InterFace Seniors Housing Panel: Connecting with Families Is as Important as Operations

by Jeff Shaw

ATLANTA — For seniors housing operators, connecting to families is just as important as running a community, according to Josh Crisp, founder and president of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Solinity Senior Living.

Crisp urges his sales team to connect with prospective families to build trust so the company can educate the families.

Crisp says he wants his team members to know a resident’s life story “so they can connect on a deeper level and help them transition to your community.”

Crisp’s comments came during a panel titled “Operating Successfully in a Challenging Environment: How to Maximize Occupancy and Beat the Competition in Your Market,” at InterFace Seniors Housing Southeast. Traci Bild, CEO and president of Bild & Co. was the moderator of the panel. Panelists included Crisp; John Rauls, vice president of Southeastern Retirement Management; Jessica Heck, chief strategy officer of Blake Management Group; and Kevin Isakson, director of sales and marketing for Isakson Living.

Hosted by France Media’s InterFace Conference Group and Seniors Housing Business at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, the one-day conference was held Wednesday, Aug. 28 and attracted 436 professionals from all corners of the industry. Participants gathered to network and attend a variety of panel discussions that focused on timely issues and trends.

Heck drew from personal experience to relay how important it is to connect in order to deliver services. Heck’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 56. Heck felt she would need to put her career on pause if her mother had moved in. Heck was grateful for being walked through the process of finding her mother the right care, something she wants for everyone in her situation.

“Someone holding my hand through that was a ticket to my life back,” said Heck. “We have to explain that in a fashion that our residents and families understand.”

Change the perception

Bild commented that 88 percent occupancy is the new norm in the industry for private-pay seniors housing, a drop from the average in previous years. While the answers to that problem varied, the message remained the same: Industry leaders need to work on changing the perception surrounding senior care.

Crisp believes that the seniors housing sector is failing to reach its full potential because of the way the public perceives the industry. While it is an obstacle, Crisp is confident industry leaders can educate the general population about what operators do.

Solinity and NRC Health teamed to collect data about why there is a misconception when it comes to seniors housing’s reputation. NRC Health surveyed a group of 300,000 people from outside the senior living industry. The survey found that only 23 percent of people have a positive view of seniors housing.

However, Crisp explained, when those with ties to the senior industry were surveyed, the results were nearly opposite: 88 percent of people with family members in a community report high satisfaction in their care.

“Our industry is awesome at producing what we like to refer to as ‘love stories,’” said Crisp. “However, we have done a terrible job at telling love stories.”

One suggestion Crisp offered is improving the marketing of products and services, while better communicating “who we are and what we do as an industry.”

Rauls’ grandmother and grandfather, a minister, founded Southeastern Retirement Management after visiting people in their homes and seeing there was a need for seniors to receive care. Rauls says the company is still family-owned and -run, something he is very passionate about not changing.

“I believe in embedding (family) in our culture and training program,” said Rauls. “Usually someone from our family is at our facilities throughout the week.”

It is this “personal touch” that sets Southeastern Retirement Management apart from the competition, said Rauls.

Virtual front door

Isakson said that the way consumers and companies interact has changed drastically, and the industry needs to change with that. In the past, a sales consultant would walk a potential client through the process. Now, Isakson points out, information is accessible through so many channels that if it is a 10-step process, the consumer is coming to you at Step 7.

“The client has already been marketed to and educated through your website,” said Isakson.

Crisp said that one lesson he has learned is that content is key. Just because a website contains a lot of information and consumers are coming through the virtual front door, that doesn’t necessarily mean people will come through the real front door. Crisp said if content is not geared toward the target audience, companies could end up burning a lot of time following up on inquiries that are not going to convert to sales.

Rauls echoed Crisp’s sentiment that technology does not automatically create occupancy.

“One of the most important things we need to understand is how digital is getting into senior living,” explained Rauls. “Everybody is trying to one-up everybody with new apps and new programs, and everybody is trying to sell you something.

“Study something long enough and if you see it’s not working, change it.”

— Alex Tostado

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