“It’s a different era we live in. It’s a different story we need to tell,” Jacquelyn Kung, DrPH, CEO of Activated Insights, told attendees during SMASH Week 2020.

In a Senior Care Sales & Marketing Summit session Thursday on how to change the story in senior living, Kung shared feedback from sales and marketing employees, as well as consumer research on the resident and family member experience in senior living.

Happier employees = happier residents

Activated Insights, which has overseen data collection for Great Places to Work and Fortune magazine, drew from its surveys of more than 500,000 residents, family members and employees in senior living to highlight industry trends during COVID-19.

Employee engagement is key to driving sales and increasing occupancy, Kung said. Data show that employee engagement has dropped 2% overall in senior living and care. Although engagement increased in April and May as “we found our purpose to protect our seniors,” that engagement slipped over the summer and remains stagnant. 

The most impactful way to increase employee engagement, she said, is through inspiration, human connection and innovation.

“We need to inspire and re-inspire your sales and marketing team members to believe in what an amazing, awesome product they are selling,” Kung said. “Find ways to build in more of that human connection that’s been lost during COVID, whether with residents or prospects. Encourage innovation from all.”

Kung said her research shows that happier employees mean happy residents, and happier residents lead to more referrals. 

In communities with happier team members, she found that prices, on average, were 5% higher than in communities with less happy team members, and occupancy was 2% higher. It’s not that these communities are increasing rates or that they are premium communities. Rather, she said, these communities are offering fewer discounts and incentives for move-ins because the sales and marketing teams are happy and “sell it better.” 

Happy residents

On the consumer side, residents and family members — particularly in assisted living/memory care and independent living — are still happy in their communities. Kung said they love how the staff has gone above and beyond, as well as the updates and information from management on keeping them safe.

“Use that to identify your brand and brand ambassadors,” Kung said. “There are folks that love your communities. Have them sell and market your communities for you. Use this information.”

For the most part, she said, research shows that residents and families now are looking to senior living not for dining and social options, but for testing, a maintenance-free lifestyle, and cleaning and communication protocols. 

“This all informs our storytelling,” Kung said. “The maintenance-free lifestyle. Over communicate how much communication there is and how much good, truthful information they’re going to be getting from their management.

“All of this is to keep our older adults as safe as possible. That is the way we want to reshape our story and then get the pricing and results in the occupancy.”