Assisted living communities consistently do not make a good first impression with prospective customers, and they haven’t improved this skill set in the last decade, according to data from George Mason University in Virginia.

Sales staff fielding telephone inquiries routinely fail to ask for basic information about prospective residents, do not offer in-person tours, and neglect to gather information to boost marketing efforts, students in the Senior Housing Administration program determined.

George Mason students have been conducting “mystery shops” of assisted living and senior housing communities since 2004. They place telephone calls on behalf of a prospective “A-lead” customer, as defined by needs, finances and ability to move. They then grade the community representative on 30 criteria across four categories: First Impression, Needs Assessment, Ability to Meet Needs and Follow Up/Close.

Out of 34 shops in the latest semester, the community representative did not ask the prospective resident’s name 62% of the time, according to a George Mason press release.

“Here’s an industry predicated on the idea that they will treat your family member as one of their own, but didn’t then ask the name of that person well over half the time,” stated Andrew Carle, executive-in-residence and the program’s founding director.

Students were asked about the resident’s move-in timeline only 26% of the time, and they were asked about ability to pay 32% of the time. Community tours should have been offered 100% of the time, given the resident profile, but about one-fifth of representatives offered only to send a brochure, according to the information provided by George Mason. Carle said this practice sends the message that “instead of touring the $10 million community that would be their home, we are forwarding a $5 brochure.”

Furthermore, these numbers have remained essentially static over the last 10 years. Sales staff generally are “nice, but largely untrained,” and are catering more to “last-resort” customers as opposed to those who could benefit from some of the “best features” of assisted living, Carle stated.