In the last 30 days, senior living referral service A Place for Mom developed and beta-tested a new virtual tour application. The app is meant to help communities address pain points that have arisen during the Covid-19 pandemic, A Place for Mom CEO Larry Kutscher told Senior Housing News.
Regardless of whether a senior living community uses the APFM app, the industry needs to be prepared for the various ways that consumers will be leveraging virtual tours in the months and even years ahead, Kutscher said.
The rapid creation of the app also goes to show how quickly Covid-19 changed the way that senior living communities conduct sales and marketing.
“If I’d gone to a bunch of communities in January and said, hey, let’s go launch virtual tours, I think the feedback would have been, families don’t necessarily want to use that,” Kutscher told SHN.
Covid-19 forced senior living providers and consumers alike to adapt, as infection control guidelines shut down buildings to non-essential visitors. Now, virtual tours are a go-to solution to keep the sales and marketing process moving.
The positive news is that senior living teams are seeing that virtual tours can be effective, but the quick shift to working virtually has also created new problems, Kutscher explained.
In particular, APFM heard “loud and clear” from families that different senior living communities were asking them to use a variety of platforms for virtual tours, including Zoom, FaceTime and others. This led to confusion and frustration, especially for consumers who are not tech-savvy, Kutscher said.
“It’s a recipe for tech issues and confusion,” he said.
The APFM app is meant to help by providing a single platform. Communities and consumers download the app to their iOS or Android device, click on a link or enter a code at the scheduled tour time, and are placed in the virtual environment.
After the tour is completed, consumers receive three questions related to their experience, which Kutscher believes APFM will be able to use in order to determine what makes a tour successful. The goal is to create a playbook of virtual tour best practices. Already, Kutscher shared a few basic tips:
— Be sure to have a simple script to follow
— Keep the tour interactive; listen to the family and answer concerns, as you would during an in-person tour
— Showing an entire building may not be necessary; the objective should be to “get comfort from the family that they’ve seen enough”
The app underwent beta testing on the West Coast, and so far about 300 communities are using it. APFM is preparing to launch it nationally to its network of more than 15,000 communities, with a “2.0” version also in the works to enable ease of tour scheduling and other capabilities. The app only facilitates tours for prospects referred through the APFM system, and is being offered at no additional charge to communities working with A Place For Mom.
Visitor restrictions hopefully will ease in the months ahead, as the rate of new Covid-19 infections begins to flatten across the country. However, Kutscher believes that virtual tours are here to stay, and that the industry should prepare for various ways that consumers will want to use virtual tours going forward.
For example, even after visitors are allowed back in senior living communities, families might still be uneasy.
“Let’s say a year from now, when Covid hasn’t been eradicated but is under control, they might say, I don’t want to tour every community [I’m considering], but I’ll visit one,” Kutscher said. In this case, they might do an initial round of virtual tours to decide on their leading contender.
Similarly, families may try to avoid air travel for a period of time while the virus is still active, even if restrictions are eased. Virtual tours are a way for people in various locations across the country to all see a community at the same time.
“We were spurred on in the moment by where we are today with Covid and no physical touring, but we think this is a long-term play as well,” Kutscher said.
The development of the app is just one investment that APFM has made since the outset of Covid-19 — the company has also launched a new ad campaign, is surveying its senior living customers on a regular basis, created a new website homepage that is being tested, and is working on other backend and tech projects. The company has ratcheted down spending somewhat from what was planned but is still investing “millions,” despite seeing referral volumes drop due to Covid-19.
But Kutscher views these investments as important to the strategy that he laid out when he took the helm at APFM last year; he is focused on upgrading the company’s offerings while trying to rebuild trust among senior living providers. In this moment, APFM has an opportunity to be a valuable partner to communities that are cash-strapped themselves, and are unable to bring all their resources to bear on sales and marketing even though they need every referral and move-in that they can get, he said.
“April was not fun for anybody,” he observed, and that certainly was true for APFM as well. Covid-19 hit just as APFM was in the process of staffing a new operating center in Kansas City, Kansas, having hired between 50 and 70 people, Kutscher estimated. They are now working from home, and APFM is waiting until at least the fall before ramping up hiring again.
Kutscher is optimistic that demand for senior living will surge again as Covid-19 comes under control, but he also notes that fear over physical safety is not the only thing holding consumers back at the moment. APFM did a survey of families using the service last month, which found that they are worried about being cut off from loved ones who move to a senior living community.
“Families are worried about the safety of their loved one, but equally worried about not being able to visit them, and are worried about not being able to help them move in,” he said. “I think as an industry, we need to focus on this: As people move in, how can they stay connected?”