By Steve Moran

While I hate it when I hear senior living people comparing life in their community with living on a cruise ship, I find there are some lessons we can learn from the cruising industry. They have figured out that they are selling just one single thing and that is an 

EXPERIENCE

The experience does include transport from one place to another, a place to sleep, food, bathrooms, laundry service, and housekeeping. But those things are simply the price of admission that gives them the ability, the right to sell an experience. Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the cruising industry, the attraction of the carefree, fun-filled vacation they offer remains a draw. And the pandemic will soon be behind us. 

Senior Living Schizophrenia

When I tour senior living communities, many already put this concept front and center, you know, comparing their communities to luxury hotels or cruise ships. So it is clear we know this is a selling proposition that works, but I am not so sure we actually deliver on the promise.

Cost Center, Not a Profit Center

There are some amazing exceptions to this, but the evidence is clear that unlike in the cruise ship industry, our programming (which we mostly call life enrichment) is seen primarily as a cost center and not a profit center. We provide skimpy budgets; in most cases a few hundred dollars a month.

We hire high school graduates and then ask them to create programming that will be meaningful to people with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D. levels of education. In good times, corporate-level life enrichment leaders don’t have a serious place at the table. And in lean times like we are in now, they are seen as expendable assets.

As a Profit Center

I have this dream that one day every senior living community will rename “life enrichment” or “activities” to the “experience” or “empowerment” department. And that this new department will use techniques like “design thinking” to create individualized, empowered experiences for each resident.

For some that will mean large group activities, which is the bulk of what currently happens. But it would also include small group activities and solo pursuits. Most importantly, residents will be the primary driver of what happens in each community, with the “Experience Director” in charge of inspiring and empowering what gives residents the best possible last chapters.

Experience Director as Captain of the Ship

What if the Resident Experience Director was seen as the most important person on the leadership team of each community? And they worked with sales and marketing to make programs so compelling that the community would practically sell itself? What if the Experience Director was in charge of care staff, making sure that getting care was an amazing experience?

The Ultimate Profit Center

At the end of September, we published an article titled “The Key To Solving the Senior Living Image Problem in the Face of COVID-19: Rock ‘n’ Roll”, which sparked intense interest and discussion on LinkedIn with more than 5,000 views and 66 comments. A common theme in the comments started by Dan Hutson was that our problem was not a better spokesperson but a better model of senior living.

Perhaps seeing “Life Empowerment” as a profit center is a good place to start. Prior to COVID, the cruise ship industry was experiencing explosive growth. Maybe just maybe, if we took their approach, by making “The Experience” the centerpiece of what we do, our growth would be similar.