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A Battle for Senior Living Occupancy?

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The messaging has been nonstop: Senior Living is facing an occupancy battle in 2021! Get ready! Prepare to compete against other operators and fight for your prospective residents!

Perhaps it’s the insanity of the last twelve months getting to me, but I have to admit this line of messaging immediately made me think of The Anchorman movies. If you haven’t watched them, at least google the fight scene and take five minutes out of your day to laugh. In the movie, all of the competitive news channel anchor teams come out for one brutal (and ridiculous) battle to claim the title of being the best.

Can you picture this in senior housing? I can, and I already see how this kind of messaging isn’t particularly helpful. If you really want to prepare for battle, then I’d like to share my thoughts on where to focus your efforts.

Battle #1: Talent Talent Talent

Attracting and retaining top talent will continue to be a number one priority for senior living operators, as the industry faces all the labor challenges that have only been heightened by the pandemic. From preparing for the proposed $15 minimum wage hike to the rising costs of health insurance and everything in between, senior living will need its most innovative and creative minds focused here.

The battle for sales talent will become even more competitive, and it’s refreshing to see some great organizations who are completely rethinking compensation, flexible remote work policies, the onboarding experience and how to empower their existing talent to grow and continue to develop their skills.

Battle #2: The Customer Journey

For a long time, senior living has used very linear sales and marketing practices, with the purpose of marketing being defined as driving leads and in-person tours. The outdated notion of “we can’t put pricing and videos on our website…then no one will come to see us in person!” was frequently heard. When the pandemic hit, everything changed.

Savvy sales and marketing leaders are leaving behind rigid sales systems and the KPIs associated with them. Instead they are driving results through highly customized and virtually integrated strategies.

This change in sales and marketing practices leads to a deeper customer journey because the relationship can begin well before the first phone call. We should strive to build trust not only in person, but also digitally. The content and messaging needs to speak to prospective families in their voice and meet them where they are in the decision-making process.

Senior living will recover its occupancy losses and more by adopting a customizable and fluid sales process that supports a marketing strategy driven by the behavior and needs of the consumer.

Battle #3: Operational Alignment

I think most people would agree that the ability for sales, operations and clinical to work together is very important. That isn’t a new concept at all.

What is new? All the challenges each of these three departments have to face due to the pandemic. I’ve spent time working with communities since last March when the pandemic first hit. I’m amazed at the resiliency of community teams and how they have served their residents while worrying about their own families. It’s awe-inspiring.

Moving forward, it is important to have open, continuous dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t working – across all the departments. There are still many fears surrounding move-ins and the sales process as communities begin to open and loosen visitor restrictions. Trying to balance the very real financial pressures with the need to keep residents and staff safe while welcoming new residents is hard, but this is one battle I know we can win.

In Summary…

Make no mistake, senior living has to work harder and smarter than ever before to regain occupancy. Yes, we compete against one another at times, but the biggest competition we all face is the prospect’s choice to stay home.

I say ignore the polarizing messaging that pits one against another. I suggest we choose, fight and win the right battles.

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