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Brent Williams' Apartment Blog

Thoughts, comments, and ideas about the overall multifamily industry, as well as a property-specific focus on resident retention and apartment marketing.

Please “Shop” Me!

This blog is intended for on-site teams who work for companies that use mystery shops.

We often talk about mystery shops from a corporate level – asking whether they are used for training or for evaluation of our leasing teams.  But I remember the feeling of mystery shops when I was a leasing consultant, and there was a definite sense of fear from the team.  What if I get thrown off and forget to ask for a commitment?  What if I mess up the question when they try to throw a Fair Housing curveball at me?

With any fear, however, the best solution is often to take it head on.  Now, I’m a fairly competitive person by nature, but I think that fire helps in times like this.  Instead of doing the waiting game of wondering when you might get shopped, take another approach – look forward to it!  Getting shopped is actually positive for leasing consultants in a lot of ways.  It is a great way to prove to yourself and to your bosses that you know your stuff and that you can “win” the test put in front of you. 

I often saw my shops like a battle of wits with the shoppers – that they were going to try to get me to say something wrong, make me slip up with a question about security or Fair Housing.  So I saw it as a challenge that I was going to cover everything perfectly, cover my bases, and then add in one final goal:  Somewhere, sometime, a mystery shopper is going to be so impressed that they will actually want to live at that community.  So my secret goal was to be that one person that managed to actually lease to a mystery shopper.

Once I stopped fearing the mystery shop, I found it empowering.  I wanted to take it head on, and see how my skills truly stacked up.  And if I did mess up, this was a great opportunity for self evaluation.  If you truly love your job, then you will want to develop new strategies to get better all the time.  And for me, getting evaluated is a great way to look at the result and say, “what could I have done to do better?”  So in this way, the evaluation itself was never scary, as I saw it as one giant opportunity to hone my skills. 

So if your company mystery shops, I encourage you to view it in a different way, rather than fearing it coming through the door.

And by the way, here is my favorite “battle of wits”.  Enjoy!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9s0UURBihH8 433x300]

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

One time I TOTALLY thought I was going to get a deposit from a shopper. I was completely disappointed she didn't lease and puzzled why she didn't call me back, until I got the report and realized she was a shopper.

  Donje Putnam
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A fantastic tool for growth. I must say that some shoppers have improved over the years. The give away of asking a fair housing question, or by all means setting and keeping a real appointment....hmph...who does that for us really, have fallen by the wayside a bit. I know companies that have asked shoppers NOT to ask the FH questions and to NOT keep appointments and come a day later just to make sure the Leasing Consultant was on their real game, or not affected by stage fright. I had a young lady who worked for me once who always had high closing ratios, was great with the residents, but due to the "tells" of mystery shoppers, she got stage fright every time and received poor scores. This was not helping her at all. So I had friends, other people etc...shop for me on the side and I scored her without the shoppers and she did great. We didn't hire actors to play a part. We need to see the real stuff! LOL:)

  Milisa
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Brent--great topic! Who on-site is hated more that the MONSTER SHOPPER! (Okay, we all have a list of who is hated more.) The point though: when I was leasing we did not like shoppers, we picked them apart and we swore we were shopped several times a week. We finally realized that we should treat everyone like they were a shopper and give them ALL the perfect shopping experience! We decided to have fun with it and our closing ratios soared! (And your "Princess Bride" clip is a favorite! Thanks for sharing!)

  Jim Baumgartner
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Donje - Someone is going to do it, and it will become a thing of multifamily legend.

@Milisa - You are so right! People can definitely freeze up and not show their true skills. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to write this - my fear always disappears the more I feel in control of the situation, even if that element of control is simply my mindset about it.

@Jim - I had a similar revelation once I realized that I was truly handling people differently if I thought they were a shopper rather than just a normal prospect.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

We have a few cases of mystery shoppers who were so impressed by the consultant they shopped that they have leased and/or recommended the community to others. Once a Leasing Consultant was so helpful and followed up so well the shopper felt so guilty for taking up his time she took him lunch after the shop was disclosed.

  Sherle Brown
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

As a mystery shopping provider, I can tell you that we always tell our clients that the best way to use this program is to learn from it and improve by retraining. It is never meant to be a hammer - as it is stated here, everyone has a bad day and this should be considered.
I love the approach you took Brent! Employees always try to fight the program and instead if they embrace it, they can make it work for their advantage in the end!
Great post.

  Kathy Doering
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

When I was a regional manager, we were always working on improving closing ratios. Most of our shops came back positive, which were always rewarded publicly, but closing was still the weakest area. So, I started giving the shoppers $10 in cash, and told them that if an agent tried any closing technique three times during the shop, they were to go back to the office, and in front of everyone announce that they were a shopper and instantly reward the agent with the $10 for trying to close 3 times. The result was an improvement in attitude for shoppers, and better closing ratios!

  Vicki Sharp
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Sherle - That is amazing! I'm impressed that happened not just once but a couple of times!

@Kathy - Agree completely - It is a learning tool first and foremost!

@Vicki - I absolutely LOVE that idea!!!

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

If used as a teaching tool I think they hold emense value, however when used as a means for termination and fault finding they then do more harm to a team than any value they could have had.

  Billi Jo Suiter
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Billi Jo - We've actually had that discussion on there about whether it should be used solely as training or otherwise. I agree 95% of the time. However, I do believe that there are some people who are simply not good workers. It is not about the training, but instead they simply do not care enough about their job to actually try, or they have a bad attitude (except when the boss comes to visit). Although anybody can have a bad day, so I would never make a decision based on one shop, I do think shops can give management a clue that maybe a person needs to be assessed more deeply.

  Brent Williams
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