How To Avoid Mystery Shops of Horrors

How To Avoid Mystery Shops of Horrors

Episode 51

Like it or not, mystery shops are part of the property management industry. Mark and Jonathan are back to chat about Mark’s recent harrowing experience and, of course, share tips to help you avoid mystery shops of horrors.

Host(s): Jonathan Saar from Market Me Social and Mark Howell from Howl Creative Concepts

Show Highlights

What is the worst thing you can say ever happened to you during a shop; whether you were the one doing it or the one being assessed? Well, part of Mark’s services as a trainer is to complete mystery shops. It’s been a while due to Covid, and he was absolutely floored by the response he received.

Key Questions/Topics Covered

Mark’s shops of horrors

We know that shops are not going to be perfect. That’s the whole point. But what do you do if you can’t even get past the front gate? Well, that is precisely how Mark’s first shop went. He pulled up to the gate and asked to be let in to look around, which resulted in him being asked, ”Look for what?” How would you have answered? Mark couldn’t believe it and, in his shock, spelled it out to the person on the other end of the speaker that he had driven a long distance to look at apartments, which he was promptly told that they had nothing available and then silence. He never got past the front gate.

At his second shop, he at least made it through the front door but was met again with a dismal response. It was the same thing as last time. We have nothing available, followed by silence. Mark tried to give them every chance to talk to him about their property, the amenities, anything! The overwhelming attitude of: “All the units are full. I don’t really need to do anything” left Mark speechless.

What should leasing professionals do even if they have nothing available?

The whole objective in the sales office is to impress and sell. You can still sell your property even if you currently do not have any units available. Share with people why you have no units available. It’s because your community is so great! “It has all these amenities. Let me show you a virtual tour of our beautiful units!” Just because you are full now doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. By doing this and making a connection, you now have a sales lead that you can follow up on if a unit becomes available.

Another good reason to always be engaged in your sales even when you don’t have anything available, is so you don’t become rusty or inconsistent in your approach. Look at every interaction as a chance to work on your personal development skills. Also, having a consistent sales approach will help you if the shopper is actually a fair housing tester. You can quickly find yourself in the middle of a fair housing complaint just by doing or saying one thing to one prospect and not another, so work hard every day and keep your skills sharp.

Overcoming the negative perspective about shops

It’s easy to get a little twisted up when we see the results of a shop. Perhaps you are the owner, and you are not happy with your employee’s performance, or maybe you are the employee and having a tough time with constructive criticism.

Either way, you can take a shop’s results and view it as a basis for training and improvement. If you are a staff member, consider this an important stepping stone in your career that will help you overcome any challenges you may be experiencing.

 Shops allow trainers to see the pain points and where they can help. Leadership can take these results and create a positive and nurturing environment that encourages learning and development.

Shops have come a long way in recent years. Most are no longer focused on checking specific boxes but instead take an overall approach. Shops are now including sections for the tester to remark on their overall friendliness, sales ability, and so on. These insights are crucial to help businesses and their employees increase their sales skills.

Shops will continue to be a crucial part of how we do business. So take the points here use them as a reference for your team to get the conversation going. Help everyone see the benefits of mystery shops, and please let us know what your thoughts or experiences have been when it comes to mystery shops of horrors. 

Class Dismissed

Jonathan (00:15): Hello, everyone. Welcome to class. Welcome to episode 51 of the Juvohub podcast. Mark Howell from Howl Creative Concepts and Jonathan Saar from Market Me Social. What's happening, man?

Mark (00:25): Yeah. Look just here, hanging out with you, man. I'm excited about this, this conversation because some things that I wanna share about it have been quite interesting here lately, this whole shopping experience extravaganza.

Jonathan (00:38): Absolutely. I know when you were telling me what you went through when you were shopping a property recently, like that's we have to have this on the show because , you know, when I, when I first got into the industry, I had never really heard about what shops were. I didn't know about the concept. It was foreign to me. And then I participated in my own shops. I went out and I shopped properties and leveraged scores. And so it's been an interesting topic, we wanted to share with you the audience to be able to take back to your team on the benefits and practical value of shops. So let's start it out though. Mark, why don't you share the recent experience that you had when you were shopping the property?

Mark (01:20): Yeah, so listen, I think we're gonna dig into some of the fundamentals of why we shop and what we're looking for. So I was asked by a recent client to shop some, some of their communities and not just one, actually two clients. And so I'd been secretly shopping, many properties here in the last six months and due to the pandemic and just the amount of things that are not available, the experience went very off the road. It was very foreign to me being in the industry for, you know, 24 years, I was always accustomed to what a shop was, what we wanted to get out of it, what we needed to do about it, about building consistency, making sure that, you know, we were truly giving the, the prospect, the customer a great experience. Right? And so I, some of the places that I visited would stop me at the gate where I couldn't even get in and I buzzed the office and I said, you know, again, acting like a shopper.

Mark (02:24): And I said, you know, someone said, hello. And I was like, yeah, I'm here to look around. And they were, and this is exactly word for word, what was said back to me, "look for what?" . And I was like, "well, you lease apartments, right? I mean, I'm here to look for an apartment." Like I'm reminding them of what their job is. And this person says back to me, "we don't have anything available." And I was like, "oh, so I can't come in or shouldn't come in." "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't have anything to show you." And I just kind of sat there at the gate thinking, and I think I even said, wow, what a waste of time I've driven, you know, outta state to a moving from outta state, tried to give them a lifeline, you know, a way to connect with me.

Mark (03:15): And it was just silent. And so I just kind of backed up and turned around and drove off. Same day shopping walked into someone's office. And I was told the very same thing. We don't have anything available here. And I was like okay. And I just kind of looked around like, you know, sort of alluding to, well, isn't there something you wanna show me? Isn't there any kind of an excitement that you wanna build about your community here with me and nothing. I mean, it was this dead silence of, yeah. I don't have anything for you. One person never even asked when I was looking to move. So you're full indefinitely? Right. I walked away. Like you never asked my name. You went to work with this sort of mentality of, well, we're full. I don't really have to do a whole lot. I don't have to show anyone. And I know a lot of people are still on appointment only. So a walk-in that was very easy for them to turn me away. But look, I think, start talking about why we shop our, our employees, why these, these property management groups need that feedback is because they're looking for consistency. They're looking to see how are you treating the customer today in this climate that we're in. And it is little shop of horrors, for sure. It is a really terrible experience, man.

Jonathan (04:45): Yeah. Oh, I'm sorry. You had to go through that. But I mean, my, the shops that I did were years ago and, and I don't remember it being that bad, but I do remember, you know, some very similar components to it where the customer connection just wasn't there. Like, I just didn't feel that they wanted to do anything right. They really wanted to show anything. And yeah. So that's that, that's unfortunate, but that's why we wanted to talk about this as it's, you know, you and I, you've been a training director, you know, I've been in training for on one level or another, and we understand the reason behind this particular concept of mystery shops and what, what it's supposed to do. We need a way to have a benchmark in order to gain age employee performance. That's the reason that it's behind it. So, you know, what would you say Mark for those instances, like, what would you be recommending to a leasing professional or to the manager, whoever was on site when they don't have anything? Like, what are some things that they should, they should have shared with you or talk to you about or done? What would you-

Mark (06:10): Sure, I think that if you're in leasing or in property management in general, you're the whole objective here is to impress and sell to the customer. You can still sell your property, even if you don't have anything available, you can tell me about the benefits of living, you know, why I would want to be interested in still living there. Yeah, you know, we are highly occupied. We have nothing available for the next 60 days, and this is why everyone wants to live here, sell me on the excitement, take me to the amenity areas, show me what you can, even if there's not an actual apartment available, then show me whatever you can, or at least sit me down and take me on a virtual tour on your computer, offer me some type of tour. When you think about, and look, when I review shops with a lot of the people out on site, they'll ask me, you know, well, I just don't think this is fair, a fair shot, because we don't have anything to show.

Mark (07:07): And as somebody said to me, once, you know, well, how am I supposed to close on them? When I don't have anything to show, we don't wanna start a wait list. And I thought to myself, you're missing the point. You are, you are losing your sales perspective. If you don't practice those skills on a regular basis and keep them sharp, you're going to lose them. And so I said, look at every opportunity as a way to have a fun for yourself and with this shopper prospect, we'll call it. But use it as of your, I call it rehearsal, right? You know, we've said we have to be actors sometimes in property management. And so I just looked at every opportunity to build up my acting skills, my personal development skills. And so every time somebody walked through the door, I would say the exact same things and build the exact same type of relationship, you know, according to what they would give me.

Mark (08:01): I wouldn't say it's the exact, because some people give you different stuff. Right. But due to fair housing, I mean, you definitely want to make sure that you are showing the same things. So if you show me an amenity area, and then that, that was my biggest concern is that if, if on Monday, when I went to that property and this person said, you know, we don't have anything, I'm not letting you in through the gate. But then later that day, someone else was let through the gate. There there's a liability there. Absolutely. So your companies are looking not only for the connectivity of your sales cycle, but also if you are putting them in any type of liability. So whether you are full or not, you should find some way to still sell them close on them. And by closing on them, when you're full is here's an example.

Mark (08:58): You know, like, look, I know that we don't have a lot available. In fact, we have nothing available until the next 60 days. Would you like to go ahead and put down an application, go on a wait list. And then, and be honest, tell them what that means. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to get an apartment, right? Wait lists don't always mean that. Or you can simply say, if you don't do wait lists, say, I want look, our business changes all the time for any reason. And here's the thing that really upset me about the shopping experience is when people told me there was nothing available, not one person ever said to me you know, look, our industry multifamily or, you know, housing is so volatile. I don't have anything today, but that doesn't mean I won't have something available in three weeks from now or a month from now.

Mark (09:49): You don't know if someone's gonna skip on you. You don't know if someone has to move out unexpectedly. So yes, of course, if you're looking at your status and that's telling you what's coming available, then you should be selling on that, but don't ever send someone away without encouraging them. Let's stay in touch. Let me follow up with you. If you don't mind and let you know whatever might be changing in the near future. That to me is one of the most disappointing things about where we are as a full community, when it comes to wanting to show people around, build the excitement. If you don't have anything to show, then show me your excitement about being there,

Jonathan (10:27): Right, man, you hit on so many points there. It's just unbelievable. All the things that on both sides, whether we're on site and, you know, as a training director, learning development department, things that we want to make sure we're sharing, besides the fact by the way, we wanna let you know, you might be shopped

Mark (10:49): You most likely will be ,

Jonathan (10:51): You know, don't approach it like that. It cause there is, there's so many that I of talked to has such a negative connotation to. It's like, are they know they're being shopped because the shopper is just not that good at hiding what they're doing. You know, and it is so apparent. So there's just, there's a lot of controversy around it. So I think if there's a lot on both sides, but one of the things I really, really appreciate it from a fair housing perspective is, was that comment that you made about your consistency in what you do because here's the worst shop shopper you could ever get is a fair housing tester.

Mark (11:31): Woo that's the worst one.

Jonathan (11:33): And you don't know, you don't know if it's someone from one of our partners in the industry that performs the shops is doing it, or it's somebody that's from a fair housing advocate group that has sent someone out to your property because there's been some allegations or they're just randomly wanting to check and see if you follow the fair housing law and he act, right.

Mark (12:01): That's right. I like what you said, you know, not using it as a tool against someone a lot. There's a misconception about the shopping experience. And I hope what I can't speak for every property management company. Some I think might actually use it as a way to ding an employee, you know, start a write up process. But I look at shops as a starting point for training. And that's what I tell people that I work with. You know, don't look at this, whether it be a good or bad score, especially if it's a bad score, that this is a bad thing. This allows me to see where your inconsistencies are, you know, or where we need to start some initial training about the sales cycle, the sales process. And I hope people listening will embrace that idea, that using shop experience, no matter which company you use for that experience, that you use it in a positive, more nurturing training way that your employees feel good about the experience. That all that truly is, is a stepping stone to becoming great. Thats the way I feel about it.

Jonathan (13:10): Absolutely. don't know what you've seen Mark. You said something there a minute ago about the training department and their score overall. You know, when I was looking at shop scores, I remember having this conversation probably you and I were having this conversation a few years ago, you know, the scores are relative to, based on what, what may be a may not be available. And yeah, I tend to agree if it's just like the check, the box things. Did they say the person's name? Check. Did they, you know, walk the property with them? Check. Did they ask this question? Check. You know, like very scripted and your expectation is like, what happens when we get on the phone with customer service and it is very scripted. Hello, can you please tell me your name?

Jonathan (14:05): Can you please tell me your address so we can confirm your identity? You know, it's very, very scripted when you're on some sort of a customer service call. We don't want our leasing professionals to have to get into that. That's why when mystery shops also, it's just like in school, it's like, what is the overall presentation? What do you get for the score on that? Yes. We wanna make sure some boxes are checked obviously, but the overall were they, what was the personality? What were they personable? Did they attract attention? Did they, you know, just, were they engaging? You know, those are some things that, you may not always get from a mystery shop person who's performing that shop because they're there just to check the boxes and that assess may not, may not always come through so.

Mark (14:59): Well, it's funny you say that I'm looking through my shop right now, actually, as we talk and now on some of these shops, you are graded on your enthusiasm, product knowledge, thoroughness in explanation, professionalism, if you were friendly and then overall sales ability. So what I love about how shops have sort of changed is that it isn't just always about the, like you said, the scripted stuff. Of course you will lose points there. But what I love about this is that they're trying to pull an overall experience. And I think that's what we're missing today is what is your prospect truly experiencing with you? And if getting shopped is just a way for us to evaluate how we believe our prospects are being treated, what experience they're receiving from X, Y, Z property. Right? And so look, I think, you know, like I said, from the very beginning, it's a great way to practice your skill.

Mark (16:01): Use every opportunity, treat everyone the same due to fair housing, but also use it as a great way to hone in on your sales cycle, find out what it is that you think you're weak at. If it's asking for the money or the follow up or building the relationship or your enthusiasm, whatever it is, truly look at the shop results and say, all right, this is what I need to work on. And you know, this is why I'm not good at that. A lot of people will tell me, yeah, I don't normally ask for the money because I'm uncomfortable asking for that. Or someone said to me, once I I'm not very talkative on the phone and I'm like, you're in sales. What do you mean you're not talkative? You know? And I'm like, you've got to work through your own insecurities or else, you know, you're kind of setting yourself up for failure in so many ways, not just about the shop experience, but for the sales cycle also.

Jonathan (16:50): Right? Exactly. I love it. I love how you close that up because it's there to help you build your career path. Yeah. Yeah. You're not going to perform better if you don't get some sort of an assessment that tells you where you need to improve. And you've got to have the composure to be able to look at that score and be like, okay, I got some stuff I gotta work on instead of being, ah, they don't know what they're talking about. That's not how I, you know, that kind of like an attitude when you get those scores, it's not gonna help you, you know, that work, work with your training director, work with your learning and development department, you know, cause these are important skills that will help you to be able to teach others in the future.

Mark (17:37): That's right.

Jonathan (17:37): So all right. Well my friend, my co-host my co-instructor did we meet our class objectives today?

Mark (17:46): I think so.

Jonathan (17:47): I think so too. Yeah. Don't you know, these shops from time to time, there's gonna be some doosies out there, but we all can learn from 'em. So take this class, this show, this episode today and use it as a reference point for discussion to see how your mystery shop program's going, how your assessment program is going through your apartment leasing professionals. And we appreciate your support of this show. Mark. How can people stay in touch with you?

Jonathan (18:16): Yes, absolutely. So my company is Howl Creative Concepts.com website it's H O W L Creative Concepts. My email is Mark at Howl Creative Concepts.com again, spelled H O W L and I'm on LinkedIn, Facebook, all of the, you know, appropriate places to be seen. So yes. Please reach out to us.

Jonathan (18:39): Yeah. And please give us your feedback about today's show. Like what are you doing to help your team members appreciate the benefit that come from mystery shops? What are you saying to them? Let's get a discussion going. We'd love to hear your feedback. My name is Jonathan Saar from Market Me Social. This has been episode 51 and class is dismissed.

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