Navigating the sea of lead generation strategies is an ongoing challenge for many senior living operators, especially as the Internet produces new ways of reaching prospective residents.
Internet leads represent 50% of all new lead generation in the senior living industry, according to new data released by Senior Living SMART, a Web-based marketing resource focused on independent owners and operators. And while there are many online lead generation models to choose from, only those who are followed by a same-day response from the provider have the best chance of converting a prospect to a resident, reveals a Senior Living SMART study conducted during a six-month evaluation of two groups of communities.
“It gets very difficult to determine the return on investment and what produces the best result,” Deborah Howard, CEO of Senior Living SMART, tells SHN about the impetus for the study. Internet lead generation sources include those from a provider’s website, subscription models, pay-per-lead and pay-per-move in options.
Howard decided to put the call center model to the test. One catch: the call center used had no experience in senior living.
Two groups of communities were formed representing similar compositions of independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). One group received leads from every Internet lead model and managed the leads on its own, and one group received leads from the identical sources and its leads were managed for 30 days by a call center. Both groups’ communities also had almost identical occupancy, an average of 83.75%.
Call Center Does Best
The call center team and in-house sales team both received the same training regarding processing an interested party’s inquiry — but the call center proved to have the greatest success converting prospects to move-ins, the data show. This was even considering that the call center staff had no experience in senior living sales.
The communities with call center support grew their occupancy by 52 units on average over the course of the six-month pilot, and the communities that managed their own leads lost 28 units of average daily units. This translated into more than $3.5 million dollars in estimated revenue for the call center cohort based on an 18-month length of stay – even after paying the call center expenses, the study shows.
One reason the in-house sales teams may have not had the same success as the call center is because they were slower to respond to initial inquiries, Howard says.
Call center staff can respond immediately to every lead, whereas in-house staff may be tied up with other obligations that take priority.
“It’s compelling to see how important that initial, quick response is to engaging a lead,” she says, noting that 53% of tours scheduled occurred on the first day of a prospect’s outreach, compared to 8.6% scheduled when follow up occurred on the second day following a prospect’s initial outreach. In addition, 28% of prospects indicated they were looking for a community within 30 days — making quick response time all the more crucial.
“Salespeople in the communities may not have the availability to provide that quick response time that is so vital,” Howard says. “They may be out leading tours, in meetings, or executing other tasks.”
The call centers also provided more qualified leads than communities’ sales members — at 42% compared to 29%. Unlike some senior living sales staff, the call center staff did not have preconceived ideas about the prospects, Howard said.
“The community would tell us they couldn’t get prospect’s financial information,” she says. “But 97% of the time the call center was getting financially qualifying information. We [had to ask]: Was the prospect uncomfortable giving the information, or was the sales staff just uncomfortable asking for it?”
No Call Center? No Problem
But not every provider can afford the services of call center, notes Howard, adding that the call center in the study cost about $35 an hour — “that adds up.”
However, there are other ways for providers to achieve call center results. A growing number of senior living operators are achieving success in the form of high-quality leads and more move-ins by adding “live chat” to their websites.
“We have found live chat to be phenomenally successful,” she says. “If they are on your website, they came there for a reason. If you can’t engage them quickly they will bounce off and go to another site.”
Live chat services provide that immediate response prospects need to become engaged, and live chat technology allows for a conversation online to transfer to a call with appropriate sales staff.
“Engaging, and showing empathy — that goes a long way in increasing conversions,” she says. In addition, other providers have found success having one dedicated team member to handle 100% of the community’s online generated leads, she says.
“Internet leads are growing, and providers need to have a strategy in place for managing those,” she says. “It’s all about the quick response to that lead.”
Written by Cassandra Dowell