Covid-19 has depressed senior living leads, inquiries, tours and move-ins — and that means senior living sales teams can’t afford to let prospects fall through the cracks.
Year-over-year, senior living inquires are down 35%, re-inquiries are down 65%, tours are down 26% and move-ins are down 30%, according to data from senior living marketing firm GlynnDevins; the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC); and Enquire, a company that offers customer relationship management, marketing automation and contact center solutions.
But it’s not all bad news. While the pandemic has created many new challenges in engaging prospective residents, it has also opened up new avenues for connecting with them digitally. And with the right training and tools, some communities are seeing sales and marketing successes well into the age of Covid-19, according to Susan Bogan, chief customer officer at GlynnDevins.
“I think we all realize that we’re not going back to whatever we thought normal was,” Bogan said during a webinar GlynnDevins hosted Wednesday. “Communities that are realizing that, embracing it, and are pivoting quickly to new engagement strategies are the most successful.”
Consumer sentiment holding steady
For the past four months, GlynnDevins has surveyed consumers on how they feel about the senior living industry. What the survey found was that, while senior living consumer sentiment and confidence took a hit at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, that trend reversed course in May before reaching a plateau in June.
“Optimism was low, it went up, it flattened,” said Bryan Herrman, senior vice president of insights and strategy at GlynnDevins. “And I think where we are now is, there’s this period of uncertainty where consumers are in a wait-and-see mode.”
For instance, 45% of prospective residents or loved ones surveyed in April said independent living communities were less safe than their homes. By June, 40% of respondents said the same thing. For assisted living communities, 52% said that type of senior housing was less safe than their homes in April, while 45% said the same in June.
Part of that hit to confidence and sentiment had to do with the sheer number of negative headlines the industry saw in the first weeks and months of the pandemic, according to David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA).
“[It was] some of the some of the most negative media coverage that I think we’ve seen in many, many years,” Schless said during the webinar Wednesday.
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To help combat the new negative perceptions around the industry, ASHA launched a program called “Senior Living, Today and Every Day” as part of its Where You Live Matters website and social media strategy.
The program includes video and editorial content affirming that senior living communities are adapting to the pandemic and helping residents thrive, even as they shelter in place. ASHA also placed digital ads on some of the most influential newspapers in the country — the Washington Post, New York Times, LA Times, Boston Globe and others — which has resulted in 1.3 million YouTube views, 14 million display ad impressions, 2.7 million social media impressions and 1.3 million unique users reached, Schless said.
In its next phase, which is due to launch in the weeks ahead, the effort will focus on telling stories from the perspective of residents, their families and the communities where they live.
“The second phase is probably a little bit different than what we had envisioned, given the spike of Covid-19 in a number of communities, but [we] continue to build for the future,” Schless said. “We’re still very optimistic.”
Tools for success
GlynnDevins is focused on helping senior living clients finish 2020 strong, with the goal of setting the stage for success in 2021.
“Prospective residents are still responding and communities are still moving in new residents,” Bogan said. “The way we’re really doing that is by counseling clients to embrace change and innovation.”
It’s perhaps more important than ever before to meet prospective residents and their families where they are in their decision-making process, she added. Providers should focus on building an omnichannel sales approach, where consumers are driving when, where and how they interact with a senior living community’s marketing program.
“You want the experience that the customer has to be consistent across every single channel that they interact with,” Bogan said. “Whether it’s your physical community, whether it’s your website, whether it’s emails you’re getting, digital ads that you’re interacting with, phone calls that you’re taking or texts that are sent, all of those channels need to be providing a consistent experience.”
Senior living sales and marketing teams should use data to optimize their programs. That includes examining how prospective residents are engaging with content on a website or marketing automation program, with the intention of developing new and fine-tuned tools and content.
“I like to tell people to be more surgical in what they’re doing, and take less of a shotgun approach,” Bogan said. “We’re helping clients develop custom audiences and segments to target mail and media buys.”
It’s also extremely important to nurture promising leads, as responses are slowing across the board for most senior living providers, she added.
“You need to treat every new inquiry like gold … so, make sure the sales team is responding to new leads as quickly as possible,” Bogan said. “We’re telling people speed to lead is more important than ever.”
And senior living providers should examine their key performance indicators, then adjust them to compensate for market conditions.
“You need to make sure you’re realigning your performance indicators all along the sales funnel, [because] we don’t have the luxury to rely on volume of new inquiries coming in,” Bogan said. “Make sure you’re looking at ways to get higher lead-to-appointment conversion, and looking at ways to get more move-ins out of the appointments that you’re having virtually.”
When it comes to engaging prospective residents and their families, honesty and transparency is still the best policy, even in the midst of Covid-19.
“Real testimonials and stories coming from residents and family members … are very authentic,” Bogan said. “And I think those are the kinds of things that the market is responding to today.”