Better (and Cheaper) Ways to Boost Senior Living Occupancy
by Guy Lyman, RealPage, Inc.
Solid occupancy numbers often blind senior living property managers to a glaring problem: the cost of keeping those units full.
Add up what you’re spending on third-party lead sources along with internal resources devoted to working leads and you’d probably be shocked at your cost per lease. The good news is that forward-thinking senior property managers are slashing this cost dramatically by simply taking full advantage of marketing tools that have been around for a while now.
The senior sector has lagged behind others due to a perception that the senior market is somehow “different” – that generating, working and closing leads isn’t the same ballgame as it is in, say, multifamily housing.
But the truth is that while there are differences in senior living marketing – a longer sales curve and sensitivity to issues specific to the elderly among them – the same tools enabling multifamily properties to slash marketing spend are showing great effectiveness at senior properties. They’re impressively boosting both “speed to lead” and “speed to lease.”
Websites that work
There are websites . . . and there are websites that work. Too many senior living websites are static “online brochures” that merely present photos and information about the properties. And that’s a shame, because for many years now experts have been using ingenious tools to learn exactly what makes a visitor take action as a result of their visit. It always pays to hire professional website design specialists who understand your market.
Some of the components of success are obvious (though this doesn’t mean you’ll find them on every senior site). They include super high-quality professional photos and floor plans that make the visitor think “I can see myself (or my parent) living there.” Simple navigation is another basic – these days nobody has patience for disappearing down a rabbit hole on a website; they’ll simply bail. A third “must-have” is the proper implementation of tested response mechanisms – links to further information, information request forms, phone numbers and email addresses, in all the right places.
But beyond the basics are some marketing tools you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Including the following one that is proving to make a massive difference . . .
The “cha-ching” of chat
You’re probably thinking: “seniors, and children seeking housing for them, have no interest in online chat.” If so, you’re in for a surprise.
J.D. Powers recently reported that chat has become the leading contact source, with 42% of customers indicating that they prefer using live online chat over email or other forms of communication. And this preference seems to hold true for senior websites, regardless of any preconceptions you might have about the older-skewing audience.
A recent test of adding chat to the websites of a large portfolio of senior properties resulted in an increase of 48% in total visits. That’s simply huge. Inquiry emails and contact forms were down 40%, a measure of how many folks would rather get their questions answered right on the spot than wait for return correspondence. And there’s a giant benefit to answering the questions immediately: prospects are moved speedily through the sales process to book site visits rather than shopping around further while waiting for answers.
But what if you don’t have staff available at your sites to handle chat inquiries? Here’s how other senior properties are handling this and other prospect response demands.
Answering the call
More and more properties, senior and other, are learning that having the back-up of a third-party contact center delivers a huge return on investment.
There’s a misperception that because of the special issues and needs encountered in marketing senior properties, inquiries must be handled by onsite staff. But properties that have made the leap to contact centers are reaping powerful benefits and greatly increasing their effectiveness in filling units at a reduced cost.
Some properties are using contact centers only as back-up for calls that aren’t answered. Others have made them the first line for answering all calls, emails and chat.
The fact is that with onsite staff usually having their hands full, over half of prospect calls on average are not answered at properties. Many callers don’t leave voicemail. Of those who do, a good number either get a slow response or none at all.
A contact center can keep your sales office open 24/7/365. And it’s important to note that a large proportion of inquiries come in after hours and on weekends, when children of the elderly are home from work and the elderly themselves are keeping unusual hours.
The contact center can answer calls, handle chat, and respond to emails within fifteen minutes – before the prospect has time to move on to the next property option.
But what about the quality of the interaction? How can contact center reps deal with prospects with the caring and detailed information of site staff?
This is yet another area of confusion. The fact is that a good senior living contact center is staffed with representatives who are highly trained in the needs and issues that arise specifically in the senior sector, and armed with complete details about the properties. It’s nothing like the picture many have of a roomful of robotic, low-paid clerks qualified to do little more than answer a phone and take a message. These are educated, motivated, caring professionals who know exactly what they’re doing, and know nearly as much about the properties as your own people do.
What’s more, they have time to spend on the calls that your people simply don’t – occupied as they are with a myriad of other responsibilities at the properties.
Leveraging your leads
A final area in which senior living properties are lagging is in properly working leads, moving them systematically through the sales cycle to a signed lease. Far too many fall through the cracks, leaving the properties to fill the gaps with expensive paid-for leads or more marketing dollars.
Sophisticated yet very easy-to-use lead management solutions now give leasing agents a powerful lens into where every lead stands, its quality, and what needs to happen next to move the prospect towards a leasing decision. These solutions also tell you exactly which lead sources are the most cost-effective, so you can shift your marketing money to the most efficient ones.
Between a contact center and lead management software, there’s no more excuse for a single good lead to be wasted.
But what about leads that have aged and are now dormant? Those piled-up older leads actually have value. You can now hire an outside service to re-contact all the leads, some of whom have simply delayed their decisions, and convert them to active prospects and leases you’d otherwise have lost.
It’s simply not true that an older clientele dictates old-fashioned marketing. Your peers in the senior space are proving this every day, achieving incredible results with the latest techniques.
ABOUT GUY LYMAN
Based in New Orleans, Guy Lyman is a professional writer with over 25 years’ experience writing about multifamily and commercial real estate. Lyman is a frequent contributor and writer for Property Management Insider blog.