Americans often turn to online consumer reviews to inform their purchasing decisions for a variety of products, including senior living options, and some providers are taking a proactive approach by using interactive customer feedback for marketing purposes.
Websites such as start-up Silver Living and fellow consumer resource Caring.com bill themselves as third-party information sources that not only provide information about various communities and levels of care, but also offer reviews that can supply a more reliable and accurate account compared to what senior living providers choose to reveal about themselves on their individual sites.
Both Silver Living and Caring.com utilize consumer reviews and star rating systems in their listings of senior living communities in an effort to aid the consumer shopping process. Caring.com has about 35,000 reviews of senior living communities operated by providers who list with the site and attracts about 2 million visitors a month, according to CEO Andy Cohen, who says the site is “by far the largest” of its kind in terms of visitor traffic.
The bulk of reviews on Caring.com’s website are coming from people with parents or loved ones in a senior living community, although some are also from social workers who have dealings with a particular community, and providers’ attitudes toward these reviews are changing—even when it comes to negative feedback, says Cohen.
“Five years ago, [providers] where terrified about these reviews and would tell us, ‘If you put this review up, take our listing [with your site] down.’ But if [the negative review] is true, they can address the issue,” he says. “Now they understand, it’s part of the marketing process. People are going to post reviews, and they realize that the best way to fight negative reviews is to respond to it and to get happy customers post a review.”
Caring.com allows providers to respond to negative reviews in certain situations, and there was a 400% increase in the number of provider response comments between 2011 and 2012 posted in the site’s assisted living directory, says Denise Graab, the website’s director of social community.
“If you go to a website and see a negative review under a community, but see an immediate response from the executive director trying to resolve it, that’s positive,” she says. “It’s comforting to know, ‘Wow, someone had an issue and I can see right here, in black and white, how they resolved it.’ It’s a great tool to let people know who we are.”
Being able to see those reviews, both positive and negative, helps American House know what they’re doing right, and what they need to improve on, she says, adding that checking reviews is on the sales and marketing staff’s daily to-do list.
“We value them greatly, as word of mouth and for the content as well, because sometimes it can bring to our attention certain things that are or aren’t working,” Cantin says. It’s a good tool for people, too, she says: “People appreciate being able to have a voice, and to have the company respond to them so they feel heard.”
Some providers in particular, such as Elmcroft Senior Living, are taking a proactive approach at generating reviews from satisfied customers.
“We’re still trying to harness the power of consumer reviews, because they can be much more powerful than the testimonials we post on our website,” says Melissa Owens, director of sales and marketing at Elmcroft. “Rather than sitting back and letting reviews happen, we’re asking our customers to consider making a review online. If they come to us saying they had a positive experience, we ask if they’d be willing to share that with others online.”
Looking at ways to generate more reviews will be a big part of the company’s marketing strategy in 2013, she says, and the largest portion of Elmcroft’s 2013 marketing budget is going toward investing in partnerships such as the one it has with Caring.com, along with its own search engine optimization strategy.
“If we’re going to purchase a new car, we’re going to do a lot of research online before showing up on the lot,” Owens says. “It’s a faster-paced society that we live in today; we want more information as quickly as we can receive it. That’s why people are turning online for that information.”
Like American House, Elmcroft is concerned with responding to consumer reviews when necessary.
“We want to provide appropriate responses to the reviews that we see,” she says. “We look internally at how to respond, not necessarily to defend ourselves or get ‘our side’ out, but because it’s important for customers looking at those reviews to see that we take people’s comments and reviews very seriously.”
As online marketing of the senior living product increases in prevalence, provider are realizing and appreciating the role of the consumer.
“Word of mouth is important—that’s our number one lead/advertising source when it comes to senior living,” says Cantin. “People come from word of mouth, whether it’s residents or employees talking, and online reviews are just an extension of that.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace
Ed. note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said Caring.com had 45,000 consumer reviews on its site, rather than 35,000.