It is not surprising that most senior living organizations focus more time and resources on acquiring new customers than nurturing existing ones. After all, new customers are the life’s blood of any business. They are essential to growth and financial strength.
At the same time, the world’s most astute marketing companies realize there is a delicate balance between investing in new customers and leveraging the power and influence of existing customers and their families. Smart marketers know that current customers, i.e. community residents and their family members, can become invaluable sources of influence.
Engaging your Current Customers is a Smart Acquisition Strategy
In her recent article, Surprising Facts About Customer Loyalty Marketing,http://www.marketingprofs.com/chirp/2013/11338/surprising-facts-about-customer-loyalty-marketing-infographic, author Verónica Maria Jarski correctly asserts that, “Though 63% of marketers consider customer acquisition to be the most important advertising goal, successful companies know that engaging their loyal customers is critical to their bottom line.”
Christina Papale, author of Brand Love for the Long Haul, http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2013/11352/brand-love-for-the-long-haul-five-tips-for-lasting-connections-with-customers#ixzz2bnBS3pkN, shares a similar view on the value of relationship building with current customers. As Ms. Papale says, “To unlock long-term love for our brands and set the stage for strong lasting connections, one simply has to look at and apply basic human relationship principles.” She offers some sage tips on ways organizations “can keep the spark alive and forge a devoted, lasting connection to customers.” These include:
- Spending quality time together – Understandably, companies commit a lot of time and resources to market their brands. However, it is also wise to spend one-on-one time “with your own brand” to understand how it is experienced and perceived by your customers. You may find that the brand you’re busy promoting is not the same one your customers are actually experiencing day to day.
As the TV series, “Undercover Boss” demonstrates, it is very useful to periodically “walk in the shoes” of your residents and employees. It is never a waste of time and the time you do spend can unveil strengths and weaknesses you can optimize or minimize respectively in order to enhance the customer’s experience and strengthen you brand.
- Knowing when to over-communicate and when to listen (genuinely) – Successful engagement requires open, two-way communication. Have a meaningful dialogue with your customers to demonstrate your sincerity in listening and at being emotionally honest. Building relationships with your customers is more than a box to check in a media plan. It is an opportunity to understand what your consumers experience and to make the connection with your community that much stronger.
- Embracing companion love – In brand relationships, true loyalists are the greatest reward. They become invested and emotionally involved with your brand, and they spread the word. They are a tremendous asset to any organization. Don’t take them for granted!
Implications for Senior Living Providers
Nurturing and growing loyal customers is extremely important for senior living communities today. Competition is increasing and budgets are tight. And happy, loyal customers represent a very powerful sales and marketing tool.
There are several reasons why building relationships with current customers and turning them into loyalists for your brand makes sense for senior living providers.
- Your residents have the potential to be – living, breathing, walking, talking – ambassadors for your brand. Be sure to engage their family members as well. They can be a highly influential voice in the external community.
- This fact is particularly relevant to individual senior living facilities or communities because they tend to have a relatively limited geographic market or service area. And as we all know, news – good or bad – travels fast!
- “Word of mouth” is still the most powerful, credible and influential form of advertising. And probably the least expensive. All it costs is providing residents and their families with the caring, compassion, service, respect and well-being they expect and deserve.
- Today, social media has increased the speed and the impact of word of mouth exponentially. An experience by a resident can now be communicated instantaneously and distributed widely at the click of a button – most likely by a family member. Many adult children, primarily daughters, are now using social media as a means of shopping for senior living communities and sharing comments about what they hear.
Your Employees are Key
As stated in the classic marketing article, What’s Your Brand, it is imperative to remember, “Your brand walks on two legs.” For better or worse, your employees frequently ARE your brand in the eyes of your customers and their families. Those who represent your brand define your brand. They can make or break relationships AND your reputation. As healthcare guru Quint Studer explained in his management text, Hardwiring Excellence, customer experiences create perceptions, which ultimately determine brand reputations and brand preferences.
Customer experience → Brand perception → Word of mouth → Brand reputation → Brand preference.
Therefore it is essential that all of your team members represent your community with excellence and create memorable relationships that will be repaid in the form of a strong reputation and a growing customer base.
Expert Assistance is Available
Do you hire friendly, compassionate people who are comfortable with senior adults? Do you train them in customer service excellence techniques? Do you evaluate them and reward them based on their customer service skills and customer satisfaction?
If your organization requires additional support with staff recruiting, service excellence training, performance assessment tools and best practice sales training, be sure to look for an experienced organization that operates exclusively in the senior living space and has the specialized expertise and experience in senior living sales, marketing and operations required to succeed.