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Pricing: The Elephant in the Senior Housing Living Room

Prospective residents are looking for pricing information. Make sure they can find it!

Prospective residents are looking for pricing information. Make sure they can find it!

There’s a big discrepancy between consumer expectations for pricing and senior housing operator practices.

In a recent Caring.com survey on senior housing tours, we found that 15% of the free-form comments mentioned prospective residents’ dissatisfaction with their access to pricing information.

“The cost is the most important aspect of this search and no one would give me approximate costs. I want that before I visit,” one complaint read.

“With my wife sitting right beside me, it is hard to answer price questions over the phone,” another commenter wrote, citing a bad experience during his pre-tour interaction with a community.

A third commenter put it more bluntly: “Doesn’t matter how nice a place it is or how well it meets your needs, if you can’t afford it, that’s it. Period. Stop wasting my time.”

Yet, in a recent webinar on pricing, we found that 14% of senior housing communities won’t share any price information with prospective residents until the family takes a tour. Little more than half of communities (58%) reported emailing pricing information before a tour, but only 21% post even approximate pricing on their websites.

In the age of the Internet, we’ve gotten used to having every bit of information at our fingertips. You can find out the price of a barrel of oil in 1979, the cost of a new Mercedes, or how much a haircut will run you in London – all without leaving your dining room table.

Just try finding prices for your local assisted living community.

Of course, the amount you’ll pay for senior care depends on a lot of variables, most of which you can’t see from a few clicks online. And most people haven’t really worked out the true cost of living in their own home and compared it to an all-inclusive senior living experience. But making it nearly impossible for prospects to get any idea of how much you’ll charge them gets your relationship off to an uncomfortable start.

So what to do? Here are a few ideas for how to start a conversation around pricing early in the sales cycle.

1. Give people a range. “Our least-expensive apartment is $2,300, but there’s a range depending on what amenities and other services you’re looking for. For instance, some of our units have full kitchens in them, and those cost a little more – I’d love to show you a few options, would you be available on Thursday afternoon?

2. Use care charges as a selling tool. “We charge around $3,000 per month for rent, but depending on your mom’s needs for assistance with things like medication or housekeeping, there’s often an additional charge for care. It’s hard for me to give you exact pricing without knowing a little more about her situation – would you be available to come in for a meeting where I could ask you some questions and help you figure out a specifically what it would cost? How about Thursday?”

3. Become their expert helper. “Our prices start at $4,000 per month, but that includes all meals, housekeeping, and full laundry service, and of course you no longer have household maintenance, utilities, and property taxes, so it often ends up being less than it actually costs to live in a large home, especially for a single person. One thing I could help you with is working out what your parents’ actual budget might be. Would you like to schedule some time Thursday to go over everything?

Here’s another idea: let your referral partner broach this topic on your behalf.

At Caring.com, our family advisors talk to families about the cost of senior housing (in fact, it’s the #1 question families ask us). They help explain rent and care charges, entrance fees and community fees, and discuss strategies to cover the cost. This means the elephant in the living room has already been mentioned, and your sales teams don’t have to cover that first.

It’s good business, too. Communities that share their pricing with our family advisors get three times as many referrals as those that don’t. Consumers are much more open to continuing a conversation when they have a sense of how much it will cost them. After all, research has shown that two-thirds of a typical purchasing decision is made before ever talking to a seller. (Dan Hutson of The Be.Group references the study in this great post).

Finally, consider posting at least your starting-at prices on your web site. You’ll be the only community in your town that does so, which will give you a jump on your competitors. And don’t worry – people understand that the starting price of $35,000 for a Mercedes Benz is just that — a starting place. That starting point helps, though, to figure out whether they should be talking to the Mercedes guy or to the Volkswagen dealer across the street.

If you’d like to hear more, listen to the full recording of our pricing webinar, including a discussion of variable prices from Prorize.

And if you’ve changed your pricing recently but haven’t notified Caring’s advisors, take 30 seconds to let us know.

They Never Call me Back! How to Better Connect with Prospects

Still waiting for the phone to ring? It might be time for a new approach.

Still waiting for the phone to ring? It might be time for a new approach.

A new client of ours recently sent me a note. “We’ve gotten five leads and they’re really not what we expected – most of them never call us back!”

Since I always prefer our clients to be happy rather than disappointed, I forwarded the note to our VP of Client Services, Pamala McGlinchey, who said she would call personally to welcome this company to Caring.com, introduce herself, and answer any questions.

Since the person was in the field when she called, Pamala left a message. “I’m calling to follow up on the note you sent Katie – I understand you had some concerns about our leads?” Then a few days later, she left another message. A few days after that, she left yet another message.

Guess what? The disgruntled client never called back.

How many of us call anyone back these days? My own kids don’t return my calls, and I’m the one who pays their cell phone bill. So is it any wonder that a stressed, full-time-working woman — who’s worried her widowed mother is depressed, lonely and not eating right, –who managed to steal a few minutes during her lunch hour to check out local senior care options online — isn’t calling you back? Especially when you waited until 4:45 p.m. to call, after she’d left work early to stop by the pharmacy, so she didn’t get the message until the next morning?

Think: when was the last time you returned a phone call from someone you weren’t trying to sell something to?

If you want to try to boost the odds of getting a call back, heed these “best practices”

  1. Speak slowly and clearly. I get lots of voicemail from people wanting to buy things from Caring.com or sell to Caring.com, and about 10% of the time, either their name, phone number, or both are unintelligible. Even if I wanted to return the call, I couldn’t. Speak slowly, spell out your name if it’s at all unusual, and repeat your number so I can write it down if I miss it the first time.
  2. Keep it short. One sentence about what’s in it for me to call you back, plus your name and phone number. That’s it. Spend time before the call planning what you’re going to say. Don’t “wing it” – you’ll drone on and on and blow your chance for a return call.
  3. Make it personal. If you’ve gotten the lead from Caring.com or another referral source, reference them. This person has just spent 30 minutes talking with our Family Advisor, so if you call quickly after getting the referral email, they should still remember the conversation.
  4. Focus on connecting, not convincing. No one ever sold anything in a voicemail. You won’t be the first. Your goal is to get a call back, and listing your amenities probably won’t help with that.

Here’s a sample script for a referral you’d get from a Caring.com Family Advisor: “Hi, this is Mary from Retirement Acres. Judy from Caring.com asked me to call you about your father, Fred. I’d love to help if I can, please call me at 555-1212, again this is Mary from Retirement Acres, 555-1212.”

Here’s one you might use if you know nothing about the person: “Hi, this is Joyce from Tender Helpers. You were recently online looking for senior care options, and I know all the websites can be overwhelming. I’m happy to personally answer any questions you have, just give me a call at 555-1212. Again, it’s Joyce from Tender Helpers, at 555-1212.”

But if you’re selling anything in 2015, you need to keep in mind that:

                         They Won’t Call You Back.

So what to do? Here are a few things that have worked for me:

  • Send an email. Not a corporate, over-produced HTML thing, but a real, personalized message to your prospect. Follow the same guidelines as above, but feel free to mention a few more things like one key differentiator and maybe include a link to your Virtual Tour or your great reviews on Caring.com. End with,, “Just hit Reply to let me know when you’d be available to come in for a chat.” Some people want the information emailed first and then get questions answered via a phone call — honor their preferences and they may be more likely to return your call.
  • Try again. Calling and emailing, that is. When we mystery-shop our clients, we find fewer than half ever go beyond one call (even to send an email). No wonder they never hear back. I call my prospects twice the first week, once more the next week, and then keep them on my email list…well, forever!
  • Be strategic about when you call. Never call a professional at 10:05 a.m. or 2:20 p.m., when they’ll be in a meeting. I’ve found that lunch hour is a great time to call a working woman, especially if you time it at about 12:20 p.m., after she’s had time to run to the cafeteria and pick up lunch to bring back to her desk. This is less likely to work with men, who tend to go out for lunch. Also, be aware that people may not appreciate getting a call at work to talk about their loved one’s care and you may be better off sending an email.
  • Check your Caller ID. Make sure the number you’re calling from shows up with the name of your business or community, not your personal name. If someone has requested information online about Retirement Acres, they’re more likely to pick up the phone when they see Retirement Acres rather than the sales director’s name.

For more coaching on how to leave a message that gets results, check out the great online training modules from DEI Central. The above tip about referencing the Caring advisor by name comes from their stellar Internet Leads Handling session.

What works for you? Does anyone ever call you back? Tell us about it — we love to share best practices. And, if you’re not yet a Caring.com client – buck the trend and call us back the next time we leave you a message about our great service!

 

SEO: 3 Common Misconceptions

striped bowtie

SEO: Rock your bowtie strategy like a boss. Striped bowtie by Pete, CC-BY-2.0

Since it’s now widely known that everybody who seeks information on the Internet starts at Google, any business whose clients are online — or every business — spends time worrying about how to be at the top of the search results. A big challenge, though, is that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is constantly evolving, as search engine companies (such as Google or Bing) look for better ways to decide which content is the most valuable (for consumers) and most profitable (for them). To keep up with these ongoing changes and meet the objective of being high on Page 1 of search results, marketers must constantly re-visit their assumptions and refine their approaches.

SEO expert AJ Kohn of Blind Five Year Old recently joined Caring’s Digital Marketing Academy for a deep dive into the latest thinking on SEO. He focused on three common SEO assumptions that have changed significantly over time.

Misconception #1: Content is king
While this adage still holds true, it’s not enough just to write great articles – you need to promote and market them, too. As AJ said during the webcast, “Content alone isn’t going to work. If you publish content, they will not come to it magically.” People need to see and engage with your content, to “like” and “share” it on social media, and to post comments in order for the content to help you rank for SEO. In fact, AJ advised spending as much time promoting content as you do creating it.

Content promotion tips he provided include:

• Find Q&A forums, such as Caring.com’s Ask and Answer platform, to find consumer questions you can answer, provide information that helps them, and as relevant, link to your related content.

• Join the conversation in comments on other websites’ articles, particularly if there aren’t a lot of comments already on the page and it’s high in search engine rankings for a term that’s relevant to your business. Make sure that your comments are interesting and helpful, not sales focused.

• Write content that attracts “true fans”. It may only take 1,000 really engaged people to help a blog post ‘go viral’ or get noticed by Google, as discussed in a blog post AJ shared.

• Consider and try paid social (for instance, Facebook’s Promoted Post program) to jump-start likes and shares.

One final, important thought about content marketing: Don’t expect results to appear overnight. “Think years, not months,” AJ said.

How We Can Help
Caring’s social media team is a great resource for senior care providers to share content with the tens of thousands of people who engage with us via social networks. Our team keeps a close eye on who’s sharing Caring’s content, and often reciprocates. We also regularly share information on social media from winners of the annual Caring Stars award. If you’re working with us directly, our client services team can connect you with the social folks.

Misconception #2: Links to other sites are to be avoided.
A prevailing thought used to be that outlinks detracted from your domain authority – but this has changed. Nowadays, a smart linking strategy, both in and out, can help establish your “neighborhood,” providing valuable context for your content and boosting your site’s authority and rankings. That’s why it’s key to link out to quality sites (including Caring.com, which often appears in top search results for industry keywords).

Another important reason to link out – prominently – is that it keeps people from clicking through to your page, getting their question answered, and then returning to Google with a follow-up question. AJ described this bouncing back to Google as a “pogo stick” situation. Instead, he says, you should aim for a “Bow Tie” strategy. Think about the related information people might commonly search for after they read your content, and link to those resources. That way, instead of bouncing back to Google from your page, people continue on to other sites. Your site then becomes the “knot” in the bow tie.

And, since they haven’t just bounced back to Google to address these follow-up questions, Google views your site as a place people go and stay for a while – a great signal that you’ve got a valuable resource that deserves to rank high.

Some simple things you can do:
• Link to reputable, high-quality content that helps answer readers’ additional questions. Let’s say you have a senior living community in Mesa, AZ. You obviously want to rank for searches for your name, and also for assisted living in Mesa, AZ. But once people find your community website, what are their next questions? They might want to know how to pay for senior housing, so you could link to resources like a local veteran’s benefits company, or Caring’s great article on how to pay for assisted living.

• Link to pages that demonstrate your expertise or connect consumers to other relevant organizations. They might want to make sure you’re an ethical company, and you could link to your local Chamber of Commerce, or third-party sites with consumer reviews. Or maybe they’ll want to know how close you are to great healthcare, so you’d link to your local hospital’s website.

Reach out to sites you link to, and build reciprocal relationships. They’ll be pleased to know you linked to their great content, they may share some of yours, and they may link back to your site. Avoid trading or buying links though. “Inbound links are the result, not the goal. Build a resource that people in your community love. When you earn links, good things happen,” AJ said.

Misconception #3: You must work hard to rank for “root” terms.
Of course, situations vary. In general, though, a single community will struggle to rank high for a so-called root term like “Assisted Living” or even “Assisted Living in Los Angeles,” because search algorithms favor sites that cover the area broadly (like SeniorHomes.com) rather than the site for a single community that happens to be located in Los Angeles. If you’re not ranking first for your community name, though, you’re really in trouble.

“If someone’s looking for your brand, your property, or name, you better capture that customer because they’re further down the purchase funnel,” AJ said.

His tips for simple things you can do:
• Make sure your name and physical address is featured everywhere on your site, using consistent terms, which will help ensure that you rank high for local searches and brand-oriented searches.

• Claim your Google My Business page. “Google My Business isn’t easy, but it’s essential for any business that has a physical location, and at the end of the day, it’s worth it,” AJ said.

Above all, it was clear from the session that ranking high in organic search results requires a consistent, dedicated, multi-year initiative that could easily run you $5,000 per month or more. AJ noted that his own blog, BlindFiveYearOld.com, got almost no traffic for its first two and a half years! It was only in Year 3 that he started to rank in critical areas, and consequently to get inbound traffic from search engines.

DON’T WANT TO WAIT? If you need business NOW, there is another option. AJ called it the “barnacle strategy”. Like a barnacle attaching itself to a ship, you can hitch onto sites that do invest the time and money into SEO ranking. Caring.com is one of these sites, and many partners have used our pages to get found in search results. Call us at (866) 824-9209 and press 1 to speak with a Membership Advisor who can help you execute this SEO strategy.

Additional Info
• Read more of what AJ said during this webcast via our Digital Marketing Academy stream @CaringInsights.

• Watch the webcast recording on YouTube.

• Visit and subscribe to AJ’s blog.