The way in which older adults and their families search for senior living is changing. As baby boomers and their Generation X children are aging into a new phase of life, they are also redefining the way families search for, and find, senior living solutions. But is the industry really ready?
While senior living providers have been laser-focused on the future of the resident experience, the industry has all but ignored the impact of the demographic shift on the search experience – especially for the hundreds of thousands of consumers who manage the decision-making process on their own each year.
We call this persona the independent searcher. Up to 60% of users report that they want to manage search independently – and that number is likely to grow as the demographic shift deepens. Yet their experience is currently fraught with pain points that influence their decisions about senior living.
As technology advances and rich data abounds, industries everywhere are upending the traditional models for research. From Zillow to Open Table and Kayak, the standard for independent discovery and decision making has fundamentally changed. The growth of the marketplace solution is a direct response to consumer desire for information and independence. Across countless industries, users can move themselves through the funnel — from awareness to consideration to decision – all in a way that works for them. Yet senior living tends to fall behind on such trends.
So how do we evolve to meet the needs of the independent searcher? As we chart the course ahead, four themes will shape how we work together to improve the experience for this growing demographic.
1. Supporting individual search preferences: Today’s pet owners and luxury-seekers want to easily find a set of communities that meet their specific and unique requirements. One thing’s for certain; they don’t want to navigate from site to site searching for the one page that has the information they need in order to develop their shortlist.
As a whole, senior living providers have avoided data share as a way to market their value proposition. Yet these providers are missing out on the strongest “market-fit” residents; the residents for whom their community was designed and the ones who will drive future word of mouth (read: low-cost) acquisitions. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of structured data systems which makes it easier for providers to share the important data points about their communities. Imagine the difference we could make for families if that data were readily available for evaluation and comparison.
By sharing data with trusted partners, providers can actually increase their qualified lead volume and improve the search experience for the user at the same time. Third party platform research has become the standard for many other verticals, and senior living organizations can improve on how we work together to empower search.
2. Enabling price transparency: Pricing is a large determinant in the process of shortlist development and is a primary factor in the decision-making process. Yet families consistently share their frustration with finding accurate price ranges, not to mention understanding levels of care and their associated costs.
So how do we support price transparency without losing potential prospects? Borrowing from sites like Realtor.com and Expedia, the discovery experience needs to include pricing estimates so that the price-sensitive searchers (which accounts for nearly everyone) can find suitable options without friction and time wasted communicating with and touring communities that end up outside of their budget.
While providers will benefit from sharing pricing more openly, companies that support the search process will be called upon to improve education and information around pricing, which includes helping people understand their budgets and directing them to suitable options. After all, financially unqualified leads create inefficiency for sales teams and families alike, so our collective focus should be on matching qualified families with communities.
3. Cultivating communication: Perhaps the most significant hallmark of the independent searcher is the desire for personalized communication. While a crisis searcher may want to connect via phone, longer-term searchers will prefer to engage differently. In an industry that has long relied on phone communications, this change is significant.
Older adults, just like any other demographic, have their own unique preferences when it comes to communication. Some may prefer face-to-face or phone conversations, while others might be more comfortable with text messages or emails. Communication preferences also change throughout the journey; a user who started out wanting only emails may “switch” channels to text or phone as their interest deepens.
Building flexible communication strategies that honor individual preferences will be critical for all of us in the industry. If we want to convey care and consideration for families, it starts with respectful communication.
4. Embracing technology: In an era of rapid technological innovation, successful companies will find new and innovative ways to use technology to support the independent searcher. These users want a centralized toolkit that helps them make confident decisions: from budgeting to building a shortlist to tour scheduling, and so much more.
They also need the education and support that drives them to direct engagement. Robust marketing automations that are personalized, timely, and relevant will nurture families toward direct engagement. They will also be crucial to ensuring we deliver the independent searcher to the right community.
Those are just examples based on today’s technology. Imagine a 3-D community tour using a virtual reality headset, or driverless cars that take residents to medical appointments. The ways in which technology will shape both the search and resident experiences are myriad and have the potential to transform the industry.
The next generation of senior living searchers are markedly different from their predecessors, and they will challenge us to work together to reshape their search experience. Collectively, our goal should be to empower confident decisions and to be sure residents are excited, hopeful, and well informed when they move in. It’s time to ensure senior living is ready for the shift.
Photo: Natali_Mis, Getty Images