phone on a conference table
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A lack of sales staffing — or even backup staff — overnight and on weekends is leading to poor impressions of senior living communities, with 32% of prospective residents saying they would not consider a community based on their experience, according to a new white paper.

Sales and marketing consulting firm Bild & Co. conducted mystery shopping calls to senior living communities during overnight and weekend hours. The resulting paper, with case studies on seven communities, focuses on first impressions, relationship-building, sales presentation and scheduled next steps.

According to the mystery shopping data, 32% of shoppers in the study reported a poor impression of the senior living community they called and said they would not visit it again. 

Good and bad impressions can be imparted to prospects by everyone working at the community, not just staff members directly responsible for sales and marketing. For instance, when dealing with a receptionist, 62% of the shoppers said that the first point of contact with a community had an “average” level of energy when reached by phone, whereas 10.5% reported that the receptionist had poor energy and seemed distracted or rushed. Even worse, some communities experienced a high number of walk-ins on the weekends because no one was answering the phone.

During both night and weekend mystery shopping calls, on their first call, 63% of shoppers either encountered a voicemail or a staff member who asked them to call back at a later date or time to speak to a member of the sales or marketing team.

Bild CEO Jennifer Saxman called the data “eye-opening.” With 56% of senior living leads coming in overnight or on the weekend, she said, operators have some “serious hurdles” to address in the sales process. 

“It’s mind-blowing,” Saxman said, adding that the hours between 5 and 7 p.m. often are the busiest for inquiries. For many family members of prospects, those are the hours after a workday.

“A lot of them [operators] think, because they’re not there, we’re just not getting calls. You’re missing calls — you don’t even know the phone is ringing.”

Saxman said that many in the industry still have the older mindset that consumers are  available to call or visit a community Monday through Friday during its business office hours. But a large number of caregivers are working, so nights and weekends are their only opportunity to shop around for a community for their aging parents, she added.

If hiring an answering service is outside the budget parameters, Saxman said, “consistently train the people who are there when you’re not there.” 

“It’s that simple,” Saxman said. “Unfortunately, post-COVID, we have thrown the book on customer service out the window. We were so focused on care — and rightfully so — and making sure everything else was taken care of that we lost the customer service we were really starting to grow and were doing a lot better on.”

Although Saxman said that the focus on customer service is starting to make a comeback, it’s not back yet. The main obstacle, she added, is that many communities still fixate on efforts that don’t produce income, including having salespeople work in activities.

“It’s nice for resident retention, but if you’re the salesperson and you’re not available to do your follow-up call back because you’re serving birthday cake and coffee, that’s a problem,” Saxman said, adding that that habit became acceptable during the pandemic when communities were short staffed.

“Salespeople got very accustomed to doing operational tasks,” she said. “And when you’ve got a lot of salespeople who don’t really love sales and would rather do anything than make their follow-up calls, of course they are going to focus on non-income-producing activities.”