Recently, my friend Tara Smiley, who is a property management inspector for Simco Properties in Ohio, posted a blog on Multifamily Insiders about her recent "mystery shop" of several competing properties in her area. She reported that she had taken her kids with her, telling them that they got to be Junior Inspectors and decide if the properties measured up. Tara had a great point when she said, "In my kids' minds, things are either "awesome", "fine" or "crappy"," but I think it also fair to point out that in most adult's minds we have the same rating scale, even if we're willing to compromise. Here are a few other choice excerpts from her article:
The leasing agent completely neglected my kids on this tour, refused to ask their names and even told them "Now don't touch anything, girls." My kids' reaction "I don't like her face."
Nobody could get past the smell of mildew, damp, and obvious hidden water damage. My youngest said the apartment smelled like poo. At which point the leasing agent completely lost his cool and said"Sweetie, why don't you just let me talk to your mommy."
If you want to sell, then sell to every aspect of your prospect. You sell to their needs, wants, potential concerns, etc., so sell to their lifestyles, families, friends and whoever else joins them in their shopping. If you don't, you may just get the thumb's down from two four year olds, whose final pronouncement was "Mumma, those places were crappy crap!" Couldn't have said it better.
Tara's article was dead on! I loved this, because it illustrates a problem with mystery shopping that I've never been able to illustrate myself since people aren't too keen on just loaning a stranger their kids. For almost a year I worked a side job as a mystery property management shopper for several different companies that conducted shops in the Pacific Northwest. I'd do about two shops a weekend, making anywhere from $18 to $80 a shop, and I loved doing it because I got to see several new properties, got to pick up new leasing techniques and it gave me a chance to look at things from the other side of the leasing desk. Some companies would require you to ask certain questions of the leasing agent, or they'd require you to take an adult partner, etc. But every company I worked with had one thing in common on their No-No list: Never take children or pets with you on a shop.
Looking at it from a liability standpoint, I guess I can see their point, but in the land of logic, it doesn't hold up. Logic says that, depending on our demographic, anywhere from a third to half of our tours are going to be for people who have families, or for people who bring their kids. Do you ask your future residents on the phone to please not bring their kids with them? I should hope not (and if you do, get your money ready to go straight to fair housing claims court, because that's a big no-no on their list)! If you're going to spend the money on shoppers, then why not put your agents to the test? Learn from the education system in America and don't make the test easy on them. Easy tests mean we never improve on our game. Our jobs are not supposed to be predictable. They're supposed to be jumping from one moment to the next and being able to evaluate and act, rather than to react. That's part of the fun of working in property management - No two days are ever the same. So why test on a level playing field? Throw your agents a curve ball and see if they can catch it.
When I contract out people to do mystery shops for me with a property, before I send them out, I always ask the property what exactly is the problem they're trying to address and then find shoppers with different variables so that they can get the best read on their people. Since every property is different, and every person is different, it shouldn't be something that's done by wrote. It should be a shopper designed to elicit a specific reaction from the leasing agent, otherwise, what's the point, other than to have metrics which can be reported. Generic metrics from shop reports are great for putting in an email and they've got a good place in building worker confidence, but they aren't going to solve the problem, or are they going to drill down and give that agent a chance to polish up the rough points of their performance.
Do your agents know how to handle children with out the kids walking away, commenting on how they didn't like the consultant's face? Can they handle an awkward moment when a dog jumps up on them, or when a kid smears chocolate on the wall in the model unit? What about answering the brutally honest questions or remarks of children, who lack an adult inner monologue of censorship? Kids just say what everyone else is thinking and too polite to say. I'm reminded of this every time my nephews (Zach and Quentin, pictured to the left) remind me that I'm "much more fat" than their mommy. They're not being mean, they're just being kids, and even though, as Tara pointed out, they might not have an active credit score, they're as much our clients and residents as their parents are.
How do you train your staff to deal with children or pets on a tour? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
(I'll be doing a blog later this month on tips for working with children in a sales situation.)