Usually people are targeting 94, 95, to 96% to really be able to run a profitable business
Early this month we published an article titled “Who Takes the Risk?” that was an interview with Jay Goldstein, the founder of Senior Homes.com and now VP of Operator Sales at Caring.com, a Senior Housing Forum partner. This is the conclusion of that interview.
Steve: We have an interesting phenomenon in senior living in that the national average occupancy is at 90%. We seem to be satisfied with that. Could we do better?
Jay: I have no doubt that the industry could do better because, when we talk about 90%, we know lots of locations are hitting 98, 99, 100%, which means there are some locations at 86, 87, and 88% to balance that out. Of course, there are some communities that have issues they’re always working on to get better occupancy. So we think there’s always a need for leads.
One of the things we say is, boy, if you’re at 100% capacity and you have a long waiting list, you may not need to work with us in generating leads.
That’s great; you’re satisfying a lot of people, making customers happy. But let’s just say your community is average; 90 or 91% occupied. That’s where most companies we talk to are, especially given where everything has been over the last few years due to the economic downturn.
Usually people are targeting 94, 95, to 96% to really be able to run a profitable business, have some smooth waters, make reinvestments, etc. That’s the number we’ve typically heard, so I don’t think people want to rest at 90%. If we get to 95% maybe people will start to change how they want to work on some of these things, but I think that’s a couple of years off.
Steve: Say I’ve been running at around 90% and I want to get higher, what advice do you have for me to get past that 90% mark, and say this person is already a customer of yours.
Jay: If you’re already a client of ours, often the simplest way to quickly build census is to make sure your salespeople are calling every lead we send you 2 or 3 times and sending a personalized email.
Make sure you make that first contact quickly, because that’s what consumers are expecting, and we’ve seen that will help increase the likelihood of generating a new resident from a lead.
When we mystery-shop partners, many community salespeople call once, leave a general voice mail, and then never call again. If you’re not “touching” that referral 3-4 times via both phone and email, addressing them by name, and referencing the notes that Caring’s Family Advisor provided about the care needs, you’re not getting the most you can out of those referrals.
Over the longer term, you should definitely be investing in your own SEO. If someone types in your community name, your website should be at the top of the list. If it isn’t, that should be your number one marketing activity. You can also try to rank for general terms like “Los Angeles assisted living”, but that’s pretty hard for a single community to win on because Google would rather serve up a site, like a directory, that covers all assisted living communities in Los Angeles.
And then, of course, there’s social media. Just to be really clear, we don’t think social media generates a ton of new traffic coming in the door, but it’s part of the experience that a community provides. If they share that experience online and prospects can see it, well then they’ve got more word of mouth out there. And, of course, we know word of mouth is their number one source. It should be their number one source because you build your own reputation.
Steve: Does the quality of the listing on Caring or Senior Homes give communities a better shot at getting noticed in a given geographic area?
Jay: This is an example of how the two sites serve different audiences. On SeniorHomes.com, all paid listings are fairly equal across the line on the search results page. For example, on the directory page, we may have eight communities in Glendale. Those all look pretty much the same on that page. The differentiation comes on the next page, which we call the Community Profile page. SeniorHomes.com has invested a lot in creating deep, informative Community Profiles, based on the information provided by a community to differentiate it. We actively tell our customers, “Please send us as much information as you can about the community. We want to highlight your strengths.”
On Caring.com, the profile pages may be a bit shorter, but communities can differentiate themselves via reviews because their number of reviews and star ratings are shown on the results pages. We encourage communities to have their customers put reviews on our pages. Then when prospects come and compare against other locations in the same area, they can see all the wonderful things people are saying. For example, some Caring listings in Glendale have 15-20 reviews on them and a star rating of 4.5 or higher, while others have 1-2 reviews, or even none at all. The ones with more reviews get more page views and generate more inquiries.
Another thing communities can be doing is online reputation management. There are lots of sites out there that have reviews. Make sure you’re checking them. If something’s good, make sure people know about it. If you have people who are happy, make sure they are putting that information on review sites.
If something is bad, don’t be scared like everyone tells you. Address it directly. Understand what the problem is – we all know if there’s something negative, that 98% of the time it’s simply a miscommunication or misunderstanding – and be proactive about fixing it. But when you respond to the negative review, don’t get defensive and don’t get into too much detail. Apologize, and give them a way to contact you directly to resolve things. But most important is to respond, don’t leave things hanging, because then you look like you don’t care.
Steve: Some people don’t take any action to really protect their position.
Jay: Exactly. It’s a new world; it’s a little scary. But like anything, when you take it on and get comfortable with it, it becomes just part of what you do. On Caring.com’s partner blog, we’ve provided some insights and best practices for senior living communities to help them understand how to respond to online feedback, and there are several other sources of these insights as well.
What is an acceptable occupancy level for you?