To quote Scottish poet Robert Burns, “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” Without a doubt, the ability to see ourselves through the eyes of others – particularly through the eyes of our residents, their adult children and families, prospective customers and referral sources – is a powerful tool that can have major implications for any community’s long-term success.
How do your key customers see your community? Are their views closely aligned with your own perceptions or are they very different? Do views vary between your various customer groups? What type of “word-of mouth” is being created in your draw area as a result of these perceptions and attitudes?
What Your Customers Think Matters Most
Achieving a truly accurate and honest assessment of what others think of your community requires a pair of outside eyes. An independent, objective evaluation from a customer’s perspective – called secret shopping or mystery shopping – provides critical information that can be used to make your community prospect friendly, “occupancy ready” and operating at peak performance.
In the Senior Housing Forum article, “6 Lessons From a Secret Shopper,” writer John Gonzales interviews SageAge Strategies’ Freddi Hoffmann for some expert advice on the subject. In the article, Ms. Hoffmann provides the gift of her insight as a career senior living executive and a highly experienced “secret shopper.” She knows exactly what your prospects are looking at and looking for. (Note: At the end of the Senior Housing Forum article, SageAge Strategies provides a downloadable PDF of a LeadingAge Conference presentation that offers more detail and additional tips that will help your team to do their best. For your convenience, no registration is required for the PDF.)
Valuable Secret Shopping Insights Yield Key Lessons for Community Leaders
Some important lessons learned from years of secret shopping experience include:
- Answering the Phone – First contacts create lasting first impressions! Not enough time is put into training and monitoring how the phone is being answered. Your first and most critical step is to make sure the front desk staff are trained and trained again in best practices, and periodically monitored.
- Sell Your Benefits Not Your Services – Potential residents (and their adult children) are looking at senior housing from the perspective of, what benefits will I get from those things? The sales person should spend those first crucial contact moments asking questions about the needs, desires and fears of the prospective resident. Get to know their “story” and provide solutions that solve problems, address preferences and make life easier.
- Use an Appropriate “Close” – Every step of the sales process needs a have an effective benefit-specific summation or “close.” This includes the first phone call, the first email inquiry, the first visit and so on. Each close should include the prospect’s name and the benefits they will receive. It should also include a request for permission to take the next specific step in the sales process.
- Follow-up – It is consistent and very surprising that, as SageAge conducts mystery shopping for its client-partners, close to 50% of the time there is no follow-up after an initial package of information is sent to a prospect. To be successful, every community needs to have a culture of follow-up and an effective system for tracking leads and making sure follow-up happens.
- Make Downloadable PDF Materials Available – Today about 80% of senior living prospects start their search on the Internet. Knowing this, senior living communities should make “shopping” easier for prospective customers by making useful information available for download on their websites. Also, PDFs on your website are virtually free to distribute whereas printed materials can be expensive to print and mail out.
- Lost Opportunities – There are also many little things that the SageAge team sees that communities could do more effectively. None are a huge issue individually, but they can add up and make a big difference in how your prospects see you. One example: When a visitor passes your employees on a tour, do your employees smile, acknowledge and greet them? Or do they ignore the person and continue their private conversation while walking by? These and other “cues for quality” can make a significant difference in helping you stand out from your competitors and conveying, “we’re special, you’ll like it here!”
Expert Assistance Is Available to Help Your Community Grow
If you are a senior living provider considering assistance in developing a reputation as a customer-centered market leader, be sure to look for an experienced organization that operates exclusively in the unique senior living marketplace and has the specialized expertise, extensive experience and award-winning results to succeed. Our outstanding team of market research, planning and operations professionals will help you create a comprehensive, evidence-based growth strategy based on the most accurate and objective information available. We invite you to contact us today at 570-601-1720 for more information on our suite of strategic services that include competitive analysis and mystery shopping, sales and customer service training, census enhancement strategies, strategic growth and campus master planning and more.