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Senior living Web reviews have growing influence

July 1, 2011
by Robin Joy
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How you rate affects consumer choices

Many people wouldn't dream of reserving a hotel room without first checking the customer lodging reviews on TripAdvisor.com. Nor would they purchase shoes before examining the consumer opinions posted on Zappos.com. Already important in hospitality and retailing, online customer ratings and reviews are emerging as a growing force in the senior living industry. A variety of tactics can assist providers in reaping the most benefit from this trend.

A 2010 study of shoppers by PowerReviews and the e-tailing group demonstrates the increasing sway of online opinions: Nearly two-thirds of the consumers surveyed spend 10 minutes or more reading reviews prior to making a purchase, a rise from 50 percent who dedicated that amount of time in 2007. Thirty-nine percent peruse at least eight reviews, compared to just 22 percent in 2007 who said they read that many.

“There's no question online reviews will soon have a noticeable impact in the senior living sector,” says Katie Roper, vice president of sales for Caring.com, an online directory of senior living facilities and services that provides consumers with supplemental eldercare information. “Their effect may ultimately be even greater than in other industries, because referrals are so important to prospective residents and their families.”

Shannon Ingram, senior director of marketing communications for Silverado Senior Living, agrees that the influence of consumer Web opinion on long-term care decisions is increasing. Silverado provides assisted living for those with Alzheimer's and other memory-impairing diseases as well as home care, care management and hospice care.

“People take star ratings seriously and they read the reviews,” Ingram says. “When it comes to senior living options, baby boomers are interested in finding information on their own, in addition to being referred by a physician or social worker or reading ads or listings in print media.” Indeed, half of the caregivers surveyed in a 2011 study by Caring.com searched online before choosing a LTC community or in-home care.

A site dedicated to aging care issues is just one place online that a consumer might post a review of an LTC community. Others include the search engine features Yahoo! Local or Google Places as well as Yelp and other websites dedicated to reviews of a wide range of services and products. The good news for providers is that this abundance of venues for opinion offers “the opportunity to create community ‘evangelists,’” says Roper, who tells providers to encourage satisfied residents and family members to post their own reviews.

Perhaps a resident is an enthusiastic participant in your community’s art or music programs. Maybe a family member has complimented the staff’s attentive care or the chef’s talents. These individual community components offer excellent angles for evocative reviews, says Roper. More of such examples surfaced in Caring.com's recent survey of assisted living practices that garnered top Web reviews.

Other tips:

Ask residents and families for reviews on an ongoing basis. Recent write-ups assure readers of the high quality of your community now, and the accumulation of many reviews over time demonstrates your consistent quality.

Establish a procedure to monitor the reviews being written about your community. At least once a week, check on sites where you know your community is listed and conduct a Web search with your community's name and the word “review.” Also, make sure you have established a Google alert for your community. Silverado's Ingram says her organization monitors reviews and online discussions to understand consumer sentiment and “because it provides an opportunity to truly listen and individually engage with our audience. This offers valuable insight into how our brand and services are perceived.”

Respond (if possible) if you come across a negative review. On a number of sites, you can post a comment below the review to express concern, reiterate your community's commitment to quality and invite the reviewer to contact you offline to address the issue. Roper says some sites, particularly those with directories, “enable providers to dispute fraudulent reviews or those that may have been posted by disgruntled former employees.”

Through the tactics described above, providers can use the power of online consumer opinion to touch more prospective residents and their families in a compelling way.

Robin Joy is vice president of marketing for Caring.com and works directly with the community’s family caregivers, offering resources including a comprehensive directory of caregiving services. Robin can be reached at robin@caring.com.

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