Making the Connection: The Importance of a Senior Contact Center
A thriving senior housing market appears to be taking a page from the multifamily industry and empowering contact centers to capture new business. But the similarities end there.
Senior housing – which includes independent living, assisted living and memory care – is a specialized leasing vertical that requires a little more attention and compassion during the leasing process, experts say. Prospects, who many not always be the end renter, are usually more emotionally involved in the lease process than your typical apartment renter. The voice at the other end of the phone needs to be reassuring and capable of connecting the caller with the provider without a hard sell.
Working with a trusted contact center so that senior living communities, no matter what care level, can manage a growing cliental is essential, says Jeremy Batson, industry principal and vice president for RealPage Contact Center.
“There is the realization that the senior space has unique needs,” said Batson, who has seen a growing need for senior housing operators to utilizing contact centers. “Prospects are reaching out to the communities under unique circumstances, and the contact center agents are usually not talking to the prospects themselves. They’re talking to an adult child. There has to be an understanding that this business is different and the needs and the prospect experience is different.”
Multifamily housing has depended on contact centers to match prospects with the right communities, relying heavily on promoting amenities. In the senior independent living market, Batson says, that strategy works, but at communities that also provide deeper levels of care the perceived value of contact centers has suffered.
That is changing, Batson says. Rather than a contact center trying to draw the prospect in with a list of amenities, the role now is to put the caller closer to the experienced onsite staff that can make the right assessment. The main objective is creating that connection so that the opportunity doesn’t allude the community.
Growth of senior industry changing contact center’s role
In recent years, the senior housing market has experienced unprecedented growth as adults are living longer. The industry has become highly competitive and it’s critical to seize opportunities as they arrive, Batson says.
“There’s a lot of competition out there,” he said. “There are occupancy issues with larger companies, and there are more and more people moving into that space. They are competing for those new residents. They have to have a very compelling story. They have to do a great job of marketing to put their name out there and differentiate themselves.”
That’s where the right contact center can make a difference, Batson says.
The senior space has become fairly savvy from marketing standpoint as more units have entered the market in an effort to keep up with demand. Occupancy rates are a concern, especially now that the market has cooled following a hot streak.
After posting the highest construction and occupancy rates in eight years in 2015, the industry began a bit of a correction as oversupply began outpacing absorption. Occupancy rates were down to 89.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, and assisted living occupancy dropped to its lowest level since early 2010 at 87.6 percent, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
While the trend might seem a little alarming, analysts say the senior housing future still looks bright with a growing supply of older adults on the horizon. The Administration on Aging says that by 2040 the percent of the population of people 65 and older will climb from its current rate of 14.5 percent to 21.7 percent. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice what there were three years ago.
‘Part of it is knowing when to hand the baton off’
In the meantime, senior housing providers are tasked with setting themselves apart from the competition to attract and maintain occupants. One way to do that, Batson says, is to work with a contact center that effectively translates a community’s story.
RealPage has been successful in developing its senior contact center while placing an emphasis on highly trained staff that understands what a prospect is going through, especially when seeking assisted living or memory care options, Batson says.
“Sadly, we get calls where people are crying, they are scared or they are embarrassed,” he said. “It takes a really strong person on the end of the line to understand that. The potential client expects a certain level of professionalism from the executive director, but they can’t be there all the time.”
Batson said it’s important for a senior contact center to understand that the market is different than multifamily. The senior sales cycle, from the time the lead is generated until move-in, is much longer, taking as many as 90 days or longer to turn.
A good first impression is critical.
Also, a senior contact center must possess skilled representatives who are knowledgeable about the various levels of care and expectations of prospects, and when to not cross the line on assessing what the caller may need.
“Part of it is knowing when to hand the baton off,” he said. “We don’t try to assess the person, we just try to understand their story. We’re not trying to own the whole situation, because we can’t.”
Leave securing leads to contact center, assessments to community
Effectively capturing as many prospects as possible is especially critical as the industry moves forward and tries to return occupancy rates to previous levels without the expense of additional marketing dollars, Batson says.
The right senior contact center solution can help a community accomplish just that while leaving the expertise to industry professionals. The service is particularly valuable after hours, when, according to RealPage internal data, a significant amount of inquiries are made. Batson said 15 percent of calls come in after the leasing staff has left for the day. About 40 percent of email and chats are after hours as well.
Without a senior contact center, those could be missed opportunities.
“If we can get more visits to this community than what they had otherwise, and they are spending the same amount of marketing dollars, they win because they are going to close more leases and occupancy is going to rise.”