Between the COVID transition and the usual late-summer boom, retirement homes are having a tough time getting back to touring and interacting with clients.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, retirement homes experienced a lower-than-average conversion rate, as families had concerns about COVID and chose to delay their move. Many caregiving families are now finding themselves burnt out or in crisis. This means that there is now a huge influx of individuals requiring care - and high care, at that.
However, retirement homes are unable to meet the demand. All too often, email messages to homes are going unanswered, phone calls are not returned, and families are left frustrated.
Why? The three main issues, as I see them, are these:
- In-house marketers are not receiving added help from retirement home operators.
- Many marketers have left the industry, leaving the door open to green, under-trained, and super-busy marketers with no background in the “before times.”
- Retirement home operators are stuck in the “before times” and are not taking steps to innovate and separate themselves.
Let’s examine each
1.In-house marketers are not receiving the added help from retirement home operators
In my last 20 years working in the retirement home industry, not a lot has changed in the marketing roles - that is, except for job titles. It’s not unusual for a marketer to feel undervalued, overworked, and pressured to meet numbers.
This bunch of guys and gals truly love what they do, and most really want to help families. However, without head office helping and supporting the needs of the new boom of seniors, marketers constantly fall short. This presents as:
- Fewer seniors converted to permanent residents, which equals lower occupancy rates.
- Marketers feeling overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. Remember, these folks have too, been working through and throughout COVID, many without a break.
If your conversion rate is low, look to the marketer and ask for their opinion, listen to their answers, and then take action. The experienced marketers have the pulse on the families walking through the doors and can see what families are looking for. And what families want now is not what they were looking for pre-COVID.
2. Many marketers have left the industry, leaving the door open to green, under-trained, and super busy marketers with no background in the “before times.”
This is something we are seeing more and more. With such a decline in the availability of experienced marketing professionals, homes are forced to hire outside of the retirement industry. Additionally, many activity directors are rising through the ranks to become marketers, which is actually a great thing and not unusual in the industry.
However, both these scenarios require an investment. I fear many people are being thrown into the role with not enough training. And for clients touring a home for the first time, encountering a poorly-trained marketer does not exactly create the best first impression.
It’s important to nurture and train these individuals properly on client-centered selling. If they have little to no experience in the industry, it's going to take even more time and support.
What's also interesting is that retirement home operators are all experiencing the same industry-specific issues at the same time. Usually, you can chalk it up to a bump in the road for a particular brand. Not at this time, however. The most common issues currently in the retirement industry are:
- Marketers and executive directors being unavailable - requiring multiple communication attempts by families and professionals
- Having an under-trained novice marketer as the first/only point of contact
- Over-promising and under-delivering
- Having no availability on assisted living and memory care floors
- Making true respite (1 to 2 weeks) out of reach for burned-out caregivers (instead, asking them to commit to staying 1 month +)
- The market demanding a higher-than-average need for 1-week memory care respite, which is not available
All of these issues, while understandable from your perspective, can create a negative impression on clients and their families.
3. Retirement home operators are too stuck in the “before times” and need to innovate to separate themselves.
- Can we please agree that the need for retirement homes is on an upswing?
- That there are more and more families engaged in the search process these days?
- That most families have two working parents, with no time to add additional tasks?
If you said YES:
Then why are we not making this high-stress, emotionally draining, sometimes painful experience as easy as possible on families? Instead, many homes are choosing to save money or earn more money, needing to catch up from the “before-time” and not paying attention to the simple, important details.
In another article, I wrote about how retirement home customers are not brand savvy. I wrote: 0 experience + stress + emotions = a halted search = crisis. We currently have a whole population of caregivers ready to snap. They don’t know the lay of the retirement home land and have no time to figure it out. Emotions are high and they are spinning their wheels.
In addition to not knowing the differences between providers, there are a lot more questions coming up around care and system navigation - hospital, long-term care, social support agencies, and others. Because of a lack of training and experience, the marketers in the homes often don’t have answers for these families, nor do they know where to direct them. Again, this lack of client-centered focus doesn’t always result in a stellar first impression.
Clients’ confusion and information overload is directly linked to the pandemic and media surrounding long-term care. Remember, most retirement home customers don’t know the difference between brands, and most don’t even know the difference between retirement residences and long-term care homes.
All is not lost
On the brighter side, this situation has spurred an entire ecosystem designed to help families in their eldercare journey, while also supporting retirement homes.
Here’s the thing: many retirement home operators are leaning into this new ecosystem, choosing to work alongside other professionals to help families on their journey. But others are not. They are choosing instead to focus on past business models that failed them instead of embracing the rapidly growing network of professionals growing around them.
The senior living industry is archaic. Seniors have literally existed for all of humankind, but only now are we looking at better ways to provide for them. COVID, although horrible for so many reasons, did do one thing right: it forced people to get out of their own way, advance their skills in technologies, and keep their world moving.
My company, Tea & Toast, was the first in the ecosystem to start providing video touring with retirement homes. I sent out how-to videos and how-to diagrams to retirement homes, and my team provided constant support to marketers. Clients appreciated that we were making efforts to keep them and their loved ones safe, while also meeting their needs and moving ahead with their eldercare journey.
At first, many of the retirement homes said, “Oh well we don’t need to do that, the pandemic won’t be that long” - until a few weeks in, when multiple retirement home operators called me to help their teams learn how to do “that video touring thing.”
The entire retirement industry is generally stuck in the “the only way we can sell is in person” mentality, but we finally got them to change their mind… well, us and a global pandemic. My team and I moved 70 people into retirement homes in the Ottawa area during the first six months of the pandemic - solely by using video tours! We then proceeded to grow the company by 25% in that fiscal year alone.
There are other ways to do things. There are powerhouses in the ecosystem ready to work with you. Now is the time to take chances, do things you have never done before, improve families' experiences, and be successful. If retirement home operators don’t make room for the ecosystem to grow, they will become extinct.
First impressions happen only once. So instead of creating barriers, why not be open to innovating? You’ll soon see that your buildings will not only be full, but full of happy clients.