Here Are 5 Ways That Senior Living Communities Can Get Back To Basics—And Back To Hospitality—To Rebuild Census In 2021

By Amy Brodie (Vice President of Client Services) & Lisa Pearre (Chief Client Services Officer)

With vaccine distribution numbers increasing each day, everyone in the senior living sector is optimistically talking about “getting back to normal.” We recognize that while we may never really get back to the pre-COVID-19 normal, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Regardless of where your Life Plan Community stands on its vaccination efforts, we advise operations and leadership teams to take proactive steps to ensure that your sales and marketing efforts get a running start this year. This was the focus of Love & Company’s webinar, “Marketing and Sales in 2021: The Path to Rebuilding and Sustaining Census” on January 28. To watch a recording of the 90-minute session, click here.

In our view, the foundation for sales and marketing success this year will come down to the new prospect experience, and remembering that we’re not just in the senior housing and care business but also the hospitality business. Much of getting back to normal will be getting back to those basics. Here are five ways that your Life Plan Community can strengthen its roots in hospitality—and generate more move-ins this year.

1. Lean into the hospitality philosophy

We’ve noticed that many Life Plan Communities market themselves as “resort-like” or use messaging that makes retiring there seem like a vacation. So, then, shouldn’t those communities totally lean into a philosophy of hospitality as well? We think so.

Taking a detail-focused approach to the on-site prospect experience can really separate your community from the competition and leave a lasting impression (more on that in a bit). Here are a few examples of what we mean by the basics of hospitality:

  • Extending friendly greetings and smiles to guests in hallways and common areas
  • Yielding the right of way to guests as they make their way on their tour
  • Introducing a signature scent or fragrance for the lobby (a la W Hotel)
  • Offering fresh-made coffee or tea for sales appointments
  • Holding doors, taking coats, pulling chairs out for prospects

2. Understand the power of perception

Every interaction that a prospect has with the community’s brand can reinforce or break down that brand. Marketing materials do one thing, but if the prospect calls and the person on the phone isn’t friendly or helpful, that will destroy his or her impression of the brand.

The same goes for prospects’ interactions with the security guard at the community gate when they arrive, and even extends to how staff members (and residents) interact with them as they tour.

“I remember hearing from a client that they had a prospect turn them down because while they toured the community, their guide never smiled,” said Jim Gentry, Love & Company’s copy director and co-panelist on the recent webinar. “It’s all about the power of perception, especially with a prospect’s interactions with your staff and sales team.

“It’s just like with banking. The bank tellers aren’t the ones creating the brand for the bank, but because they interact most with customers, their interactions determine the public perception of the bank. And in our world, one bad prospect experience can overpower 20 positive experiences, which can really hurt the brand.”

3. Don’t fall victim to the ‘normalization of deviance’

Joan Kelly-Kincade, senior sales advisor at Love & Company (and webinar co-panelist), notes that because the tour experience truly exemplifies the community’s brand, it’s worth reexamining as so much has changed over the last year. She also cautions to not let the “normalization of deviance” gradually lower the standards that your sales team has set for the on-site prospect experience:

“We’re all making excuses for each other these days and we’re doing it in our communities as well, where expectations are now lower. People want to recognize that we’re under stress and having bad days, so they let things go or slide further and further, and now we have a new normal that’s different from the standard best practices that we’ve always come to agree are needed to represent and sell our brand. This is what we talk about as the ‘normalization of deviance.’

We’ve been deviating for reasons that aren’t under our control, so sales teams must be aware of that. Teams must be intentional with getting back to normal and reestablishing best practices, approaches and company culture so that they can recognize it again and slowly go back to providing the best prospect experience.

With the normalization of deviance with all the change that has occurred, people have really gotten away from what’s in their best interest. In stages, sales teams need to get back to best practices, because for a community it could make or break them in 2021. This can be especially tough because deviating from best practices is a slow process and gradual.”

4. Tailor virtual meeting spaces for a first-class impression

As many Life Plan Communities have made virtual tours, video appointments and webinars part of their marketing and sales repertoire, hospitality even comes into play online. Essentially, your virtual spaces and experiences should reflect the look and feel that you would want a prospect to see, just as if they were taking an in-person tour.

We covered the necessary tech and web-based tools that communities can use to set up virtual spaces in a couple of previous articles (here and here). To expand on this, we now share some ideas for how you can be exceptionally hospitable—virtually—and make an excellent impression:

  • Your sales teams’ video backgrounds should be reflective of the tour experience. If possible, the space where they host video calls should be well-lit, clean and should include messaging or branding of your community.
  • Sales teams should be just as professional and courteous (and perhaps patient with tech challenges) as they would when hosting an in-person tour.
  • Webinar slide decks and virtual event digital materials should be designed with accessibility and user-friendliness in mind. Remember that prospects are using all kinds of devices to access your materials (desktops, laptops, phones, tablets).

5. Open up campus life to prospects (online)

Perhaps one of the most direct ways to be hospitable to prospects is to let them “experience” firsthand the daily life at your community. One of the easiest (and least resource-intensive) ways to do this is to allow prospects to join online activities and events happening there.

Especially while large-group marketing events and luncheons cannot occur, prospects can experience these events to see how their lives can be enriched by joining the community. That point of life enrichment is especially important right now, as our research has shown that older adults seek connection, interaction and purpose now more than ever.

So, go ahead and send a Zoom link to a few prospects and let them join that virtual group fitness class, cooking demo, guest lecture or happy hour. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to see their potential future neighbors and to connect with fellow older adults.

We hope that this has been a helpful look at how Life Plan Communities can “zoom out” and revisit the basic roots of hospitality to enhance the prospect experience this year. We covered many other ways that your organization can revamp the prospect experience and rebuild census during our recent webinar, “Marketing and Sales in 2021: The Path to Rebuilding and Sustaining Census.”

If you missed the webinar, click here to watch the recording, and always feel free to contact us for any questions about optimizing your Life Plan Community’s sales and marketing program.

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