Your residents didn’t decide to move into your community overnight — they went through a journey to get there. That journey, formally referred to as the buyer’s journey, is the process your prospects go through as they first become aware that they might need to move to a senior living community (the awareness stage), consider the different senior living options available to them (the consideration stage) and then make a final decision about where to live (the decision stage).
As previously mentioned, the buyer’s journey has three stages: the awareness stage, the consideration stage and the decision stage. Knowing what questions and concerns prospects have during these different stages will help you tailor your content and offerings to answer their questions and address their concerns, ultimately guiding them through their journey and through your community’s front doors.
However, defining your community’s buyer’s journey isn’t as simple as thinking like your customer. It requires you to know your residents and truly understand what steps they went through before they came to call your community home.
I recently had the chance to visit a client’s senior living community and sit down with a group of their residents, three strangers who were each 75+ years old.
Nestled in a wealthy Boston suburb, this beautifully designed senior community offers independent and assisted living apartments augmented with inviting shared spaces for dining, activities and exercising (including a heated pool). In addition, the community has game rooms and reading nooks with comfortable seating areas and fireplaces.
The group of residents I sat down with included two women and one man. All of them had lived in the area for some time, and each had family nearby.
My first question to these independent senior living residents was about their decision to move from their long-time homes, likely where they lived for years and raised children: Was it hard? What made them decide to do it? To my surprise, they each said that once they decided to move, they never looked back and that to this day, they are happy with their decision.
Mary, a second generation local, shared her story first. “The funny thing is that I lived next door before they built this community, and I fought hard against it being approved by the town. When it opened, they began hosting events open to the public, so I started to attend. I discovered I liked it here, and I really liked the people living here. Then when I realized my house was too much for me to maintain anymore, this was the first place I came. I sold my house in a day, picked my new apartment and here I am three years later. I didn’t realize how much I would like it. I enjoy being with people who are at similar point in life. Getting old can be hard. We are here for each other, and there’s comfort in that.”
The gentleman said he and his wife left their home because he had become her caregiver, and at one point her doctor told him he’d be better living in a setting where he could get support, so he wouldn’t have to bother with upkeep, cleaning and maintenance while caring for his wife. They looked at several places and nothing clicked initially. Some were too big and didn’t feel comfortable. Some were too far from town because living near stores, medical services and places to walk was important to them. Their grown children encouraged them to live as close to them as possible, too, which ultimately they did. After two years at the community, his wife passed away.
What I found most interesting was what happened next. He said he misses his wife dearly, but like many couples, they were each other’s best friends and didn’t do much outside their family interactions. “Now, I have so many friends here that I’m never alone if I don’t want to be. I enjoy going into the dining room and sitting with friends, or volunteering to help with community projects that another resident is organizing. I have a solid friend network, which I never really had in my younger years,” he reflected.
Perhaps not so surprising was how they all commented on their connection to the staff (hint, hint, senior housing owners and operators). When a server came by our table in the pub, they all called him by name, asked how school was going and asked if he had any new drawings to share. They referenced the chef by name, probably because they had talked with him at different times about trying new menu items. And the front desk concierge was like one of their friends, asking about their families and recent activities. Staff is the glue around much of what the residents do and see in the community.
While each of them went through a different buyer’s journey before calling this senior living community home, they had things in common about why they live there now: They enjoy good food and the chance to attend presentations in welcoming common spaces. They feel a sense of belonging and they enjoy each other’s company. Ultimately, they felt at home.
And for me, spending an evening at the community — as if I were a resident — gave me a more intimate glimpse at the buyer’s journey seniors take before coming to one of our clients’ communities. That’s about the best market research I can do.