Change in lifestyle is a crucial issue that has a huge impact on someone’s decision to enter a senior living community. As senior living communities market to new residents, there is a critical time period—it can be as short as a few minutes—during which they engage or lose the potential customer.
That engagement revolves directly around finding out what people want, said Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of market research firm ProMatura Group, speaking before attendees of ALFA’s Community 2012 event in Dallas Wednesday.
Residents Know Best
To demonstrate the importance of engaging with prospective residents and their families, the market researcher spoke directly with a panel of people who either currently live in senior living communities or have helped a loved one find a place to live.
A community must be able to offer a lifestyle that provides each resident with what they consider to be a “great day,” Wylde said.
For some, that might mean being able to cook or have access to a full kitchen. Others look for volunteer opportunities and ways to stay active, while some treasure having a wide array of activities available to them—without being forced into participation.
Having the freedom to go outside the community and being able to maintain a level of independence is also important.
“Just because you live in a senior living community does not cut you off from what goes on in the rest of the world,” said one senior panelist.
Another resident valued the suggestion box at her community, saying that residents’ suggestions are at least considered, even if they’re not implemented—and they appreciate that.
When asked what they would change about their experience, one panelist, whose mother lives in a retirement community, suggested having a “buddy system” for incoming residents, so when a new person moves in, a volunteer is assigned as his or her “buddy” who can then show them the ropes and introduce them to others.
There was consensus among residents that it’s important for those living in independent, or unassisted living, to truly be independent.
“If they need help, they shouldn’t be there,” one panelist said. Another agreed, and suggested that communities should meet prospective residents—not just their families—before allowing them to move in, to make sure it’s a good fit.
The First Impression Lasts Forever
Before living in a community comes the decision to move in, and a potential resident’s first impression is critical, according to Wylde.
“Those first few seconds on the phone, the first few minutes in a community—you lose most of your customers in that time period,” she says.
Many people considering moving into a retirement community gravitate toward their friends, and attach importance to existing residents’ recommendations. Generally, only a satisfied resident will recommend his or her community, Wylde says.
That highlights the importance of happy residents. If a prospective customer walks into a place where residents don’t appear to be happy, it’s unlikely to persuade that potential consumer to move in.
One adult child who was looking for a place for her mother spoke about an experience she had during a visit. The residents she saw didn’t look like they particularly wanted to be there, and while the staff was friendly, they were also aggressive and “pushy” regarding when her mother would want to move in, she said.
That’s something to watch out for, Wylde advises.
“The pressure we put on our sales folks can sometimes serve to drive the customers away,” she says.
A community’s staff has to be on top of their game all of the time, the researcher continued. Being “super aggressive” is not the way to present a community.
It’s also important for staff to direct attention to not just the family seeking a place for their loved one, but to the potential resident as well. Overlooking or ignoring the person who will actually be moving in to the community is very insulting, a panelist shared.
One senior living resident on the panel shared a positive experience of a visit, where the person showing him around seemed genuinely invested in the community and was excited to conduct the tour. “It’s almost like it wasn’t a business; it was like she was inviting us into her home,” he said.
And that, Wylde said, is how it should be.
Written by Alyssa Gerace
This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.