Senior living providers in the United States are not enjoying the same explosive market growth as we are seeing in new home construction sales. In fact, COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on senior living sales inquiries since the April 2020 outbreak. Safety concerns for residents as well as family members has hastened a decline in interest, and those that are still looking for options are now opting for virtual solutions; virtual tours of the facilities and meetings with sales agents. For many senior living providers, they were not adequately equipped to take advantage of this change, and are now trying to play catch up.
Because so much of commerce has moved online and away from the traditional forms of engagement, it is harder to provide a positive customer experience. Previously, a friendly sales agent could make one of the most expensive purchases in a person’s life seem enjoyable. Now, with Zoom calls and emails, it is more difficult to add the “personal touch” at which many sales agents are so good. So how does a senior living provider, in a competitive space with fewer prospects and a completely changed customer journey, attract new buyers without growing their marketing and sales budgets?
In B2C marketing, cost per lead (CPL) is one of the biggest indicators of a successful marketing campaign. Tracking the total costs to generate one lead, from staff salaries to advertising, can give marketers a holistic view of how various marketing campaigns are performing, which channels perform best, and what changes need to be made to optimize return on investment. The average cost per lead for senior living providers is a whopping $431, more than double most other industries. Couple that with an average web conversion rate of only 23%, and providers find themselves spending upwards of $1,600 or more to bring in one new resident through digital channels. Though the overall conversion rate is closer to 30%, meaning in-person interaction greatly improves the chances of converting a lead into a new owner, COVID-related limitations will be driving down conversion rates drastically for the foreseeable future.
For many senior living providers, their website is the main source of new prospects for the sales team. While 68% of senior living marketers say their website is their most effective channel, websites tend to be stale and uninviting, with typical stock photography, basic information about the amenities, a frequently asked questions page, and a contact form. Websites can often be overlooked as the important lead generation tool that they are. While prospective owners and their family members are asking a wide variety of questions, especially COVID-related questions, websites can quickly become outdated, filled with old information. Using the contact form doesn’t get much better, as a web visitor must then wait 24-48 hours (or longer) to receive an answer. By the time they receive a reply, they’ve moved on to the next competitor, and your chance to provide that positive first impression has already expired.
Digital marketing continues to be the key for senior living providers; in fact 75% of senior living consumers begin their research online. Usage of search terms such as “senior living” has increased 15% in the last year, as more tech-savvy adults age into the demographic that is looking for providers. Unfortunately in the post-COVID era, digital searches are not translating into leads, as overall sales inquiries have fallen 41% since last year. So why are these potential customers searching more now for senior living providers, but not converting into leads? The customer experience of finding a provider has a lot to do with it.
The experience of conducting an internet search, visiting a website, filling out a contact form and waiting for an email or phone call just isn’t cutting it anymore. Consumers of all ages are demanding instant access to the answers they seek, instant responses to their questions, and the ability to engage with a brand 24 hours a day. They don’t want to operate within the “normal business hours” within which most traditional business are still operating. Frequently asked questions pages can be cumbersome and outdated, and not have the full breadth of responses to questions. Live chat widgets, which have become extremely popular in the past few years, are only helpful when a knowledgeable staff member is on the other end, monitoring inbound conversations and replying in a timely manner.
All of these solutions force the consumer to operate within the limits that the business has set up. Between 8 and 5pm on weekdays (but not at all on the weekends), the consumer MAY be able to chat live with an employee (unless they’re on a break, or at lunch, or out sick, or already chatting with other leads). When they visit a website, they’ll be presented with a static list of questions and answers that rarely gets updated. And their attempts to reach out and connect with a sales agent will go unanswered for hours or days. And because businesses make it so difficult to convert a consumer into a qualified lead, their CPL will continue to grow.
When lead numbers are below expectations, it often suggests to marketers that they need to increase their advertising. If we spend more on social media and Google and Yelp, we’ll generate more leads. Unfortunately, they are missing the mark. Engagement rates with advertising and outbound messaging may be at or above industry averages, but if lead conversion is falling short, which providers will look at the customer experience and find ways to improve that?
One of the best ways to improve the customer experience during the research phase of their journey is to put the consumer in the driver seat, to allow them to drive the conversation and do it on their terms. Chatbots are one such solution. A chatbot, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), allows a web visitor to ask questions, and receive instant answers, 24 hours a day. Chatbots don’t care how many people are chatting simultaneously, they can handle unlimited conversations. A few chatbots, such as the solutions provided by AtlasRTX, a Park City, Utah-based startup, can do real time translation in over 100 languages. The chatbots built by AtlasRTX are also continuously trained and enhanced by a dedicated team. The team reviews every conversation the bot has with each visitor and updates the chatbot with answers to any questions it was previously unable to handle. These chatbots engage with web visitors 24 hours a day, and when it is appropriate, will hand off the conversation to a sales agent to close the deal. Sales agents also can jump in to any conversation in real-time, turning the chatbot into a live chat application instantly. When a sales agent does need to engage, they have a full history of the entire conversation the consumer had with the bot, so they have the relevant background information about the consumer at their fingertips.
So when your senior living marketing team is looking at ways to increase leads, increase conversions, and reduce their costs per lead, the customer experience should be the number one action item on their list. Not only will improving the customer experience throughout the sales journey help you lower your costs per lead, but you can also make more sales and shorten the sales cycle.