Newbury Court

Mar 23, 2021

Touchtown Apps Forged a Sense of Community Among These MIT Grads

Can you imagine serving a community full of aging ivy league grads and retired professors? Cool, in many ways, but not without challenges. These are well-educated, affluent people who are used to having full control over the things that impact their daily lives. So, trekking up to the concierge desk to ask, “What time is the concert, again?” is not how they want to spend their time. They want to know things now. And on their own terms.

Newbury Court is home to about 300 residents, most highly educated (i.e. MIT, Harvard, etc.) and many still active in various capacities. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jill Crowley, Program Coordinator at Newbury Court. She is one of those individuals who is impressive in her understanding of the needs of their residents and her close connection with them as individuals.

Jill tells me that the ability to provide real-time information is particularly important to their resident population. They want to know what’s going on, when various events are scheduled, and what’s for dinner. But here’s the thing. They want this information at a moment’s notice, and they want some control over how they find it.

Displays were great, but residents wanted information at their fingertips.

For a long time, the only conduit for all activities, events and menus was paper. According to Jill, they were churning out reams of paper calendars, paper menus, paper event flyers. So, it was a big deal when Newbury Court installed Touchtown’s digital signage. “They really helped increase awareness,” Jill says. But, that one, small step to introduce technology into their community made residents want even more. Jill explains, “Residents started asking me, ‘Is there a way we can have more information at our fingertips?’ It was a good question. And it got us thinking, ‘How about an app?’”

And Touchtown was ideally positioned to do just that. Their custom Community App was intentionally designed to enable residents to use their personal devices to access events, menus, and a directory of their fellow residents. Furthermore, Newbury Court’s existing relationship with Touchtown made the implementation easy.

Within just a few weeks, one third of the entire resident population had downloaded the app.

Newbury Court already had a pair of technologists who visited on a regular basis to help residents with their tablets and other devices. “They presented the app and suddenly, everyone wanted to get started, all at once,” Jill says.

Within a month, one third of the entire resident population had downloaded the app. That’s pretty impressive, especially right out the gate! As Jill puts it, “Then, the app took on a life of its own.” Peer pressure was a motivator for many. “We’d see people sitting together and one person would ask, ‘When is the piano concert?’ The answer? ‘Well if you had the app you’d know.’” (True FOMO at work.)

Today, Jill says she’s seeing an average of four people each day, eager to sign up for the app.

Now, for those of you who are thinking, “But, wait a minute. These are MIT folks, of course they’ll pick up an app and start using it,” not so fast. Jill waives aside any thoughts that MIT grads are somehow better at downloading and using an app. “Not true. This app is so easy to use. And, if you don’t know how to use it, it’s easy to train on it,” she says.

But, what’s really exciting about this app, according to many of the residents, is the ability to learn more about those around them. The app allows residents to look up other residents in the directory, using simple keyword searches (“MIT”, “golf”, “grandchildren”, etc.). They can find new neighbors with similar hobbies and circumstances. There is even a “bulletin board” feature that lets people post things they are selling, giving away or looking for. And the staff, including Jill, consider it a major time saver. “If we’re in the lobby waiting for people to come down, I can look up the missing residents on the directory and call instantly. No bugging the concierge,” Jill says.

So, what would happen if the Touchtown app was taken away from residents? It wouldn’t be pretty, according to Jill. “They would come at me with pitchforks,” she jokes. “Seriously, they are so used to having so much information at their fingertips, there is no way they’re going back.”

And Jill had one more thing to note. “When I first introduced the app, many of the residents told me that they thought I had ‘dreamed it up’,” she says. “And, frankly, I was happy to take some of the credit!”