By Diane Franklin
Businesses have multiple ways to communicate with the general public these days. In the senior living industry, where phone calls have long been a favored form of communication, the rising use of mobile devices has put some newer options on the table. What appears to have the most potential is the use of email and text messages. These two fastest-growing forms of business-to-consumer communication are becoming more popular with families in their senior living search.
As we discovered in the white paper, “The Senior Living Search: Connecting with Families in the Digital Age,” the target audience for senior living (ages 55 to 75) is increasingly using mobile devices. People in this age group have discovered smartphones are not only a great way to keep in touch with family and friends but also an efficient tool for researching and connecting with businesses. For the senior living space specifically, people are researching their options with smartphone in hand.
In today’s mobile-oriented environment, more families are wanting to start the senior living conversation by text or email, before transitioning to a phone call and tour. Indeed, the popularity of smartphones fits in with the desire of families to receive incoming communications on their terms. They may not have the time or inclination to take a phone call right away, but they will use their phones to read a text or email. Our Senior living Advisors say families appreciate the ability to text throughout the day when they may not be able to engage in a phone call. If the message is of interest, the smartphone makes it convenient for them to send a quick reply.
Since email and text usage have risen exponentially, let’s take a look at best practices for these two highly preferred forms of communication.
Best Practices with Email Communication: Short and Sweet
When sending an email, consider creating a dialogue with your email. Keep your message short and direct. People want to read short blocks of copy, and if they see an imposing wall of text, they may hit the delete button before getting past the first sentence.
Here are other best practices for using emails:
- Get the family to open the email. Use a compelling subject line that will encourage the recipient to read it. If you’ve had previous communication, put a reference to that in the subject line—i.e., “A Follow-Up to Our Phone Conversation” or “As You Requested.” This will help your email stand out in his or her crowded inbox.
- Create a dialogue. Think about your emails as a way to cultivate reciprocal conversation. Resist the temptation to answer every possible question. Offer enticing brief messages to keep the conversation growing.
- Make a connection. Sign off in a friendly and personable manner. It could be something as simple as wishing your recipient a nice weekend or using information you learned from previous communications—i.e., “Congratulations on your granddaughter’s graduation!” or “Good luck with your open house this Sunday!”
- Go back to the basics. Proofread carefully before hitting the “send” button. Chances are you’ll find a typo, misspelling, or grammatical error that needs fixing.
- Appearances are everything. Make sure the email is formatted correctly, with a uniform font and size throughout. A professional-looking email will provide a good impression of your organization.
Best Practices with Text: Brief But Professional
More and more of our Senior Living Advisors have shared that when it comes to response rates, text messaging is emerging as the clear front-runner. “Families we may not be able to get on the phone initially are willing to text at first.” Our Advisors find they can engage with families sooner via text then previous contact methods.
Before you text someone, make sure you ask permission. The response to such requests is usually positive: “I often ask if the phone number is a cell, and if so, do they like to text. Ninety percent of the time the response is YES!”
Consider these guidelines when sending a text:
- Be brief. No one wants to read a text that takes up an entire smartphone screen. If your message gets longer than 300 characters, send an email instead.
- Don’t get too chummy. Save the emojis, abbreviations, or inappropriate punctuation/capitalization for your friends, not potential residents and their families.
- Edit like a pro. Just as you did with emails, proofread texts before sending, and be wary of auto-correct inadvertently changing your message into something incomprehensible or inappropriate.
- Check the time. Don’t send texts too early in the morning or too late at night, and be mindful of time zone differences.
Paving the Way for a One-on-One Conversation
At A Place for Mom, the goal is to use text and email communication as a precursor to a phone conversation between the family and a local Senior Living Advisor, and we are sure to qualify a family before emailing or texting. We recently launched two pilot programs to gauge the effectiveness of this approach. The results reveal that texts and emails produce a higher level of engagement for those families who are hard to get on the phone. And a higher percentage of those contacts opt to speak with an advisor as well. Our advisors qualify families before referring them to our senior living provider partners.
Going forward, A Place for Mom plans to refine and scale each pilot to reach more qualified families for referral to its partners while also maintaining their high qualification standards.
Embrace What’s Emerging
Making the transition from phone calls to text and email communication is a shift for senior living providers. But the prevalence of smartphones among elders and their families has made the switch necessary and inevitable.
It can be daunting to determine the best technology for a digital first approach, but there are options out there. A Place for Mom uses a chat-to-text technology to facilitate communication with families. Our Senior Living Advisors see chat messages on their computer screens, while families see text messages on their smartphones. These messages are then recorded and saved within the platform. Companies may wish to purchase cell phones that their staff can use for text communications. Or determine a process for their staff members who use a personal phone for business-related texting purposes.
By implementing a text and email communication program, you can increase your ability to reach families that otherwise might be hard to contact. The result is more convenience, improved customer service, and better outcomes for those exploring senior living options.
We would love to hear your thoughts on ways you plan to expand your digital communication outreach in the comments below. And as always, the Partner Service Team at A Place for Mom is standing by to assist in your endeavors. Keep us posted!