Senior living communities use mystery shopping to refocus service, marketing efforts

Most people think of mystery shopping in terms of visits to retail stores and restaurants, but there are a variety of businesses across industries that use the service to gain a more complete understanding of the experiences they offer.

Most people think of mystery shopping in terms of visits to retail stores and restaurants, but there are  a variety of businesses across industries that use the service to gain a more complete understanding of the experiences they offer.

Real estate companies, law firms and airports use secret shoppers to gain objective views about customer service, knowledgeability and cleanliness. Senior living communities are also purveyors of the paid evaluations so they can see how well marketing tactics are working and to compare offerings with competitors in the field, according to Senior Housing News.

"Perception is such a big thing," said Jon Obel, vice president of operations for Terra Management Group LLC, a company that operates affordable senior living communities in Colorado. "Everyone perceives things differently, and mystery shopping gives really good objective input."

The senior living communities found that current marketing practices may not be the most effective, the source reports in a separate article. A Senior Housing Administration program at George Mason University requires students to mystery shop a facility and report their findings in classes. Through their secret shops, students discovered that many senior living communities were falling into the same traps when it came to marketing to prospective clients.

These traits, which the students coined "iPod Marketing," include pressing the "Play" button, or delivering a standard pitch that may not appeal to individuals and hitting the "Pause," button by asking too many intermittent questions that disrupt the conversation flow, the source explains. "Shuffling" took place when representatives attempted to gather information in a haphazard way, and they also discovered that many marketers were "fast forwarding," immediately asking to schedule an appointment before they have adequately screened callers to find out whether they were good fits for the community.

This information was presented to community leaders, who were then able to implement the necessary changes in their marketing tactics, Senior Housing News adds. Since employees are the frontlines of facilities, it's extremely important they deliver information in a warm, informative and professional manner to earn the trust of clients.

"Agents must always determine what level of information that prospect needs: their fears, concerns, what they need in terms of explanation to make them feel informed and comfortable, as opposed to information download," Mary LeBlanc, president of a California-based sales performance evaluation service.