There is a trend right now in the retirement living industry of low surplus and high demand in assisted living. Unfortunately, this trend has begun to tax the system, leaving clients with a bad taste in their mouths.
The “fall rush” of 2021 has seen some of the highest numbers of move-ins on record. What’s the cause? Well, we can likely attribute it to a lack of movement during the COVID pandemic and a changing demographic, combined with the regular spike in move-in numbers that happens every fall, right before the snow flies.
As retirement living professionals, a low number of move-ins is what we stress about, so high move-ins should be welcomed with open arms, right? After all, this is what we hope for, wait for, and train for. But, sadly, we’re not responding well these days.
We are missing the mark as senior living professionals. How and why are we dropping the ball so often? Not only dropping the ball but dropping it, stepping on it, and kicking it under the couch!
I believe we need to start by acknowledging reality. The industry is shifting. I don’t think our move-in numbers are ever going to go back to what they used to be.
An entire calendar year of movement was paused during the COVID pandemic. Many of the people who would have moved in last year didn’t, and this year we are seeing the first of the residual increase in move-ins. Effectively, this means that every year the number of move-ins has been “x” but this year it’s “x + Covid pause.”
For comparison, we can look back to the ’90s to when the government of Ontario discontinued Grade 13 (OAC). That initiative resulted in a huge increase in post-secondary admissions, and the cohort bulge continued on through that cohort’s entire post-secondary years.
However, unlike the Grade 13 example where the numbers settled out the next year except for that specific cohort, retirement living has another variable in play: the Baby Boom Bubble. We are already seeing some of the effects of this and we know they will only increase for at least the next 20 years. It’s like our industry has its very own cohort bulge.
With this all in mind, there are some very specific and simple things retirement marketing professionals can do to capture their share of this market.
Here are five tips for marketers, along with some suggestions for a few things the “higher-ups” can help with.
1. Customer Service 101
Do you know and appreciate how much effort it takes for someone to pick up the phone to call your retirement home or send you an email?
Your clients are under tremendous stress and often in crisis or right on the brink when they reach out to you for help. If it is the adult child calling - which it most often is - they have to fit their parents’ retirement living search into an already overloaded schedule. Between managing a career, home life, and their parents, making that phone call to your retirement home has probably been on their to-do list for weeks, if not months. Today is the day they make it happen, but when they call you they get an automated answering machine. So they leave a message - and never get a callback.
Many of my clients tell me this is the case when they reach out to homes. It’s unfortunate. And it’s entirely preventable.
- A good rule of thumb is to get back to that family as soon as possible, either within a few hours or at least by end of the day. If you make time in your day to get this done, you will be among the few that do and get a higher rating in your client’s mind.
- There is currently no distinction in the retirement industry. Families don’t know the difference between brands - they only know the difference between the level and quality of customer service. By returning their call promptly, you communicate to your potential clients that your retirement home values them enough to make them a priority.
I have been told by many marketers that they are too “busy” to deal with these types of basic customer relations. To be honest, I hate hearing that. I have lots on the go and I do understand “being busy.” Yes, you are busy. But so is your potential client and so is everyone else. Stop bottlenecking yourselves. Focus on your clients. You can get someone to help with intake, or you can do the intake and get someone else to do the tours or other administrative tasks.
2. Not Everything Needs to be in Person
I get it. “Get them in the door and the home will sell itself” is how we all learned to do things. However, that’s old thinking and not in line with today’s reality.
People are balancing many, many things these days. Many family members are not living close to their loved ones. Others may be restricted by illness or mobility issues. Some clients and their families are making decisions from a hospital bed. And in COVID times, there are people who simply don’t feel comfortable touring a retirement residence in person.
A virtual solution
Make it as easy as possible to see your home and get rid of the attitude of “I’m uncomfortable with video touring” or “in person is better.” I can tell you that between March 2020 and March 2021, in the height of COVID when in-person touring was rarely allowed, our company moved close to 150 people into retirement homes, based almost exclusively on virtual touring.
Virtual tours work and can save you time. They give you a competitive edge. And they also reduce the risk of COVID exposure to your current residents.
It’s not enough to just “be able to do virtual tours” - you need to include them up-front as an option along with the in-person tour. Most families don’t realize that virtual tours are even available.
Again, keep in mind there is a lot going on behind the scenes. The situation may involve people who would love to tour but can’t do it in person, for whatever reason - geographic distance, for example. Also, most people think these virtual tours are pre-recorded canned tours (which, by the way, you should also have. I’ll touch on those in a minute).
Please explain to your clients that your virtual tours are real-time walk-throughs. They provide families with an opportunity to have all their questions answered, to see the suites and the home’s amenities, and, bonus, to chat with you and build that all-important initial relationship.
Helpful tips for video tours
- Unless you have awesome wifi in the residence, turn off your wifi and do the tour on your cell signal.
- Turn your phone orientation to landscape to give a better picture.
- Use headphones. Not only will you be able to hear better, but your clients will be able to ask their questions more privately.
One more suggestion: Give yourself a helping hand by sending or linking to a virtual “canned” tour before your in-person or virtual live tour with clients. This will give them a good idea of your home before they ever set foot inside. It will also weed out the clients who are actually not interested for whatever reason and save you time. Canned tours are also a good option when you are unavailable to give a tour on nights and weekends.
While not 100% foolproof, providing a canned tour will, at the very least, hopefully, keep you in the running.
3. Suite Prep
Another outdated mentality is “renovation upon sale.” This just isn’t working anymore. Really, it isn’t.
I get that homes don’t want to invest dollars in refreshing a suite until it is sold to the next family. However, from my experience as a marketer, I can tell you that it takes a lot more effort to sell a disheveled, not-set-up suite than it does to sell a clean, staged one. The amount of energy and time it takes to explain away and skew expectations is astronomical, especially when you consider it’s not necessary.
Remember, too, that showing a disheveled suite leaves clients with the impression your home has limited availability, and that you’re charging a lot of money but can’t be bothered to fix and set up a suite for them to see.
Consider refreshing and staging more of your suites or choose not to show the disheveled ones.
Along the same lines, once a suite is prepped and set up, take the time to take good photos of it to use down the way when that particular suite isn’t available to show.
4. Meeting Families and Touring
A marketing professional can make or break a sale. Regrettably, this is something I find isn’t taken very seriously in the industry.
You are the first impression each family has when engaging with the home. Not getting back to families in a timely way or not giving them a warm impression will turn them off. Be hyper-vigilant about this and consider there are likely other comparables stacked against you. I have seen this scenario hundreds of times: the marketer who takes extra care more often than not will win over a family.
In addition, talk to your senior client, not about them, if they are on the tour with their family. I’ve seen this a lot, too - marketers and family members “talking over” someone while he or she is sitting right there. Although there may be others involved, the senior who is looking to move into your building is your ultimate client and should be treated as such.
Interests for interest’s sake
Currently, very few tours take clients’ personal interests into account. I appreciate there is a “main tour flow” used for every family. (I know, I used to do it!) However, as the song goes, the times they are a-changing. And our approach needs to change with them.
If you make the effort to meet people where they are and demonstrate how your home can meet their expectations and preferences, you will have a higher chance of successfully closing that client. Do you have a potential client who likes yoga? Schedule the tour (in-person or virtual) during the time yoga classes are offered at your home and show them as a planned part of the tour.
Start picking up on what your clients are saying and then take it one step further by asking them directly what’s important to them. They will thank you for it.
5. Give Some Space
Offer your clients room to breathe and save yourself some paperwork.
We all know choosing a retirement home is a difficult and taxing process. As in-home marketers, you know something about your clients and their families, however, you see only the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many layers hiding below that your clients won’t reveal to you because they are afraid of being taken advantage of or misled.
One major hurdle for clients is when someone finds a suite they love but wants to tour other homes for comparison. Many fear losing the suite. Truth is, with the current lack of availability, especially in assisted living, there really is a viable chance of a family “losing” a suite to another family. This worry causes people a lot of stress and makes them feel they don’t have the time to shop around.
Shopping around, after all, is perfectly understandable and something we all do during any purchasing process. We need to support our clients in that.
Families are faced with either not knowing they can leave a deposit - because many marketers don’t “close the sale” - or leaving a deposit that more often than not gets cancelled once families have done their due diligence and seen other homes.
Save your client some stress, and you some paperwork, by offering to give them a first right of refusal instead of taking a deposit. I have seen the relief in a client’s face when a marketer suggests this. It makes people feel valued and understood.
If it’s still your practice to take a deposit, can we please make the process a little easier and client-friendly? Many homes are still taking cheques, but honestly, who carries around a cheque book these days? For added value with your client, offer a credit card option - people love earning their points! - and at the very least, offer an e-transfer.
Remove this roadblock and see your deposits come in quicker and more efficiently.
These five easy-to-implement but effective steps will increase your chances of not only securing a move-in but also making your clients a raving fan of you and your home, whether or not they move in with you.
One last thing before I close out: learn how to collaborate, both within your home and with community partners and fellow retirement residences. Don’t put so much focus and energy into competing, but rather into collaborating and working together as an industry.
There are lots of families out there who desperately need a helping hand and a friendly face.