By: Rick Westermann
A recent visit with the APFM partner community that had the highest 2017 referred move-in volume provided a refreshing realization that our industry is quickly progressing in our approach to sales and consumer behavior. Brookdale’s Willowbrook Park had an unbelievable 74 referred move-ins in 2017, and I was able to spend an hour and half with them as they shared many best practices. I learned this community has implemented multiple methods of reaching and communicating with their target audience, including a centralized sales approach and a flexible communication strategy.
As we discussed their sales and communication strategy and how they reached the 74 move-in milestone, it occurred to me that they did not rely solely on a phone call for their initial touch point. Cindy Best, Market Sales Manager at Brookdale, said, “We try to determine the prospect’s preferred method of communication. If a family wants to text, we text. If they want to email, we email. If they want to speak on the phone, we call them.”
This basic tenant of customer interaction – communicating with a potential resident in the style and timing of their choice – is exactly what we are researching and exploring at APFM. Every day, families inquire on our website and while we aim to reach as many families by phone as we can, we are seeing an increase in those who only provide their email address and would prefer to communicate by email. In speaking with industry leadership across the country, they are seeing a similar trend on their websites. A Place for Mom has over one million consumers land on our site a month on their mobile phone.
Our industry is trained to work with families over the phone, but with consumer trends changing, are we overlooking the most powerful principle of our consumer preferences? Consider, if an interested family indicates that they want to communicate via email, why are we reluctant to respond in kind? Why do we often consider them unqualified because of their preference for email? The senior living industry should be prepared to modify the way they interact with families to keep up with this emerging trend. We all share a common mission to help families find a great place for themselves or a loved one. While nurturing a family’s interest in today’s world, the conversion from inquiry to a tour does not need to be, and should not be, restricted to phone conversation.
My visit with Willowbrook Park confirmed that adapting our sales methods to fit consumers preferences, and not our own, will be paramount to success in the coming years. It sounds like a basic approach because it is what other industries are already doing and have been for a long time. To book a hotel reservation, we use apps. To rent a house for a family on vacation, we email owners on VRBO or text with a homeowner through Airbnb. To book a restaurant reservation, we go online. Surely, we will not be closing sales via email and text, but as Willowbrook Park explained, using a family’s preferred method of communication to schedule a visit by starting the discovery process and building a trusted connection with the family can be a powerful sales tool. We’ve also found opening up other methods of communication for the initial contact has been successful in qualifying more families and eventually getting them on the phone for that one-on-one conversation.
The senior living industry’s world is changing quickly and I’m hopeful that adopting new methods of communication based on a family’s preferred method will open new opportunities for us all and expand the number of families to whom we can successfully communicate our message. There are more move-ins out there, but they will require us to build trusted relationships while utilizing email and text rather than dialing for dollars.
As Rachel Ramsey, Brookdale’s Market Sales Director in North Houston, put it:
“It’s all about reading the client’s personality type and adapting to that. If someone is amiable, we know we need to empathize and give extreme detail. If someone is a realist and analytical, we know exactly how to respond to them by using clear, concise, bullet-pointed facts. Lastly, if they specifically tell us they don’t like phone calls, we know to email or text. This is all about them; not us. If we aren’t communicating with them within minutes of receiving the new referral, I guarantee someone else is, so we want to be the first ones on their mind!”
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below on adapting your contact methods to suit our customer’s preferences. Stay tuned for best practices and ideas for new communication styles to connect with families who may prefer not to talk on the phone.