting is more important. By the way, can you just hang up and call back later or better yet leave a message and we’ll get back with you once we find the time, which will most likely be in a couple of days?
This is never anyone’s intention, to make a prospective buyer feel this way, but it’s their experience and therefore, implied whether intended or not. If you want to create a Fanocracy and maintain strong occupancy and revenue, it’s going to take hard work. If it were easy, this would not be a recurring theme within the assisted and independent living buyer experience.
As the authors David and Reiko Scott state in this chapter, the relationship between a brand and its customers is a complicated one and building trust takes time. With senior living communities already at a disadvantage due to skeptical buyers fearful of everything it represents; from COVID-19, to frailty and old age, we must do better if we wish to earn the trust and confidence of prospective buyers let alone create a Fanocracy.
While writing this blog I asked Stephanie Stampflmeier, a longtime Bild & Co Coach, to randomly pick three assisted and independent living communities in her market service area and complete a series of mystery shops. Before she even picked up the phone, I knew what the outcome would be, watch for yourself.
The Long Hold Then Nothing…
Confusions and not listening…
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DON’T TELL ME, SHOW ME
It’s not what you say that matters to consumers, but what you do. As the old adage goes, “actions speak louder than words.” While your website may say that you care, have a loving staff, and thriving residents; if you can’t answer your phone or take the time to get to know me as a prospective buyer, well- I simply won’t believe it. You’ve lost my trust on the spot and won’t hear from me again. That is the American way; there are too many alternatives and in most markets, nine to ten other options to pursue.
THE TRUTH HURTS
What I want you as a senior living executive to grasp and really take in is that occupancy, sitting at 87% industry wide, is far worse than it should be right now. Yes, COVID-19 has impacted our ability to conduct on-site tours, but the real constraint among many operators is the lack of sales and marketing infrastructure that delivers a strong buyer experience.
Most senior living operators do not make the buyer experience, and the training needed to deliver that experience, a priority. It’s time, we must grow up and professionalize the business of seniors housing. If you can’t answer my call as a prospective buyer, which is simple, how in the world are you going to take care of my loved one? Thanks, but no thanks.
Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes by looking at something you might purchase yourself. If you knew a hurricane was coming and had just moved to Florida and needed insurance STAT- yet upon calling were put on hold for an extended period of time, only then to be pushed to voicemail, would you be impressed? Would you call back a second or even third time, chasing down the company to purchase their specific insurance?
I doubt it. Most of us would move on to the next vendor on our list.
While many assisted living operators defend this failure by saying that it was the front desk staff or a backup team member that dropped the ball, there is no way that a person calling to get pricing details would know to ask for Suzi Jones, the marketing director. Would you know that Frank Hern is the insurance agent who sells this specific policy you need? No! You would just dial the number and seek a quote, or go online and request one, and that my friend is a whole different blog!
Until senior living operators understand the importance of training and investing in their salesforce, to include concierge and executive directors, just like other professional service industry operators do, we will continue to see a poor buyer experience and mediocre occupancy.
WHAT 14 COMPETITIVE MARKET SHOPS TELL US ABOUT THE BUYER EXPERIENCE IN ASSISTED LIVING
Last week our research team conducted 14 competitive mystery shops for an operator who wanted to compare the buyer experience in a couple of their markets- to better understand how to increase occupancy in their independent and assisted living. Rather than creating a new fan, this is what we found and what was implied to our shopping team as a whole:
“We want to help you, we really do but we are slammed with operations and while it’s our sales directors job to take your call, schedule a virtual or in person tour, unfortunately those individuals have lost all confidence in their ability to sell and are simply going through the motions which may or may not result in you being advised on how best to make a move to one of our communities (if you are so lucky to reach someone at all). If we do speak with you when you call, and our community is closed to outside visitors, sorry but have your pen ready I’m going to dump everything I can to you over the phone; better keep up! Sometimes we’ll do a virtual tour if you request it but for most of us, it’s outside our comfort zone to do things virtually. Lastly, whether we talk or tour, don’t take offense but I most likely won’t follow up with you but hey, let me know if you want to move in- I’ll be waiting by my phone.”
Am I too frank here? Don’t you want to know what is happening industry wide so you can better understand how to increase occupancy in your independent or assisted living communities? “Building trust is an essential ingredient in creating a Fanocracy”
Building trust with customers and creating a Fanocracy is difficult for every type of business whether a restaurant, hotel, airline, bank, stockbroker, or senior living community. The nature of what we do demands we learn the importance of building trust with those we hope to do business with- if we wish to remain viable long-term. That trust begins with the first impression made when interacting with an employee at the site level.
When we fail to do so, with easy access to the web, competitors are literally a click away. Even more challenging is the fact that the biggest competitor of all is the prospective buyers own home and the temptation to do nothing is tremendous.
DATA DOESN’T LIE: IT’S MORE COMMON THAN NOT TO HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE
As senior living experts, if you could see the amount of data here at Bild & Co with laser focus on sales and marketing spanning two decades, you would be frustrated too. It’s not that hard; it is not rocket science. It simply requires the skill set needed to help people get what they want. That means asking lots of great, open-ended questions, being curious, actively listening, advising, and clearly defining the next step in the process until prospective residents are happily moved in.
People don’t know how to do this naturally and operators are failing to teach them. The job of sales in seniors housing just keeps getting harder and harder to do and training more and more scarce. Something’s got to give.
Below I share findings from a small sample of shops done last week. This is typical of what we see in the thousands of competitive and mystery shops done each quarter by our research team. While I’ve demonstrated with Stephanie’s videos the most common scenarios when calling into an assisted or independent living community, check out what the data shows is happening during three vital steps in the sales process:
Q: How did the sales associate offer to follow up?
Q: How did the Sales Associate offer to meet your needs?
Q: Did the Sales Counselor show empathy and concern for your situation?
IMPLEMENT A SYSTEM THAT SPARKS A FANOCRACY WITH PROSPECTIVE BUYERS
Be consistent with your behavior and you can win the trust of your prospective buyers and referral sources creating a Fanocracy where people go out of the way to tell others about you!
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
When considering your own retirement community marketing, don’t underestimate the importance of these very simple steps:
- Answer your phones the first time a prospective buyer reaches out to you in their time of need and each time thereafter; show you are dependable, well-staffed and organized.
- Make it about them, not you each time you speak with prospective buyers.
- Put what’s best for them first, always- even if it means referring them to a competitor that’s a better fit.
- Clearly define the next step in the process, don’t expect them to know. You are the senior living expert, not them.
- Follow up when you say you will, do what you say you will do when you said you would do it.
Demonstrate that you can be trusted by being consistent within each interaction a prospective buyer has with you.
Want to speak directly with Traci about your 3Q20 and 4Q20 strategic sales, marketing, and operational goals? Access her calendar here.