Fourth Quarter 2021 Benchmark Results for Mystery Shops and Resident Surveys Executive Summary

Since 1984, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions has specialized in helping our customers achieve their business goals. We are pleased to offer a turn-key integrated customer experience program, backed by our outstanding customer service, cutting-edge technology, and longstanding ethical business practices. Our apartment mystery shops, resident surveys, live training, and e-learning and policies and procedures partner (Edge2Learn) are resources that can be used together or independently to address specific needs or jointly for ongoing employee performance optimization. Our goal is to help you achieve yours.

As companies reflect on the many lessons learned over the past few years, new ways of navigating customers through the leasing process are being tested: Online communication channels (chat, text, booking online, etc.); internet and telephone experiences; virtual, guided, and self-guided tours; and follow-up procedures. Which approach will result in the best customer experience? Which leasing strategy will result in the highest conversion rate? Sales are made and lost based on the overall customer experience. So, what are the barriers to conversion?  We believe the answers to these questions and resulting trends can be found within the leasing data. We use data to reveal patterns and trends which help us to improve leasing performance. Data patterns help us to identify areas of strength and areas which need more attention. Only clean, unmanipulated data can provide the evidence we need to help inform better decision making around industry goals and strategies.

Join us at the end of this letter as we close our 2021 theme, “Barriers to Lease Conversion”, and turn our focus to the customer follow-up process.     


Mystery Shops

Ellis benchmarks apartment mystery shop performance on the 10 key Benchmark questions and the Customer Experience. Companies can qualify for platinum, gold, silver, or bronze level based on their company’s overall Benchmark score for the quarter.

In 2020, the overall average Ellis Traditional Multifamily Industry Benchmark score across Ellis’ entire database of eligible shops1 was 84%. Third Quarter 2021 decreased to 80%, but the average took a slight jump to 81% for Fourth Quarter 2021. In response to industry needs during the pandemic and customer demands, we introduced the Ellis Virtual Shopping Benchmark in Q2 2020 based on nearly identical 10 key Benchmark questions. In 2020, the average score was 58%. During Third Quarter 2021 the Ellis Virtual Shopping Benchmark improved to 64% and Fourth Quarter 2021 reflects another increase to 67%, which remains higher than last year’s average. The Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark score remained steady at 3.6 for the Fourth Quarter 2021.

As we compare similar questions on Ellis Traditional Multifamily Industry Benchmark to the Ellis Virtual Leasing Benchmark scores, we can see the areas which are more consistent in delivery and areas that can be improved.

Mystery Shops Overall Average Performance


Ellis wishes to congratulate the companies below for their Ellis Shopping Benchmark performance for Fourth Quarter 2021.

Tier 2 (30-69 completed shops)      

Ellis Traditional Benchmark – Platinum Level Achievers

  • IMT Residential

Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark – Gold Level Achievers

  • AMLI Residential
  • IMT Residential
  • TA Realty

Companies are listed in alphabetical order

Resident Surveys

The Ellis Loyalty Benchmark identifies and recognizes the customer experience performance of companies subscribed to the Ellis Resident Surveys Program. It evaluates performance on 5 key touchpoints of the prospect and resident journey. The percentage of surveys responded to by the onsite team and the average number of days it took for the team to respond are also measured because these two factors impact the customer relationship and overall loyalty. Utilizing customer loyalty as a metric allows customer-centric companies the ability to forecast three specific customer behaviors: likelihood to convert/renew, willingness to pay more, and likelihood to recommend.

The overall average Ellis Loyalty Benchmark score in 2020 was 76%, and it dropped slightly to 75% for Fourth Quarter 2021. In 2020, the onsite response rate averaged 89% while dropping down to an average response rate of 87% during Fourth Quarter 2021. The average response time was 5.3 days in Fourth Quarter 2021 as compared to 5.3 days in overall 2020.

Resident Surveys Overall Average Performance

Ellis’ customer loyalty score is based on a scale of 0%-100% (see chart below):


Ellis wishes to congratulate the companies below for their Ellis Surveys Benchmark performance for Fourth Quarter 2021.

Ellis Best in Class Achievers
Tier 1 (1,600 or more units)
Ellis Best in Class Achievers
Tier 2 (1,599 or fewer units)

·         Block Multifamily Group, LLC
·         Capstone Real Estate
·         F and F Realty
·         Fore Property Company
·         FPI Management
·         Guardian Management, LLC
·         Lincoln Property Company
·         LMC, a Lennar Company
·         Mack Property Management, LP
·         Manco Abbott
·         Olympus Property
·         R & V Management LP
·         Simpson Property Group
·         Sparrow Partners
·         TriBridge Residential
·        Woodmont Properties
·         Block Special Assets
·         Evolve Management Group, LLC
·         GDC Properties, Inc.
·         Ghertner & Company
·         Longboat Enterprises
·         ResideBPG
·         Reybold Venture Group
·         Samuels & Associates
·         StarPoint Properties
·         Sunrise Management & Consulting

Companies are listed in alphabetical order


Mystery Shops
How did we do?
The charts below reflect the average score of Ellis’ entire database for each of the 10 key benchmark questions and the Customer Experience by category, as well as the combined overall Benchmark scores for Fourth Quarter 2021. This data provides a roadmap to success, which in most cases means returning to the basics of sales and customer service.

Resident Surveys
How did we do?
The chart below reflects the average scores across all Ellis Resident Survey companies for each survey touch point for Fourth Quarter 2021, as well as the combined overall loyalty score and average accountability performance results.


Our final Barrier to Lease Conversion is a very familiar old friend. We have been talking about follow-up, training follow-up, evaluating follow-up, tracking follow-up, and debating follow-up for years! It is the willingness to go the extra mile before and after the sale and to reengage with the customer. Zig Ziglar is noted as having said, “There are no traffic jams when you go the extra mile,” and this has been proven time over time. Follow-up is a golden opportunity which can reap huge rewards for those who choose to take it. So, why is this invaluable step often missed in the leasing process? When utilized, why is one method of follow-up more appealing to leasing professionals than another? Do customers respond differently to follow-up via customized email, automated CRM, or AI response than they do when they receive a personal telephone call/text or handwritten thank you note? Finally, is one method more effective than another? The answers always lie in the details.

Let us begin with the biggest elephant in the room. Why do leasing professionals choose not to follow up with customers? Common responses range from, “I feel like I am being pushy and intrusive,” to “It’s not a priority”, “I just forget to do it,”, or “I am too busy.” As with any barrier, when it becomes important, we will find a way to overcome these kinds of challenges. If not, we will find an excuse. Education and understanding are key to spurring change at the leasing desk.

The Ellis graph below provides an eye-opening picture of onsite follow-up data from 2018-2021. Not following up with customers took the top seat for almost four straight years.

Is this challenge unique to the property management industry? No. Many salespeople are missing out on this golden opportunity because they don’t understand the value in it. Following up shows that you care about more than just the sale. When the follow-up step is taken, research tells us that salespeople are giving up too quickly – 44% of salespeople halt their follow-up after just one attempt. There is good news on the horizon which is reflected in this follow-up graph. With the help of automation and technology, we are starting to see some steady gains in the use of text and email follow-up which should help to turn the tide in a positive direction. Is the blend of email and automation the answer? Will technology completely replace the personal phone call, or that so rarely received snail mail thank you?

For now, while there is a healthy debate on the value of an impersonal follow-up text or email or an auto-generated response, it sure beats the alternative of no follow-up. The first step is to just do it. The next step is to do it well.  

As we glance across a myriad of industries, three specific obstacles consistently appear to challenge a salesperson’s ability to accomplish follow-up and achieve success: lack of time, lack of purpose, and lack of personalization. We believe that all three of these areas can be improved when a leasing team truly understands the value of follow-up and the golden opportunity that awaits. It must become their priority. As contemporary designer and technologist John Maeda said, “People who can focus get things done. People who prioritize, get the right things done.”

Understanding the Customer

Information is power. To truly see the value in follow-up, we must first put ourselves in the customer’s shoes so that we can better understand common communication trends, customer habits, likes and dislikes, etc. The more information we gather, the more prepared we will be to engage with customers on their time and in their way. In Q2 2020, Ellis added a question to both the traditional and virtual shopping reports regarding the effectiveness of the attempted follow-up by the onsite teams. The chart below reflects the customer’s response to all follow-up from that time through the current period. There is very little disparity between the two groups. Based on our data in the graph above, it is likely that this is reflective of mostly email communication mixed with a small dose of telephone calls.

As we look at follow-up with a broader lens, we can begin to understand more about our customer, what is driving these responses, and how we can improve at the leasing desk.   

  • Timing Matters: 42% of US adults admit that they check personal emails while getting ready or eating breakfast. (Adobe, 2019) When is the best time to send that follow-up email?
  • Generational Difference Impact Preferences: 73% of millennials prefer communication from a brand to be sent via email (Prosperity Media) How can we engage with different generations?
  • The Customer’s Email Box is Imploding: In 2020, 300.4 billion emails were sent and received per day (Prosperity Media) How are we standing out?
  • It is Easy to Ignore and Delete Emails: In 2019, the average email open rate across industries was 17.92%. This number tends to increase with smartphones (Prosperity Media)
  • Customer Ghosting is Real: 82% of customers will never open a follow-up email and 97% will not follow the links in the email (Prosperity Media). Here is a great source on reasons for and how to deal with Customer Ghosting!

There is much to be learned about the customer. Bringing these 5 topics into a team brainstorming session could be a great place to start! Visit our Ellis website to read some great blogs on how to improve email communication. Dig deeper into email trends across industries and how to manage emails effectively.   

Overcoming Barriers

Here is the reality. There is no excuse for not following up with customers, so do not allow yourself one. It is a choice. With the use of templates, automated systems, CRM, AI, etc., it has never been easier to follow up with every customer. Here are a few points and questions to consider as you address the three most common excuses with your leasing team.  

Lack of Time

  • Do leasing professionals not have enough time to follow up with their customers? Is it a perceived barrier or a real one?
  • How much time does it take to send a follow-up to the customer? Sometimes defining an actual number can be eye-opening. Break down each follow-up method and identify an average time for completion. Do they truly not have the time?
  • What is the value of the customer? Calculate the actual value of that customer. What was the cost of the lead? What is your average rent? Is the time invested in the follow-up worth it? Let them do the math so that they can see the value.
  • What timewasters are eating up your team’s day? Ask them to create an activity log for one day and determine the culprits. Are they more valuable than the customer?
  • When is the best time to complete follow-up? Is it dedicated or just an afterthought?

Lack of Purpose

  • Does your team understand why follow-up is important, or is it just something that must be checked off their daily list? Do they only do it to avoid trouble? When they begin to put the words on paper, they will begin to buy into the idea. Lack of purpose often stems from lack of understanding. When your team takes ownership of an idea, great things can happen!
  • Follow-up can reduce buyer’s remorse. Sometimes customers do not communicate their dislikes. Instead they just ignore you. If you do not follow up with them, you are letting them off the hook! Many customer problems have been solved and sales have been solidified with a simple follow-up call, text, or email.
  • Sometimes a customer loves the product, but they do not love the leasing professional. It happens. Whether it is a bad day, or just a personality conflict, this is reality. Following up gives your team the opportunity to get to the root of the problem and potentially save a customer. Franklin Covey provides some great purposeful follow-up ideas in the article 5 Practices for Truly Effective Follow Up.

Follow-up is a part of the leasing process. It is not an optional step. Let that sink in.

Lack of Personalization

People want to be seen as individuals regardless of their generation. Personalizing all follow-up makes your call, email, text, or thank you card more likely to be opened. Research shows us that personalized follow-up can increase email open rates and drive revenue by as much as 760%. While we might not share their budget, a lot can be learned from the personalization pioneer – Amazon. Simply reminding the customer of what they liked and disliked, making recommendations, and providing some solutions to their problems can be a great start to the personalized conversation.

  • Personalization is about making sure every interaction with the customer feels human and personal. Think about it! Have you evaluated your current follow-up email messages?
  • Subject lines in your email should always have a human touch. If your customer has a pet, mention them in the subject line. There are many ways you can stand out in that overflowing email box. Consider brainstorming ideas with your leasing team. What are your competitors sending? Are they using the same automated system as you are?
  • Be authentic. Be yourself. We all have unique qualities that help us engage with our customers in different ways. These qualities can add value to the conversation and the relationship with the customer. Every leasing professional should know what that quality is and build on it. Is it their humor? Is it the ability to empathize with the customer? Is it their ability to help them visualize and organize their new home? Is it their ability to connect the customer with the surrounding neighborhood activities? Define it and use it to personalize the experience.
  • If you really want to stand out, send a handwritten thank you note. This is the perfect complement to a telephone call or text. It is a simple gesture that will have a lasting impact.  In the 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever,” they shared data from the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey which showed that the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010. While the whole world is emailing, the handwritten note gives you an opportunity to differentiate yourself.
  • In his book The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk writes, “It’s not the money that makes these efforts shocking and awesome, it’s the care and creativity involved.” He even suggests blocking time for an afternoon gratitude session where everyone participates in writing personalized customer thank you cards.

Customer service is a huge part of the industry we work in, so the importance of following up with customers should be ingrained in the mind of every person at the leasing desk. Excellent customer service goes far beyond being nice and trying to help them find a new home. It is about the human side: Showing that you actually care, which is why a personalized follow-up email, call, text, or thank you card can make all the difference. In this highly competitive market, the most challenging part for any business is to acquire and retain the customer by building a strong relationship. Do not let follow-up continue to be a barrier to lease conversion. Just do it!

Thank you for your ongoing support, participation, and feedback, which help make this report informative, fresh, and a reliable resource. We hope you will find Ellis Partners in Management Solutions to be not only the finest source for apartment mystery shopping and resident surveys but also a training resource (including our e-learning and policies and procedures partners Edge2Learn) for your organization. Additional support and information can be found on our website. Also, Edge2Learn’s free multifamily training resource library includes several leasing training resources for you and your teams.

January 31, 2022

Prepared by Joanna Ellis, Chief Executive Officer and Francis Chow, Chief Strategic Officer

Footnotes: 1 See Ellis website for Benchmark eligibility, tier level, and recognition requirements for apartment mystery shops and resident surveys.