I’ve been calling and visiting senior living communities for my mom the past three months due to a series of unfortunate health events. No matter what you think you know or how long you’ve been in the seniors housing industry, vetting out an independent and assisted living community, continuum of care, or Life Plan option for your parent is entirely different once you become an actual buyer.
The biggest surprise to me so far is the lack of viable options for baby boomers who are still young and generally healthy. If you’re a developer, I see big opportunity here because a 74-year-old does not and should not need to move in with people who are on average 88 years old and frail. I found continuum of care options to be best suited to this age group, yet non-refundable (or just 50%) entry fees are a lot to process.
There is a gaping hole once filled by true independent living communities that needs filled. The reality is that independent living became the assisted living of yesterday and assisted living the skilled nursing of the past. So where do healthy yet isolated boomers go today? That’s a tough one to answer and a real area of opportunity!
With that in mind, I would like to share insight into Chapter Five of this month’s book club selection, Zero Lost Revenue Days and how to create a visit experience that results in a personalized tour that creates a raving fan, offers clearly defined next steps, and ultimately an expedited move in.
Just yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a community and was blown away by my experience. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see my name, “Welcome Traci Bild,” on a parking spot and upon entering the foyer was immediately greeted by the receptionist who upon hearing my name said, “Traci, we’ve been expecting you and are so glad you’re here. Can I offer you a cold soda or sparkling water?” I’m going to be honest; I was in complete shock because never have I experienced service like this in seniors housing, yet our team coaches to these best practices every day.
Just as I was settling into my chair and sipping on my coca-cola over ice, Michele came out to greet me. We immediately went into a model apartment which was decorated beautifully and filled with a delicious smell; what I soon learned were oozing warm chocolate chip cookies! Yes, I gave in and ate one when offered, wouldn’t you?
As we sat in the model, I was trying to envision my mom living there, “would she like it, was it big enough, could we decorate it with new paint and flooring, would we bring her furniture or buy new stuff to make it exciting for her?” As I was thinking, Michele began to recap what we had discussed on the telephone prior to meeting in person. She politely said, “Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions about your mom as I want to better understand her lifestyle and preferences, so I make the right recommendations on everything from apartment size, location, and style, to determining if the community itself is even a fit for her.”
“Wow, this is a first,” I thought.
Michele went on to ask intimate details about my mom and while you might think I felt she had no right to ask such questions, it was very therapeutic. She went on to ask:
We talked and talked for what seemed like ten minutes but ultimately, I realized we had been sitting there a good 45 minutes talking about my mom!
Michele then proceeded to walk me through the model as we discussed how to place her favorite furniture pieces in a way that would best suit her needs. She shared how easy it would be to have the maintenance man put a television up on the wall so my mom could watch TV before bed as it helps her to sleep. She then discussed the floors, the materials and how they were slip resistant to limit falls as this was a big concern for me due to the recent falls my mom had. We also talked in detail about what would happen should she fall and how the community team would respond. What I really liked was the on-site physical therapy and fall prevention classes my mom would have access to.
After discussing the apartment options a bit more, size needs and of course, where her grandkids Paris and Noah would sleep when visiting, we moved into the outer community. Michele immediately took me to the beauty salon and showed me where my mom could get her Mani-Pedi each week as this is incredibly important to my mom. She took me outside for a brief walk on the trails because my mom walks her dog, Ari, twice a day and Michele expressed how important pets were to the residents and how they liked to walk together daily. I loved this because my mom has lost a lot of friends over the past few years and has become increasingly isolated.
We then went on to meet the Lifestyle Director who greeted me by saying, “Hi Traci, I’m so excited to meet your mom but in the meantime, I’ve got some ideas that will help her to quickly make friends and get involved making her move in transition easier all around. You said she is a writer, I for sure would love to see her get involved in our writing group and I’ve already talked to Mary who leads that group. In fact, she is going to stop by and meet you at lunch. I also thought getting her into water aerobics would be wonderful for her to meet people and work on muscle strengthening as you said she’s been weak due to a few falls and surgeries but also honestly, it’s fun and you mentioned she did this in the past and loved it, correct?”
“What’s going on here” I wondered? I felt like it was a dream; my mom would love this place! Then I began to panic as I wondered, “Do they have an available apartment, was it going to be in our budget, and how quickly could I get her to move?” This senior living community would change my mom’s life and it couldn’t happen fast enough.
I won’t bore you with more details, but we ended our meeting in another model, this time a one versus two bedroom and it was here we discussed my mom’s finances, timeline, and locked in next steps. We scheduled time for me to come back the next day with my mom and Michele gave me an itemized checklist of things I could begin working on that would make the move in process easier; from scheduling the assessment, to determining what items would come with mom, to how to donate those that would not fit to three different charities we could pick from and feel good about.
There was a list of vendors who could support the move from packers to moving companies that the community worked closely with and that would make the process easier for my mom (and me). Michele then shared that if I was overwhelmed, not to worry. Everything I needed to do, along with a timeline would be in my “in box” before I got home.
We ended the meeting by discussing my mom’s favorite foods so Michele could plan a beautiful lunch that would wow my mom and even discussed which resident might be best to dine with us and show my mom around. I was nervous to talk to my mom about all this, but nothing was going to stop me; I felt empowered!
Then, as I was feeling a sense of hope that I had found an ideal solution for both my mom and our family to see her well cared for and happy, I realized I was dreaming! I was not at a senior living community, I was in my own bed and well, bummed that none of this had in fact taken place at all.
I know, I know, you were probably wondering who in the world that amazing sales director Michele was and where you could find and recruit her! Sadly, I have yet to experience this type of engagement when visiting a senior living community. In fact, in all our years of doing research on the seniors housing sales and marketing process, whether on the phone or in person, we’ve yet to find this level of customer service. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible and that you as an owner, executive, or sales and marketing director can’t curate it and blow prospective residents away!
This is what Chapter five of Zero Lost Revenue Days will teach you to do and the fact is, it’s easy and incredibly fulfilling to curate this type of experience for people looking at your assisted living communities.
To accomplish the type of buyer experience created in this blog, sales and marketing directors must move from a reactive to a proactive mindset. That means operators must do the same because it all begins with a structured sales process that is taught to on-site sales teams and reinforced with consistent mystery shopping to ensure execution and offer the ability to fine tune.
When touring independent or assisted living communities what we find over and over is, “more of the same.” The prospective buyer will:
This is what you call a reactive sales process. Compare this to the very proactive and customized tour experience I shared early on in this blog. Which would you rather have? Scenario one compared with scenario two is a game changer for your organization and will immediately result in increased tour to move in conversion ratios and a shorter sales cycle. In this chapter, you will learn what it takes to create a customized visit experience that makes prospective buyers feel important and most importantly heard. Even better, it will create a raving fan customer and I promise, it’s much easier to do than you think!
Prior to the pandemic, our industry faced a surge in competition that resulted in sales and marketing directors who were eager to please. What buyers need when searching for independent or assisted living is advice and reassurance. In most cases, people have zero experience with senior living and have no idea what to ask outside of “what does it cost?” You must teach your on-site teams to redirect the conversation away from price and toward wants, needs, and concerns so that a true, meaningful conversation can take place.
Now, more than ever it is critical to train your sales and marketing staff to advise, educate, and direct next steps as it relates to a move. This will result in buyers who have increased confidence, clarity, and decisiveness; all important to a timely move resulting in an improved quality of life for their loved ones.
Take some time to mystery shop your communities and determine for yourself if your site-level teams are advising or pleasing, what you find will be surprising.
In this Chapter you will understand once and for all that people don’t buy because of rate; they buy because of fit. It is more important than ever to train sales and marketing directors to build value before they dare venturing into rates.
The only way to build value is to drill into wants, needs, and desires so a customized buyer experience can be curated, and the desire to buy is more important than what it costs. While not everyone will be able to afford your community, ideally, you just need 35%-50% to both want it and be able to afford it logistically. Starting with deals and discounts devalues your product and makes you seem desperate. Yet call after call, visit after visit, this is exactly what’s happening across our industry.
One of the greatest barriers in the sales process is sales and marketing directors failing to clarify next steps and follow up, it’s virtually non-existent. Want to increase your tour to move in conversion ratios and see move ins double? Train your team to clearly outline the next step and lock it in before leaving any conversation whether in person or over the phone. Don’t forget that people have called you, they are interested in buying what you are selling, but the process is complex and confusing.
You must be in the driver’s seat and end the conversation with a definitive next step, “The next step, Vicky, is to come in for a visit as this will allow you to see our apartments, meet our staff and residents, and get a feel for the community. What might work best, this afternoon or perhaps tomorrow?” It’s amazing that this is all it takes to schedule that next step.
Instead, sales and marketing directors wrap their conversations with something like, “Thanks so much for coming by (or calling), let me know when you are ready to come by for a visit.” And, in most cases they fail to collect valuable contact information.
Locking in next steps ensures you don’t end up playing phone tag with prospective buyers. It also eliminates the need to do follow up calls that salespeople hate to do anyway. If every lead is locked in prior to parting ways, there is a process that leads them to the next step in their journey. This is vital to building out a strong sales system that yields move ins. It’s not how many leads you have, it’s how many people that inquire ultimately move in that matters. If you tighten up your sales process you can reduce your investment in lead generation because conversion ratios will be higher and the buyer experience, thus reputation, dramatically improved.
This chapter outlines in detail how to create a buyer experience that wows prospective residents and their families. I lay out step by step what must happen to personalize each tour and wow people considering your senior living community. I can tell you without a doubt that upon execution, your visit experience will become one of your most competitive assets and will eliminate the need to offer discounts or incentives because the value will be clear.