If your care home occupancy rates are below where you would like them to be – particularly if they are below the point of commercial sustainability – you need to drive new enquiries and make sure you convert them. Improving the reputation of your care home through strong social media, public relations and community activities will help drive enquiries, but you then need to make sure that from the first phone call, potential new residents and their relatives get the best possible impression of your care home at every point of contact to drive up your conversion rates and convince them that your care home is one that feels like home.
Creating an exceptional customer journey for new care home enquiries
It’s an inevitable factor of the care sector that there will always be churn, so securing new residents is a vital element of your business model. This is not something that should ever be left to chance – it is far too important, and it has never been more important than in the legacy of the pandemic, with confidence in the sector only slowly restoring.
To make sure it’s handled strategically, rather than haphazardly, the starting point is to create an exceptional customer journey. To do this, you need to consider the entry points through which any potential new resident arrives at your care home, then the next touch point and so on, until they finally make a decision as to whether your care home is the right one for them or their loved one.
This customer journey should be mapped out, with scripts and documents prepared at each stage, so that every new prospect gets the same, exceptional experience, without deviation. That doesn’t mean the customer journey is carved in stone; if you notice that a certain phrase or conducting tours in a particular order increases conversions, the customer journey should be adapted accordingly.
A mapped customer journey also doesn’t mean that each prospect has to be taken through every step. The aim of the customer journey is to get to a decision – ideally in favour of your care home; all stages of the customer journey should therefore be structured to steer towards that decision, and once you reach it, the process ends. This does mean that you need to map out different pathways, depending upon the answers/actions at each step of the process, identifying what needs to happen at each stage and any supporting materials that will be needed. It might look something like this:
Appointing a dream team for new care home resident enquiries
In the diagram, CLO refers to Client Liaison Officer – a role that we recommend all care homes should adopt. The reality is that we all have different strengths and weaknesses; building rapport with new prospects in a very short space of time and consistently messaging the positives about your care home are skills that not everyone within your team will have. Some of your staff may be fantastic carers – but that doesn’t necessarily make them excellent ambassadors for your brand. With a new enquiry being worth potentially £50,000+ a year to your business, it is vital that the person who handles it excels in these areas.
It is also important that they are good at listening. The customer journey should not be a show and tell – it is vital to find out the things that matter most to the prospect so that you can demonstrate to them how your care home meets these.
It’s equally important that it is the same person who looks after them throughout the customer journey. This creates consistency and shows how important they are to you and the significance you attach to helping them have the information they need to make such a crucial decision.
Of course, everyone has holidays, and if you get a walk-in enquiry, your Client Liaison Office may not be on shift, so you should also train a couple of deputies who are good substitutes in their absence.
Make sure the whole team knows the process
It’s not just enough for the CLO to know the process. Unless you have a dedicated hotline for new enquiries, they will not take the first call, and the chances of them being in reception when a potential new resident makes an impromptu visit are extremely slim. You therefore need to make sure that all reception staff, as well as anyone who might be in reception or might be assigned to cover incoming phone calls, understands the process and knows exactly what to say. The last thing you want is someone being greeted with the words ‘There’s no-one here who can help you right now, can you come back/call back later?’ It’s equally important that they understand the value of new enquiries to your home – appreciating the potential five-figure income that this phone call or visit represents is a good way of focusing collective minds to the importance of new enquiries and the need to handle them right.
Crucially, you can see in the customer pathway map, if there is a walk-in enquiry, they should be shown round immediately – and every member of staff needs to understand this. Of course, you may be in the middle of serving lunch or there could be a medical emergency and it may not be a great time for your staff – but it is a convenient time for your prospective new resident. If you say, “This isn’t a great time, can we book you in for another day?” (which reads “when it’s more convenient for us”), you are as good as saying: “We don’t want your business. Go and have a look at one of our competitors in this time you have taken off work/out of your normal activities and we’re happy to run the risk that you may choose them instead of us.” That’s probably not the message you want to give!
Consistent, timely processes
The diagram also makes it clear that you need consistent processes at each step. This means documenting all stages, making sure that everyone who needs access to scripts, email templates and supporting marketing collateral has them. For example, you might consider having a laminated new enquiry phone script in a convenient, yet discreet, place in reception; staff should be able to find it easily, but it shouldn’t be obvious to visitors standing on the other side of the reception desk.
The forms, scripts and marketing materials identified in the diagram would be used as follows:
|What||When to be used||By whom||Timeframe||Action|
|For client drop in||Receptionist||1. Arrange visit there and then OR|
2. Secure date for visit and pass information to CLO for follow up OR
3. Pass information to CLO to follow up and secure date for visit
|For client phone call||Receptionist||1. Secure date for visit and pass information to CLO for follow up OR|
2. Pass information to CLO to follow up
|Request for more information||CLO||Within 4 working hours||Send additional info PDF1/brochure|
· Ask to schedule a visit
· State call back within 2 working days
|Phone call 1||After email 1||CLO||Within 2 working days||Book a visit|
|Email 2||After confirmation of visit date/time||CLO||Within 4 working hours||Send additional info PDF 2|
|Phone call 2||After email 2||CLO||24 hours before visit||Confirm that we are looking forward to seeing you tomorrow|
|Script 3||When visitor arrives||Receptionist||5-10 mins|
|Visit checklist||During visit||CLO||40 mins/1 hr|
|Email 3||Post show round||CLO||Immediately post show round||Wonderful to meet you. Reminder of my contacts details in case you have any more queries. Will call you in the next day or two.|
|Phone call 2||Post email 3||CLO||Within 2 days|
Supplementing the customer pathway map with a table likes this helps assign responsibilities and timeframes. The timeframes are equally important; failing to send information or follow-up as promised, undermines messaging that you are an efficient, professional organisation and increases the chances of the prospect choosing a more efficient, proactive competitor.
A key element in delivering consistent experiences is a visit checklist. Ideally, your CLO knows your care home inside out, but we all know that if we give the same presentation 10 times, we give 10 different presentations; a visit checklist makes sure nothing is left off and that the prospect will have all the information they need to help them make a decision.
Adding value at every step of the customer journey
Each touch point with the new prospect should give them further evidence as to why your care home should be their first choice. You will see in the diagram and table that the first two written communications have marketing materials attached, whether the communication is via email or letter. These should be prepared in advance and structured to add another layer to the prospect’s understanding of your care home and why it is a great place for them or their relative. For example, attachment one could be a one-page round up of testimonials (each one chosen to message something slightly different about your care home), attachment two could be this week’s menu, highlighting local and homemade produce. The marketing materials should never duplicate content.
The small touches
Whether your care home is rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding,’ there are probably many local competitors who offer a similar level of care and facilities, therefore, the decision as to which one to choose can often boil down to the small details. This means your customer journey should anticipate all of the small things that together create an exceptional, welcoming experience, such as:
- Put yourself in their shoes: The potential residents coming to you may well have mobility issues; having to walk across the car park from the most remote parking space may decide them against your care home before they have even got to your reception, so think about reserving the closest space for them ahead of their arrival.
- Be there to greet them: Rather than calling for the CLO when they arrive, it creates a much better impression if they are waiting to open the front door to your visitors.
- Treat them like VIPs, whatever the weather: What if it’s raining? If they’re soaked to the skin before they get to the front door, they are not likely to be in the greatest humour as they tour your facilities. Why not have a stash of branded golf umbrellas in reception and go out and greet them with one to walk them in shelter to the front door – and give them an umbrella to take home at the end of their visit so your care home remains uppermost in their mind? It’s a small investment to secure a new resident.
- Prebook refreshments with your kitchen staff, to be served in a quiet, attractive space after you have finished the tour while the CLO answers any other questions they may have.
Nailing your new enquiry customer journey
Apart from the golf umbrellas, none of these strategies need any investment beyond management and marketing time and potentially some staff training. Getting your customer journey right is therefore a strategic commitment, rather than a big budget investment; but when you do nail it, you should be able to drive up your conversions, which in turn will lead to more word-of-mouth referrals, which are always the best form of marketing.
As specialist care consultants, we regularly help our care home clients improve their conversions to boost their occupancy rates, including developing the right systems and processes, staff training and creating the right marketing materials.