Taking the mystery out of mystery shopping

How to determine whether staff is performing well
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
By Derek Lobo

An apartment landlord can’t be everywhere at once. It can’t always be fixing plumbing, handling rent cheques or, most importantly, giving tours of vacant apartments to keep the building filled. There is staff to handle these tasks.

But how does a landlord know if staff is performing well?

A landlord will quickly hear from tenants if maintenance issues go unresolved. However, prospective tenants who are unimpressed with the presentation of a building will not tell a landlord about the problems that led them to choose a different building. A landlord will simply never hear from them again.

Selling a rental lifestyle
Filling vacant apartments is like selling a home. A building needs curb appeal, units must look good and the path a prospective tenant takes from street to suite must be well maintained.

But there is a big difference between selling a home and renting an apartment: Homes have brokers. These individuals specialize in presenting the best face of a property. They know how to walk prospective buyers through it, engage them and talk up the selling features. The task of renting a vacant apartment unit falls to the landlord and its staff, and neither probably has broker’s training.

So, a landlord must learn the techniques realtors use to sell homes and then train staff to use them as well.

It’s important to understand the best selling points of a building and then build a presentation around them. And since prospective tenants may simply show up off the street, it’s imperative to be prepared. This means always dressing the part – business casual will do – and greeting tenants with a warm smile and a firm handshake.

Testing staff
Vacant apartments are a drain on a building’s bottom line, so a landlord is motivated to rent them quickly.

But how motivated is staff?

Using incentives to entice staff to perform is a good motivator. However, it’s difficult to check staff performance. This is where mystery shopping comes in.

Long been used by market research companies and consumer watchdogs to test how well retail stores serve customers, mystery shopping is a good tool to be used by the apartment industry.

A landlord should, as a courtesy, tell staff it has hired a mystery shopper to assess performance; however, the exact identity of the mystery shopper is unknown to staff.

Basically, the mystery shopper poses as a prospective tenant who arranges to be shown a vacant apartment to test the quality of service of each company staff member through successive visits. The shopping continues for the whole showing. This includes returning to the manager’s office where the shopper is provided rental agreement paperwork to fill out. Throughout the entire process the mystery shopper takes notes, following which it provides a detailed assessment that describes what went well during the showing and what needs to be improved.

Derek Lobo is chairman and CEO of DALA Group of Companies, which offers a number of services to help building owners rent out vacant apartments, including mystery shopping.

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