What the Cruise Industry Practices and Senior Housing Can Emulate

I continue to marvel at the cruise industry’s ability to attract and accommodate thousands of passengers and some interesting tips can be gleaned for senior living operators.

Whether it’s marketing, customer service, hospitality, entertainment or activities, looking at the cruise industry can offer a wealth of inspiration.

For a start, let’s look at some of their marketing efforts:

  1. Frequent emails are sent with cruise offers. Once they have your name, they are tenacious. They always are promoting a new cruise and offers. Sometimes it is simply the repetition of the same email. Regardless, they keep them coming. That is certainly something senior housing can adopt.
  2. Frequency is the same philosophy with direct mail. Glossy mailers come at least once a month showing happy people and beautiful destinations. It seems the cruise lines are of the opinion that it just takes one mailer to generate a decision if they hit you on the right day. So if they keep them coming, one day you’ll respond. So when the mailer has arrived on a really bad day or even a good day, you’ll say, “That’s it…we’re taking a cruise”. The same can be done with senior living communities. It’s not necessary to send expensive brochures but frequent postcards may accomplish the same.
  3. Each cruise line has loyalty programs to keep passengers returning and yes, there are benefits in returning. It may be complimentary coupons for various incidentals—from dry cleaning and laundry to ice cream or an extra bingo card—but being a loyal customer is beneficial. Ask a seasoned traveler if they’ve tried different cruise lines or if they’ve strayed. They generally return to one preferred cruise company. The cruise ship happily gives you a lapel pin or other signifying tangible items. There may be a designated staff member to coordinate on behalf of the loyalty program members and there is a lot of hoopla for special loyalty club members who attain various levels. We don’t do much in recognition of loyalty. Lease renewals offer a great opportunity for recognition. Referral programs shouldn’t be involved or complicated. We can do better in rewarding our loyal customers.
  4. They use social media and take advantage of Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter with interesting tidbits and pictures to whet your appetite. On a cold, rainy day, those Piña Coladas sure look good. Senior housing needs to embrace social media and be more adventurous with compelling content.
  5. Because there are so many different companies promoting cruises, a specific cruise company website’s Google listing reads “Official”. This is helpful because the consumer can easily be lured by different sites and not find the information they need. The same obstacles can be said of senior housing. The consumer needs to sift through referral company sites to find a community’s official site. We can do better differentiating a community’s site from others stealing the real estate on Google.
  6. You are emailed a survey within 48 hours of returning from a cruise. They want to know how well they did and solicit your comments and experiences. We certainly can use exit interviews for residents and families to ask their opinions and solicit comments. Outsourcing this is very beneficial because people tend to be honest when they know they aren’t talking to employees of the community.
  7. When a cruise line uses TV advertising, they use it well. The commercials are enticing and upbeat. They make you want to try that rock climbing wall (NCL) and they appeal to all ages. If TV isn’t in your budget, certainly YouTube offers a wonderful merchandising vehicle that few communities are using. It’s your own personal TV channel and can really promote the community’s lifestyle and activities.
  8. They are selling accommodations, entertainment, dining, the spa and fitness, sports, family fun and more. They excel in coming up with unique selling propositions in each area that differentiate each cruise company. Senior housing operators rarely promote family fun or simply fun. A resident recently said to me he may not take advantage of the community’s activities, but he likes knowing all of these things are available.
  9. Each cruise line seems to be fully aware of their brand and market their brand by differentiating their cruise company from the competition. Senior living communities are so similar that they need to step back and really develop their brand. Using consultants is so valuable in brand development and help in separating one community from the one down the street.
  10. It’s not unusual that the president of the cruise line is on board as well as the captain’s family. Sure the corporate suits visit periodically from corporate headquarters, but it is very unusual for a senior living community’s ownership to stay at the community or dine there on a regular basis. This should not be a rare occurrence, but a regular one.
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