A Place for Mom was launched in 2000 with the intention of giving families an easier and more informed way to find and select senior living solutions for their loved ones. Fourteen years later, the company is the largest senior living advisory service in North America and this year we celebrated a major milestone —we have helped more than a million families find senior care and living arrangements for their loved ones.

Reaching both of these accomplishments was not without its challenges, and the past few years have taught us many lessons. These valuable insights have become core values at A Place for Mom that we strive to incorporate into our daily business practices.

Lesson 1: Communication and collaboration are key for building trust

Most often, the success of a business depends on delivering a consistent and high-quality product or service, and maintaining reliable and trusted relationships with business-critical stakeholders is key to achieving this goal. The senior living industry is certainly no different and while the list of stakeholders can be quite long, the senior and his/her family are always the top priority.

In our industry, companies must work to establish internal environments that encourage open and honest communication with external customers. An approach that values transparency and collaboration with consumers can help companies improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, and uncover new ideas for driving business proficiency and solving customer pain points.

There are a number of available tools and services to help a company foster professional two-way dialogue with consumers while monitoring feedback. Sites such as Feefo, the Better Business Bureau, and SeniorAdvisor.com, as well as social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, enable valuable third-party insights into how your business is viewed externally and provide the functionality to easily respond.

APFM encourages and emphasizes the value of collaboration and feedback with employees, providers and families, and uses a number of methods to foster two-way dialogue. This approach has been critical to the business process improvements we’ve made over the years and has helped cultivate and improve our position as a valued partner to senior living communities, and a trusted advisor to families. When key stakeholders feel heard and valued, relationships, loyalty and the memories of positive experiences tend to deepen and be shared with others.

Lesson 2: Invest in your own staff’s growth and skills development

The senior housing landscape has changed a great deal within the past 10-15 years. Baby boomers are driving new consumer demands, technology is changing care delivery methods as well as how families search and identify care options, and new regulations are constantly changing the field. One unchanging factor in this business continues to be the impact your employees will have on the experience of your customers.

Companies need to offer consistent, appropriate training for their staff to ensure they stay relevant, adaptable and motivated. For example, as more seniors are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s there’s been an increase in demand for memory care transition units and specialized memory care. In response, we’ve seen community partners expand specialized memory care training and adapt their service offerings to meet this need. At A Place for Mom, we’ve improved our technology platforms and database resources for our Senior Living Advisors to better assist families who may need memory care services. Today, we can not only help families narrow their search for memory care options based on location, budget and amenities, but by specific lifestyle preference and care needs as well, such as identifying communities that have been purposely built with open yet secure environments for different levels of memory care services, including disruptive behavioral issues.

Lesson 3: Leverage opportunities to educate

Companies today have access to a wide array of channels to communicate with different audiences. In addition to traditional media channels – television, radio and print – companies can also leverage online outlets such as blogs, social media, and community forums to share their message with their target audience. Since different channels allow for different types of communication, there is an opportunity for companies to not only tout their services, but to also educate others about the nuances of their industry. The key is finding – or creating – channels that work for your business.

One of APFM’s missions is to educate others about the senior housing industry by providing useful resources and information to both consumers and senior living providers.

For consumers, the process of finding care for aging loved ones can be full of emotions, guilt and confusion. Empowering consumers with the tools they need to help educate themselves on this process can truly be a gift, especially for families who are not sure where to start. APFM created SeniorAdvisor.com, a consumer-driven rating and reviews site, because we saw a demand for senior living reviews given the rise of consumer-generated content and more consumers looking up information online. Social media has also been a useful tool in educating different audiences by allowing us to foster engagement, learn from other industry experts, and build partnerships with other industry players. 

With few industry channels available for communicating directly with senior living providers, APFM chose to create its own in the form of Partner Central, the Senior Living Insider blog, and a newsletter for providers that partner with APFM. We focus on offering tools that help communities manage and leverage data from move-in activities, as well as share marketing tips and other content that will help providers improve occupancy levels.

Over the course of helping one million families, we have used these lessons to support our overarching goals: help families connect quickly and efficiently with communities that can meet their needs, create tools that can empower families and save them time and emotional stress, and help educate others about the realities and benefits of the senior living industry.

Ed Nevraumont is the chief marketing officer at A Place for Mom.