Product benefits and features centered marketing and management models for senior living and aging services programs are sputtering as organizations struggle to increase customer loyalty and increase sales.
If openly embraced, a cultural transformation to authentic, empowered, customer centered models could reverse the ebbing fortunes of the industry by re-imagining planned community living for an older marketplace.
Customer relationship management (CRM) has not proven to be the boon to customer satisfaction and customer loyalty its proponents promised it would be.
Contrary to proponent’s claims, CRM is product centered in that it strives for what marketers had always sought – matching their product’s features and benefits to some customer profile.
As opposed to traditional sales that have used fear and urgency strategies to gain consideration, using a values centered sales approach helps create empathetic links with customers and promotes dialogue in which empathy flows back and forth between sales personnel and prospective community members.
This approach further allows both community representatives and prospects to be more vulnerable, a requisite for unguarded communications that inform both parties the mutual benefits.
In order to build a customer-centered model, you must recognize and address seven truths:
- Customers control your destiny. Too many communities and service organizations serving older adults work under an illusion that they control markets; however, customers control markets! They do so by zapping commercials, walking away from incompetence, hanging up phones, leaving your web site, posting their opinions on social networks and freely choosing what they will buy and from whom they will buy it.
- Older customers are only a mystery if you keep analyzing them. The multi-billion research industry has yet to figure out the basics of customer behavior. At base, older customers are simple to understand. A hundred years of behavioral science embodies all we need to know. Customers want status, stimulation and security in love relationships, friendships, and in relationships with those who serve them. That hasn't changed in a thousand years, and it won’t change in the next thousand years. (Workers want the same things, so if communities expect all team members to be customer centered, the community’s leadership needs to be team centered.)
- Older customers will teach us if we tune in their voices. Just as infants teach their mothers, your customer will teach you. The mother tunes her senses to those of the wordless infant. So, tune your senses to your customer, listen for feelings, act on what you sense, and a durable bond will form. Prioritize the recruitment of staff that have a positive affinity toward older adults. Also, you may want to consider asking for references from non-relatives over age 65 as part of your hiring process.
- Customers want you to succeed. Customers invest their ideas, as they perceive them, in everything they do. When someone compromises the integrity of their ideas, they feel pain. The corollary of this is that when customers see fortune smiling on the object of an identity investment, they celebrate in action if not in words by growing closer to the object of their investment. This is the pathway that will lead to a powerful word-of-mouth marketing program.
- Older customers want other people to join them. Customers feel pleasure when others make the same decisions they have made. It makes them feel part of the community, more secure in their decision to be a member. It makes them feel smarter when they make their decisions before others made theirs. Turn customers into satisfied community members, and they will work with others to grow the Community.
- Customers will lead a community in the right direction. Customers follow their needs. Because their needs keep changing, they continuously change directions. If we follow them with resolve to serve their needs, then they will follow us. However, beware: if we ask customers about changing their needs, they may not know the answers, though they may tell us otherwise. Learn to trust what you see or hear. To acquire this uncanny sense requires a basic understanding of older customers and later life values.
- Customers do not want to abandon organizations. The human brain evolved to be change-resistant in the interest of achieving stability. Customers do not want to reverse decisions they have made, nor break relationships with which those decisions are associated. Nevertheless, they will abandon you in a moment if you abandon them. Customers can quickly sense signs of abandonment despite claims that you are customer-driven. Simply put, you cannot advertise a culture that does not exist in reality.
You may even send signs of abandonment without recognizing them as such. Therefore, just as you need a basic understanding of customers, you also need a basic understanding of yourself. Otherwise, like a person hearing their own voice for the first time and exclaiming, “It doesn’t sound like me,” you will not recognize your community in customers’ perceptions. However, if you model your community and design your marketing messages around these Seven Truths, success will likely follow.
There is a marketing revolution underway, which is being driven by the dramatic aging of the marketplace that is occurring and will continue for 20 years. Revolutions replace old rules with new rules. This mobilizes defenders of the old rules who fear change. Revolutions also have fence sitters waiting to see which way to jump, and bring out opportunists who do not understand the mission. Defenders of the old rules are waging a losing battle, and yet continue to follow the traditional models…the way it has always been done.
Fence sitters must quickly jump to the revolution’s side to have the benefits of early adopters. Opportunists would do well to learn the mission and bend to its truth: replacing product centered business/community models with customer-centered models is critical because customers control markets and companies destinies, as never before.