My mom lives in a beautiful life plan community here in Clearwater, Florida. As I read this chapter, I couldn’t help but think of my own experience, both in making the decision to buy and in my continued customer experience journey. In looking back on the move and contemplating this chapter, what intrigues me is the effort I put into simplifying the selection process. I wanted to hit the easy button.
I had contemplated moving my mom several times before doing it. The first time I thought about it but chickened out, I could tell that the idea wasn’t going to be well received. The second time I called three senior living communities in hopes of finding the right fit, something that would excite her and make her want to move.
The third time, it was all business, my sole intention was to find a community that could improve her quality of life. What’s interesting about chapter nine in The Relationship Economy is that it forces us to confront just how much society, and particularly buying behaviors, have changed. While we used to have an alarm clock to wake us, a calendar to plan our day, and a watch to tell time, today all of that and more has been consolidated into a handheld mobile device.
We use that same device to pay people, get directions, and order groceries- all with the click of a button. Easy Street has become real! If a purchase takes effort, say putting a credit card or an address in, we will most likely abandon ship and switch to a platform that has that information saved. Approximately 55% of people walk away from a purchase because they have to re-enter information. More precisely, 30% of shoppers will drop the purchase if they must fill out their credit card information again, while 25% will do so on having to re-enter shipping info. Cart abandonment stats further show that 46% give up if a discount code doesn’t work.
I can’t imagine how differently the buyer experience would have been for me had this been an option- to do my initial research and appointment setting from my phone. I would have saved time, explored more options, and probably found the process incredibly convenient. Instead, it was laborious and frustrating. Here’s why:
The first thing I did was a google search: luxury independent living Clearwater, Florida. Surprisingly the list was short! I went to each community website in search of apartments that might entice my mom to at least visit.
FAILURE #1: Not a single site had actual photos of their apartment options. I wanted to see apartments so I could ascertain size and feel before wasting my time going on-site. The only thing I could access were architectural floor plans which left me frustrated.
I called the three communities to schedule a visit ideally that day because my mom was still in the hospital. No one was available outside of reception to speak with me and it was days before my calls were returned.
FAILURE #2: Allowing my call to be transferred to voice mail rather than locating someone who could speak with me right then and there, when I was ready to buy.
Next, I abandoned my search altogether. My mom was discharged and seemed to be turning a corner.
FAILURE #3: Following up, not one person from any of the communities I called bothered to check in with me.
Had I been able to conduct this search on my phone to include locating communities in my neighborhood, reviewing apartment options, pricing, care fees, activities, dining options, and scheduling an appointment I would have without a doubt moved my mom three to four months sooner. Yet the inconvenience of the entire buyer experience caused me to walk away; like most prospective buyers, I would wait it out.
Three months later, like clockwork, my mom was back in the hospital for over a week. This time I was determined. I didn’t have time to waste so I picked up the phone and called A Place for Mom. I needed immediate help, not in a few days, or a week and I knew I would get it because I had referred multiple friends who like me, were frustrated with the lack of response from independent and assisted living communities that were incapable of returning their messages.
Within two minutes of my inquiry where I spoke with an initial screener, I had a returned call and that individual took the time to understand what was important to me, it was refreshing. Within hours I was on-site visiting independent living communities. It was without a doubt, hitting the easy button and I was incredibly grateful for their help.
FAILURE #4: Allowing a third-party referral agency to do your job. While operators are averse to training salespeople because they might turnover and their investment wasted, they pay far more when residents move in and those invoices arrive for payment.
I could continue, but you get the idea. The senior living industry must adapt and make the buyer experience seamless. Those who do so will tip the scale in their favor and move in more residents faster and at a higher rental rate than their competitors. What we learn in chapter nine is that “people are using their disposable income to buy back valuable time.”
Having just experienced this myself, this message is spot on. While I initially set out to move my mom to an independent living community, I ultimately moved her to a much more costly life plan community. In fact, Judy took over for me and courted my mom, bringing her lunch, inviting her to visit the community multiple times to attend events, meet residents, and see their apartments; she was a life saver, and this was all in the first five days of touring. Within a week I signed a contract and within a month my mom was moved in. The ease of buying was the difference.
Whether your differentiation is through customer service as was my case with Judy, technology, or both; it’s time to simplify the buyer experience. Historically assisted and independent living communities have been slow to adapt to change. Fear of implementation, compliance, and cost are all factors that impact decision making but as we learn in The Relationship Economy, failing to change is no longer an option.
Consumer buying behavior has been irrevocably changed by companies like Amazon, Apple, and Uber, who have made buying and service a breeze. It’s time that you as an owner, operator, or developer transform the buyer experience and differentiate from antiquated competitors. Doing so will allow you to shorten the sales cycle, collect market rate rent, and end your dependency on costly third-party paid referral sources.
You spend thousands each month to drive leads to your assisted living communities yet pay little attention to how complex it has become for consumers to buy. The average cost for a senior living lead is $431. This dwarfs the CPLs of most major industries, including business services ($229), software ($106), manufacturing ($235), and home improvement ($85). Despite your discomfort it’s time to simplify every aspect of the buyer journey.
1. Website: The following information should be on your website immediately
a. High-quality photos of apartment offerings, set up as enticing models.
b. Price ranges – we are seeing a shift in the importance of price transparency.
c. Budgeting tools and financial resources buyers may be unaware of.
d. Chat feature for people that have questions while on your website.
e. Appointment scheduling feature to book a visit or phone call.
Compare the floor plan image previously posted of an assisted living community to actual photos of apartment options that one of our U.K. clients has on their website. It’s night and day.
2. Add call tracking lines to all advertising campaigns, including your website and direct those calls to a cell phone, not the front desk. More than 60% of tours at senior living communities are the result of an inbound call. Phone calls convert to 10-15x more revenue than web leads. Calls are the most valuable conversions senior living and care marketers can drive so make sure your system is seamless, so those valuable leads are not lost.
a. Ensure calls not answered within three rings roll over to a backup telephone.
b. Make it a standard that all calls are returned within 2 hours, max and mystery shop to ensure execution.
3. Online Tours: Invest in high quality virtual tours people can take online, prior to visiting. Look to the apartment/multi-family industry for ideas and see what’s possible. Often, both video and virtual tours are offered and then compare that to your own web offerings and how each impacts the buyer experience. Odds are innovating on this front would drastically differentiate you from competitors in your market service area.
4. Schedule the Next Step, Always: Train your salespeople to lock in the next step 100% of the time making it easy for buyers to progress through the sales cycle and ultimately move in.
a. All salespeople in your organization should have a company cellphone. 90% of my communication with Judy when moving my mom was over text which honestly sped up the sales process.
b. Implement a Resident Ambassador Program and train those residents to help nurture relationships with prospective buyers. Not only does it impact the decision, but it gives residents purpose.
Most people have no idea how to navigate such a complex and emotional decision. These four simple steps are a no brainer and should be the beginning of your effort to improve the buyer experience. Walk through every aspect of the sales cycle and ask yourself, “how can we simplify this process?”
We live in a world where people value time over money and most people will happily spend more money if it saves them time. While operators fight over rate, discounting and ultimately shaving more off the bottom line, it’s those operators that shift their focus to convenience that will win at the end of the day. They will collect more in monthly rent and community fees than the operator who offers a deal but makes the buyer experience such a pain that people end up walking away or negotiating to the point they move in at a loss.
We’ve moved on from a DIY economy to a DIFM (do it for me) economy where consumers are more than willing to spend money to save time. In the next five years, your phone will be the remote control of your life, with products and services available to you at your whim in a completely transparent and digital way. You must begin to find ways today, not tomorrow to get on board.
The spending power of baby boomers is expected to be $15 trillion worldwide annually. The seniors housing and care industry is finally at its peak and the hard work paved by owners, operators, and developers is about to pay off.
It’s more important than ever to have a growth mindset and to tweak what you do every day. In this book club study, we’ve learned how important the relationship economy is and as we begin to conclude these final chapters, our focus has moved to making it easy to buy. Such a simple, yet transformative concept. All you must do is take the first step. Do something, anything but not acting isn’t an option.