What can residents tell us about technology? In a word, plenty. And, as an industry, we should be talking at them less and listening to them more. We need to know what they think about platforms, apps and all the other technology we throw their way. Because when you listen, good things happen.
I was fortunate to be included in a great Q&A conversation with two residents from Providence Point, a 62+ CCRC located in Pittsburgh. It was one of those conversations that had me thinking the whole time, “Wow, we need to be talking to more folks like these guys.”
The “guys” are Bill Dempsey and Mike Tehan, Resident Council leaders at Providence Point. The discussion centered around their view of technology after their recent research project and implementation for a new custom community mobile app. The conversation shed light on how the industry badly needs more insight into older adults and technology – how they use it, why they use it and how they are helping others to benefit from it as well.
We meet with residents of other CCRCs regularly to ‘cross pollinate’ and share ideas. We were surprised to hear one say, ‘Oh yeah, we have an app for that.'
There’s an app for that?!
Residents are talking. As Bill tells it, the Resident Council at Providence Point learned of the existence of mobile apps during a meeting they had with resident groups from four other CCRCs. Residents from one group, Oakmont, Pa-based Longwood at Oakmont, talked about how they were using technology to improve community life and the positive impact it was having.
“We meet with residents of other CCRCs regularly to ‘cross pollinate’ and share ideas,” Bill explains. “We were surprised to hear one say, ‘Oh yeah, we have an app for that.’”
The ability to search all events and sign up for them using a smart phone was one Bill, Mike, board member Ron Feller, and the rest of the Council were eager to pursue. So, they visited their friends at Longwood who showed them how the app worked, how they used it and told them all about the technology group they formed since implementing the product.
One of the other CCRCs with 400 residents, after a year had only 30 using their app. At our community, after 3 months, over 50% of us are participating.
“After 3 months, 50% of us are participating.”
As Mike tells it, before they got the app, residents at Providence Point would look through a large book listing the 60-plus monthly events and trips. Then they would physically sign up for any activities they wanted to attend. By the way, they were also spending lots of administration time (and money) printing their annual resident directory, which could be totally eliminated by using the app.
So they got to work, interviewing three vendors and asking a lot of questions. Finally, they settled on Touchtown. And the uptake was pretty amazing. “One of the other CCRCs with 400 residents, after a year had only 30 using their app,” Mike says. “At our community, after 3 months, over 50% of us are participating.”
Once trained, residents would walk across the hall and help their neighbors set up the app.
Early on in their research, the Resident Council took a survey of their members and found that, of their 400 neighbors, only 12 weren’t technology users, so they felt confident that there would be interest in the app and a relatively low barrier to using it.
All their homework paid off! Adoption of the app was impressive, thanks to the Resident Council’s planning and open communication with fellow residents during the process.
“We went to at least 4 CCRCs to look at how they were implementing their apps,” Bill says. “We did a lot of work. We did it right. So, it went very smoothly.”
So smoothly, in fact, that it took the Council by surprise. “We did as much prep as possible, educating people in advance before the app arrived,” Bill says. “We even had ambassadors ready to provide training. But hardly anyone showed up! Instead, they trained themselves. And, once trained, they would walk across the hall to help their neighbors set it up.”
It’s the kind of viral participation that comes out of a true grass roots effort. “The whole thing was generated from bottom up,” Mike says. “That’s unusual. But they listened to us. And people wanted to participate.”
“World War II vets feel that they can get along fine without the app,” Mike says.
“There are those who lived long lives without a computer app and have no desire to participate,” Mike says. “World War II vets, for example, feel they get along fine without the app.”
And Mike, Bill and the Council respect that. Nobody is forced to use the app. In fact, the Council is taking measures to ensure that any information that can be accessed on the app remains available to those not using smartphones or computers.
“Look, we’re in the 21st century,” Bill says. “80% of us recognize that.”
I asked Bill and Mike what advice they have for operators interested in bringing technology, such as apps, into their communities. They both stressed the need to be open to new ideas and to collaborate with residents and other communities to find solutions. “It’s important for people to start by educating residents about the technology and have discussions,” Bill says “Gather data; find out what the preferences are. Come up with quantitative models.”
Mike agrees. And the roll out of apps is critical and needs to be done properly. “People don’t like to be surprised,” he says. “The residents should have plenty of advance notice. Roll out is key!”
So, maybe the best advice to community management is to find your Bill, Mike and Ron. Let them take the lead. The rest will follow.