By Sara Kyle
In mid-2019 I wrote an article recapping the past 18 months of looking for resident engagement technology that would meet the needs of Holiday Retirement (read it HERE). I talked at length about the need for industry collaboration and integrations that could be paired. My idea was to have the synergy of products and programs in a single portal.
What I Learned
In the midst of determining what companies could be part of a formal RFP process, I realized that what I thought I knew or understood about finding a solution and partner would soon be derailed.
As I sat through demos, requested demos, perused websites, and investigated companies currently using such products, everything started running together. What I found is the resident engagement portal tech space is quite similar to the customer and end-user. However, if you tell a developer that, they never agree. But, I concluded that the calendar, newsletter, digital signage, maintenance, transportation, dining, resident profile, etc. are all standard. They may look different, but they are the same concept.
Luckily, I ran across Mary Miller, VP of Innovation and Experience at HumanGood. She offered advice about what she learned in their RFP process on the exact same quest. It resulted in a complete turnaround for me.
We created a technology committee and asked each functional department for their must-have features. At that point, all the fluff and sales approaches from companies no longer mattered. If the product could not handle the most basic “asks” from each department, it was a fail.
Determining these needs aligned our focus, expanded internal buy-in, and gave us the upper hand. With our “must-haves” list in place, we started our formal RFP, telling the top 4 companies what we needed. We asked if their solution could currently support those must-haves.
We learned that if they if did not already have these capabilities to be extremely cautious. People will tell you they can easily build or customize, and we learned about “roadmaps”, but they are tough to count on.
I heard a statement from one of the top 4 companies in the RFP and it was so impactful. The CEO told me, “We are a service company that offers a technology solution.” This was exactly what I needed to hear. Beyond the inclusion of similar features, this concept allowed me to look at future support and an ongoing partnership, asking what would be the most important factors for success at and after implementation?
When I look back at my frustration in May of 2019, I realize much of it was self-induced. I believe this is where much of the industry is at. We get frustrated with new technology solutions. We are all asking for innovation and solutions at every level, but I also realize that as operators, team members, and residents (the people that will use the product), we are too far removed in the development and design phase.
We are not telling the companies enough upfront and perhaps they are not asking the right questions. Either way, we are failing each other.
Desperation is the Enemy
I was so desperate for a solution when I started at Holiday, that I was not selective or cautious enough. Thankfully, my first two attempts backfired because I would have absolutely made the wrong decision.
Desperation solicits a quick fix. I also realized that software solutions do not solve people and process issues. We lacked role standardization, consistent staff onboarding, and a vision of why we even do “activities”. Our problem, much to my initial misinterpretation, was an internal one that no outside solution could repair.
My best advice; find a partner who can support your business goals and understands your company vision 2-5 years out. Research whether or not they have the agility to add your needs to their “roadmap”.
Here is my money shot question: “What company needs my business in order for them to become better . . . to continually refine their product?” If a company does not need your business to be both profitable and to grow (which translates to caring enough to learn about your needs), regardless of your size, I would question the partnership.
Last Things . . .
The last thing I have to say to those people and companies in the first article. I no longer believe there is one gold standard in resident engagement software. You cannot easily rank companies because each community has different needs.
Please keep collaborating and don’t get caught up in exclusive partnerships. Be brave enough to ask your customers what is not working. Do not just share the minimum monthly reports and metrics you contractually agree to.
If you do not ask or create a process for sharing, your customers will be frustrated. We can look at websites and demos to learn what it is like when everything is perfect. Be honest enough to admit your product is not perfect. Talk about it. It is incredibly refreshing and you will stand out from the others!