People have come to expect a great user experience — also known as UX — whether it’s a package delivered to their doorstep the next day, grocery delivery or hailing a ride with the touch of a button.

If senior living operators can create a better user experience, then money and profits will follow, according to a panel during last week’s SMASH Week 2020. 

Valissa Smith, communication specialist and senior vice president of Kansas City, MO-based marketing firm SeniorVu, said senior living should look at the Disney experience as a model for the user experience. Smith led a panel on reshaping the customer journey in a virtual world during the Senior Care Sales & Marketing Summit, which went virtual this year due to the pandemic.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if the silver tsunami had a ‘What Would Disney Do?’ experience? They would feel awesome when they come in and everything is perfect, everyone is wearing what they should, everything is beautiful, the flowers are blooming, it’s all fabulous and the service is over the top,” Smith said. “If we think more like Disney and provide the seniors and their families a magical experience, that’s what we want to do in our industry.”

The five steps to the user design experience, Smith said, include empathizing with the situation, using data to define the problem, ideating what to do differently, prototyping and testing.

“Providing seniors and their families a great experience from the moment they start the search for senior care will reshape the way we sell in senior living,” she said.

Andy Erby, president and chief marketing officer for Olathe, KS-based Bickford Senior Living, said senior living has received a bad rap for its user experience because the journey an older adult takes from researching to moving into a community is fragmented.

“It’s a very complex, difficult, fragmented journey,” he said. “There’s not meaningful, trusted sources to go for seniors and their families that are able to hold their hand as they navigate this complex journey.”

Erby said senior living providers are big contributors to that fragmentation and need to do a better job of managing the journey of service and care throughout the process.

Smith agreed, citing a statistic that 60% of the time when people call a community, they end up being transferred to sales, where no one answers the phone. And 90% of the time, they will hang up and not leave a message.

“The front end of the journey is a really bad experience,” Smith said. “This is marginalizing the senior. We’re in the industry because we care about them. To see it being so difficult for them in the beginning is heartbreaking.”

Erby said that at Bickford, he learned that “getting the business of senior living out of the way” and getting sales people back into relationship-building was key to fixing the process. He did that by using call center technologies, a move he had resisted in the past.

“I found the call center technology had a level of sophistication our people will never attain,” Erby said, adding that Bickford ultimately saw a 10% increase in overall tours and sales-to-move-in conversions. “It allowed us, from an organizational standpoint, to take that distraction and administration off our people and really zoom into them about the experiences they’re having one-on-one with the tour with the family.”

Benjamin Surmi, director of education and culture with Olympia, WA-based Koelsch Senior Communities, said that communities need to map out every point of the journey.

“Most leave the family visit up to chance, hoping there are enough pieces there to make a good experience,” he said, adding that designing the journey leaves people feeling delighted, surprised, warm and welcomed by the community.

Chris Bernard, a UX expert with Hoffman Estates, IL-based software company CDK Global, said it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand the practice and principles of a good user experience design. He suggested taking advantage of free content available online to start the process.

“The value of UX needs to be for the senior,” Bernard said.