EMPATHY AND COMPASSION DRIVE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE BUT BOTH ARE IN VERY SHORT SUPPLY IN ASSISTED LIVING SALES
ASSISTED LIVING OPERATORS ASSUME THAT EMPATHY AND COMPASSION ARE NATURAL SOFT SKILLS THEIR EMPLOYEES POSSESS; THINK AGAIN
Miss chapters 1 through 3? You can catch up here!
One of my biggest pet peeves when talking with someone, whether personally or professionally, is if they continuously look at their watch. It immediately sends the message, “I have someplace I would rather be” and makes me feel incredibly unimportant.
My hunch is that when people do this, it’s unintentional and in no way do they mean to make me or anyone else feel bad. The simple fact is they are distracted; and odds are, their mind is racing:
- Did I email my financials this morning?
- What am I going to have for lunch?
- Wonder if they hit their May goals on the Denver lease up?
Bits and pieces fall through the cracks from the conversation in front of them, enough to know how to respond and appear engaged, but not enough to truly connect. Each day we interact with people who look at their watch, interrupt us, finish our sentences, look away distracted, or who are simply uninterested in what we have to say.
THE EVASIVE HUMAN CONNECTION: WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE?
The average person has about 50,000 thoughts a day and research demonstrates that professionals in particular repeatedly interrupt their customers after just 18 seconds. Scientists have studied the human brain and found it takes a minimum of 0.6 seconds to formulate a response to something said. Then they researched hundreds of conversations and found the average gap between people talking was 0.2 seconds. Meaning that people are attempting to respond in 1/3 the time the human brain allows, thus the rude interruption 18 seconds in. What does this mean you ask? That people listen only long enough to formulate their own response, long before the other person has stopped talking. A sure way to make that individual feel unimportant.
To build a connection with another person, our focus must be on them solely, particularly on making that person feel better for having interacted with us. That means listening to what they have to say, asking more questions about what they have shared to glean details and demonstrate empathy. In today’s world, as we learn in chapters four and five of The Relationship Economy, it’s more important than ever to be empathic and have an insatiable curiosity about people; particularly when it relates to assisted living because of the sensitivity of such a sale and move.
Jerome Groopman, a physician and Harvard medical school professor, wrote How Doctors Think (and get ready, it could be called, How Assisted Living Employees Think). He asserts that the key to collecting useful information and solving the patient’s health puzzle is to let the patient say his or her piece. Groopman cites research that demonstrates doctors repeatedly interrupt the patient presenting their symptoms after just 18 seconds! Why? Because the average doctor (consultant, lawyer, accountant, or assisted living salesperson) feels he or she knows what the patient or customer is going to say and is ready to give a professional recommendation before allowing the patient to finish explaining their problem.
Doing so sends a clear message that a conversation is more about us than the person we are speaking with. I’m sure you’ve experienced when talking with a professional and they complete your thoughts for you! While some people may feel doing so demonstrates they are paying attention, it’s flat out rude and doesn’t allow the other person to feel heard. To demonstrate respect, we must listen and genuinely give our undivided attention. When we are able to do this, as we’ve seen here at Bild & Co in researching assisted living sales and marketing for two decades, new ideas arise, and solutions are realized.
HOW TO MERGE HIGH TECH AND HIGH TOUCH
The more we embrace technology in business, the more we let go of the customer connection. The dilemma is how to merge the two together in a way that enhances the buyer experience. As we learn in chapter four of The Relationship Economy, we are officially in the Touch Screen Age; and not just our kids, every generation- to include those seniors residing in your assisted living communities.
While devices are necessary and make our lives simpler, as we learn in these two chapters, they are also impacting our emotional state as well as impeding our ability to connect with other people. What’s more is the vast reach of customers who take their feedback, good or bad, to the masses via online reviews. Prospective customers then use this information to make buying decisions. I personally don’t buy anything without reading reviews first, what about you?
Businesses that want to be successful must address the relationship-building deficit in their employee training; they must find ways to train staff who have missed honing social skills and building rapport with others; particularly younger staff who have grown up in the Touch Screen Age.
FORD: ENSURE YOU NEVER MISS WHAT MAKES YOUR CUSTOMER LIGHT UP AGAIN
In chapter five, the author presents an easy way to evaluate your ability to gauge if a connection has been made after a customer walks away. This is important; in coaching sales and marketing directors for two decades, we have found that most of the leads that don’t close are the result of no connection being made with the buyer. It’s easy to ascertain because when asked, the sales and marketing director knows little, if anything, personal about their buyers outside of their immediate care needs.
Going forward, challenge yourself to use the FORD concept and really challenge yourself as to whether a true, emotional connection was indeed made. This can also be used in weekly lead review calls when discussing assisted living traffic, tours, lead status, resident complaints, and more.
To prove you (or your sales and marketing director) made a connection with someone, confirm it by being able to articulate two or more facts about their FORD:
- Family: Are they married and if so, how long, where did they meet, how many kids do they have?
- Occupation: What is or was their career, where did they go to university or which branch of the military were they in, when did they retire?
- Recreation: What are their hobbies, what do, or did they do for fun, where would they spend a free day if there were no limitations on what they could do?
- Dreams: What is on the bucket list that they still hope to do, what was their best experience in life so far, what is something they’ve been wanting to do in the last year but haven’t due to the pandemic?
FORD represents people’s hot buttons, what each person you’re speaking with values most. FORD is what people are passionate about and what makes them light up! Consistently keeping the focus on FORD ensures the focus of the conversation is on the other person which ultimately means you own that relationship.
When consulting with sales teams nationally in the assisted living space, this is one of the greatest barriers to growing move ins, occupancy, and revenue that we encounter. Prospective buyers disengage and fail to respond to the next step in the sales process. In most cases, buyers won’t answer the phone or respond to emails due to the lack of connection; they owe you nothing.
Want to flip this customer response entirely? Use the FORD process and watch what happens! As learned in two decades of training assisted living sales teams, it’s best to ask a series of open-ended questions via our popular Community Connection Sheets; emotional connection drives trust and trust keeps the sales process moving forward until a move in occurs. When a trained sales and marketing director calls prospective buyers, they answer, when they write an email or text, they respond. That individual is no longer a salesperson but a trusted confidant, friend, and advisor during what for most is a very difficult and vulnerable time.
DOCUMENTATION OF DETAILS IS CRITICAL TO SALES SUCCESS
It’s vital that your sales teams document everything learned about their prospective buyers or customers whether on notecards, Community Connection Sheets, and ideally in their CRM. Make it a point on lead review to reference those details and incorporate them into follow up as it will make the customer feel heard and important. For example, rather than following up with a prospective buyer and saying, “I was just calling to see if you were still interested in assisted living here at Willow Oaks,” say, “So glad to talk with you today but I first must ask, how did your granddaughter do on her ACT?”
The fact that you asked won’t blow the customer away but that you remembered or even know that individual’s granddaughter took the ACT at all will earn you a raving fan! Listening is such a huge competitive advantage because, so few people do it. People need to know they matter, that it’s not just about the next sale or getting a great customer review but that you really care and want to connect with them in a way that’s meaningful and lasting.
AND? DON’T BE AFRAID TO DRILL DOWN AND DIG IN!
When learning about your customers or prospective buyers, be sure to follow up the answers to your questions with more questions. This is so important whether selling an apartment, recruiting a new employee, or courting valuable referral sources.
The more you learn, the stronger the connection, and as Oprah Winfrey says, “love is in the details.” Here is an example:
“I would love to come tour your community, but I have two teenagers and a full-time job, if you can just send me a brochure, I’ll review it with my family.”
Respond with, “That’s a lot on your plate, I understand. How old are your kids by the way?”
When she responds with something like, “15 and 17.”
Say something like, “Does that mean you have a graduating senior or what grades are they in?”
These follow up questions will facilitate a fruitful conversation that will help you better understand your customers’ lives, who they are as people, not just buyers or the adult children of current residents; it will humanize them.
The more you take the time to learn, the greater the emotional connection, trust, and loyalty. Ask for a tour and you’ll schedule it. Ask for a five-star review and they will give it to you. That is the power of training your employees to build relationships, be empathic, and engaged when customer facing.
OUR SUPERPOWERS FOR UNDERSTANDING OTHERS
We spend so much time trying to understand what our customers, employees, significant others, and children really mean by what they say or don’t say. Too often we try to decode, analyze, or judge without ever knowing what’s going on.
“Empathy is a real-life human superpower,” says Dr. Ali Hill, sociologist, and emotional intelligence evangelist. “When we truly empathize with others, we come as close to reading minds as we can get. When we turn off our analysis mechanisms and instead just listen and attempt to think from the other person’s point of view, the message becomes much clearer. When we empathize, we can feel what the other person is feeling. And when we can feel what someone else feels, then we inherently understand what they’re trying to communicate. Pretty powerful stuff, empathy.”
Compassion, when paired with empathy, are the two most powerful soft skills employees can have. The challenge for most companies is how to teach these skills. The answer is to consistently ask your employees to put themselves in the shoes of the customer: what are they currently going through, how long it’s been happening, if it’s been progressively getting worse, and how that situation is impacting their quality of life? Doing so is the key to making a connection and what ultimately leads to customers trusting you and in the case of assisted living, the ability to care for them or their loved ones at the most vulnerable time in life, old age.
HELPING MY OWN MOM THROUGH COMPASSION
As I read this chapter I can’t help thinking of my own mom, who moved into Regency Oaks, a life plan community just a month ago. When I took her to tour the community, I kept trying to put myself in her shoes because I was so worried about how she would feel.
- What would it be like to open the door each morning to walk her dog, Airy, to go down a long hallway to an elevator rather than walking out her front door to the sidewalk?
- Who would she eat lunch and dinner with, or would she end up sitting alone?
- Would people welcome my mom and make her feel welcome as if she fit in?
Ultimately there is no way I could really understand what it was like for my mom to not only contemplate these things but to move in and make them her reality. Yet I did my best to step into her shoes, to be empathic and compassionate because I knew this was a major life change and one that didn’t come easy. I believe that’s what helped her ultimately make the move and change her life in ways I can’t believe! She is so happy, has made many friends, and has a full and rich life and it’s just been thirty days! The possibilities are endless and if we wish to make an impact on the lives of seniors, ultimately filling every single apartment in your portfolio, invest in your people, teach them what they don’t know, and watch as they transform.