Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopping

As a typical apartment owner, you can’t be everywhere at once. You can’t always be fixing the plumbing, handling rent cheques, or, most importantly, giving tours of vacant apartments and keeping your building filled. You have a staff that handles these tasks. But how can you tell how well your staff is doing?

You’ll quickly hear from your tenants if maintenance issues are going unresolved, but prospective tenants who aren’t impressed by how your building is presented won’t tell you of the problems that led them to choose a different building down the street. You’ll simply never hear from them again.

Selling a Renting Lifestyle

Filling vacant apartments is like selling a home. Your building needs curb appeal, the apartment itself needs to look good, and the path the prospective tenant takes from street to suite must be well maintained so that the tenant can be confident of the whole package they are committing to. But there is one big difference between selling a home and renting an apartment: homes have brokers. These individuals specialize in how to present the best face of a property. They know how to walk prospective buyers through it, engaging them, talking up the selling features. The task of renting out your vacant apartments falls to you, and to your staff, and you probably don’t have a broker’s training.

So, train yourself, and train your staff. Learn the techniques that realtors use to sell homes, and make sure your staff learn these as well. Understand your apartments, understand what the best selling points are, and be sure to build a presentation that highlights these points. Prospective tenants may call to arrange a showing, or they may show up off the street, so it’s important that you are prepared to put your best foot forward. This includes how you and your staff dress (you don’t have to dress for a job interview, but business casual will do), and how you approach the prospective tenant (a warm smile and firm handshake is best).

Vacant apartments are a drain on your bottom line, so you have motivation, but how motivated is your staff? You can give them incentives to perform, possibly through bonuses for each apartment they help rent out, and that can get them behind you in renting out vacant apartments, but it can be hard to check on their performance. This is where mystery shopping comes in.

Testing Yourself and Your Staff

Mystery shopping has been used by market research companies and consumer watchdogs to test how well stores serve customers. At the DALA Group of Companies, we have mystery shoppers pose as prospective tenants and arrange to be shown a vacant apartment, testing each staff member of the apartment through successive visits. As a staff member shows the shopper the apartment, the shopper makes note of the process. Did your building have good curb appeal? Was he or she greeted in a friendly manner? Was the staff member helpful? Did he or she answer questions well and seem knowledgeable of what he or she was showing? Were all of the apartment’s selling points shown to their best advantage?

The shopping continues for the whole showing, including going back to the manager’s office and providing the rental agreement paperwork for the mystery shopper to fill out afterward.

The staff member is not aware that the mystery shopper is a mystery shopper. That way, you can be sure that the performance on display is the one the staff member gives to all prospective tenants. You should tell your staff that you have hired a mystery shopper, however; nobody likes to be kept in the dark and, letting staff know that their performance is being assessed could add a spring to their step as they deal with real prospective tenants who show up during the mystery shopping period.

Constructive Criticism

Mystery shopping is not a tool to spy on your staff. What the mystery shopper provides is constructive criticism for you and your staff members (you can hire mystery shoppers to check out your own performance as well, and you should and let your staff members know that you are being similarly assessed) to identify ways that the showing process can be improved. Your and your staff aren’t trained brokers, so you may not know the simple tricks that can dramatically improve how an apartment is showed and get vacant apartments rented quicker. A mystery shopper helps with that.

The detailed assessment the mystery shopper agency provides will describe what went well in the showing process and what can be improved. Sharing this information between you and your staff gives you the information you all need to better rent out vacant apartments. This, combined with incentives to get your staff behind you in renting out your vacancies will help get your vacant apartments rented faster, and directly help your bottom line.

(originally printed in the May 2012 issue of Canadian Apartment Magazine)

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