Second Quarter 2019 Benchmark Results for Mystery Shops and Resident Surveys Executive Summary

Since 1984, Ellis Partners in Management Solutions has specialized in helping customers like you achieve their business goals. Our mystery shops, resident surveys, live training, and e-learning partner (Edge2Learn) are resources that can be used independently to address specific needs or jointly for ongoing employee performance optimization. We believe the more you know about your customers and what they have to say about your employees, products, and services the better you can respond to and anticipate their needs. This is why we are proud to offer a turn-key integrated customer experience program, backed by our outstanding customer service, cutting-edge technology, and longstanding ethical business practices. As a result, the more successful you will be at cultivating loyal customers who invest more, stay longer, and refer friends and family.

Our 2019 training theme is Transitioning from Learn to Work to Work to Learn”. We have come to a point where we can no longer leave all learning to training departments. While the core courses should be left to the training experts, employees should take control of their own learning. Learning is their work, and if learning is everywhere, it ought to be where the work is getting done – in the leasing office. In a work to learn culture, employees take on the responsibility of understanding rising situations, seeing patterns, and co-solving problems on a daily basis. There is no time to pause, contact the training department, and then develop something to address learning needs because the problem will have mutated by then.

In our First Quarter 2019 Benchmark letter, we covered that the transition from a learn to work to a work to learn environment must begin with a workplace transformation. Leaders must make a deliberate effort to shift expectations for employees and to shape the cultural forces which give voice to the culture.  Big waves generated at the top resonate throughout the ranks, and the more people are affected, the more the culture shifts. Once expectations shift, then it is time to nurture and grow the topmost in-demand capabilities for the future of work, which according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trend research are critical thinking/problem-solving, cognitive abilities, and social skills.  In this letter, we will tackle the critical thinking/problem-solving skill and how it can be nurtured and grown in the leasing office on a day-to-day basis. 


Mystery Shops

Ellis benchmarks 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 2018, the overall average Ellis Traditional Multifamily Industry Benchmark score across Ellis’ entire database of eligible shops was 86%, representing 45,560 shops and has fallen slightly to 85% for Second Quarter 2019, representing 11,417 shops. In 2018, the overall average Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark score was 3.6 and remains steady at 3.6 for Second Quarter 2019.


* Tier 1 = 70 or more shops
** Tier 2 = 30-69 shops
(Note: Grid reflects the rankings of the companies that fell within that placement category for the respective Tier for the current quarter)


Ellis Traditional Benchmark Platinum Level Achievers

Tier 1
(70 or more completed shops)

  • Western National Property Management Ellis Traditional Benchmark

Ellis Traditional Benchmark Platinum Level Achievers

Tier 2
(30 – 69 completed shops)

  • Legacy Partners Residential, Inc.

Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark Gold Level Achievers **

Tier 1

  • AMLI Residential
  • Cortland Partners
  • Matrix Residential
  • Mill Creek Residential Trust
  • Windsor Property Management Co / GID
  • Wood Partners

Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark Gold Level Achievers **

Tier 2

  • Holland Residential
  • Legacy Partners Residential, Inc.
  • Preferred Residential Management
  • Richman Property Services, Inc.
  • The Carlyle Group

*Companies are listed in alphabetical order
**Customer Experience Benchmark gold level achievers are recognized as there were no platinum achievers for this period

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.


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


The overall average Ellis Loyalty Benchmark score in 2018 was 75%, compared to 76% for Second Quarter 2019. In 2018, the onsite response rate averaged 87%; Second Quarter 2019 held at 87%. Teams took an average of 5.0 days to respond in Second Quarter 2019 versus an average of 5.7 days in 2018.


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

  • Affinity Property Management
  • Block Multifamily Group, LLC
  • Capstone Real Estate-OPS
  • CWS Apartment Homes, LLC
  • Fore Property Company
  • FPI Management
  • Guardian Management, LLC
  • Lincoln Property Company
  • LMC, a Lennar Company
  • Madison Apartment Group, LP
  • Manco Abbott
  • Olympus Property
  • Simpson Property Group
  • The Tomanek Group
  • TriBridge Residential
  • Woodmont Properties
  • Zaremba Management Company

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

  • Carlisle Property Management (CPM)
  • CLMS Management
  • Dolben
  • Evolve Management Group, LLC
  • GDC Properties, Inc.
  • Mountain States Property Management
  • Provence Real Estate, LLC
  • ResideBPG
  • Reybold Venture Group
  • Rock Companies
  • Russo Development
  • 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 of eligible shops for each of the 10 key benchmark questions and the Customer Experience by category, as well as the combined overall Benchmark scores for Second Quarter 2019.


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 Second Quarter 2019, as well as the combined overall loyalty score and average accountability performance results.



We live in a world of accelerating change, and the future of work is learning.  In this new work to learn environment, a person’s career success will increasingly be determined by their learnability – the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt their skill-set to remain marketable throughout their working life. At a rapid pace, new industries are born and old ones are becoming obsolete. Surprisingly, a report by the World Economic Forum revealed that almost 65 percent of the jobs current elementary school students will hold in the future do not even exist yet. If we are to invest in our future workforce, then we must allow employees to practice the skills they will need to be successful in any role and any industry in the natural course of their day-to-day jobs.  According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, critical thinking/problem solving, cognitive abilities, and social skills will be the top three most in-demand capabilities for the future.

So, how do you teach these in-demand skills? How does the work to learn approach impact a formal training department? Interestingly, many companies are modernizing their training activities by creating online programs which are flexible, shorter, dynamic, and social, to mirror what employees are already experiencing and enjoying at home. While this is a great learning platform to engage the learner in mandatory corporate training, compliance training, and even some sales and service courses, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to cater to everyone’s current needs. The fact is not all training can be forced into the traditional training model or even captured in a Learning Management System (LMS). We need to nurture our lifelong learners and meet them where they are, which is in the leasing office.

Does a work to learn culture currently exist in your leasing office? If so, you are way ahead of the curve! If not, here are some things you might consider as you branch into this new territory of individual skill-development and the work to learn environment.

1. Hire Work to Learn Managers

The new work to learn environment will demand managers who are comfortable adjusting their leadership style from directive to consultative. They must be willing to shift from “Do as I say” to “Based on your needs and goals, let’s work together on a plan of action”.  Most importantly and difficult for some is that as the authority, they must be willing to share their power by empowering learners. This means allowing employees to share in decision-making and to sometimes make mistakes. John Dewey once said, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” I believe most would agree with his perspective.

The right manager will encourage the employee to buy into the work to learn experience because the employee is at the center of their own learning. Employees need a voice in the why, what, and how. 

  • The Why is about relevance. Why is this new skill critical for my success? The employee should understand the value in the learning so that they are willing to invest the effort. The answer “It is required,” will likely only result in the employee giving lip service through the process. The manager must be able to show the employee relevance from their perspective.
  • The What is allowing the employee choices in the journey because each person’s learning journey will look a little different. This means allowing the employee’s interests to drive the learning path of skills and concepts. A manager must be able to engage with the employee and ask them how they want to explore the new skill. This could mean shadowing someone who is strong in a particular area, or it could be allowing them to give it a try and fail. Either way, the onsite manager should be able to brainstorm and dialog to match the employee’s ideas and interests with the desired skills and outcome.
  • The How is the method of nurturing, which will be best determined by the ways each individual employee processes and demonstrates understanding. Sometimes using personal, previous experience as the trainer is a good start, but it does not fit every employee or situation. Giving examples of the way others have achieved the goal can be motivational for some while presenting a blank canvas works best for others. Learners should always be supported by a manager who is willing to walk side-by-side with them as they sharpen their new skills and help them see how their existing expertise fits into the new skills being taught.

The most successful work to learn managers are willing to operate in the same mode as their employees and transparently practice what they preach. They are testing the waters. They are learning new skills. They are questioning processes that do not work. They are willing to take on tasks outside their comfort zone. They understand that the days of simply sitting in the back office and being a task master are over.  

Today, training departments are investing more time and money in their managers by training them how to navigate and lead the work to learn culture. In an article by Mindflash, the author emphasizes that work and the workplace are our new classroom, providing real time education, using actual workplace events to learn from, and requiring on-the-spot thinking. To build such a place there must be a plan. For as long as I can remember, training budgets have always been under examination and limitation. When it comes time to trim back the budget, training is often the first thing on the chopping block. The good news is that in a work to learn environment trainers are training and equipping managers, and the managers are taking important skills out of the classroom and bringing it back to the workplace, utilizing the events of the day to improve skills, discuss opportunities for each employee and learn to be more responsive to the needs of the individual.

2. Teach Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Keeping Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trend research in mind and understanding that critical thinking/problem solving will be among the top three most in-demand capabilities for the future, we will turn our focus there first and explore the remaining two of the top three capabilities in our upcoming letters this year. Before a manager can nurture any new skill in their employee, they must understand how that skill impacts performance and how the employee can best learn to use that new skill.  

A simplified definition for critical thinking would be to have the ability to evaluate a situation using logical thought and come up with the best solution. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own and does not need constant handholding. They have the ability to evaluate a situation using logical thought while extracting the facts out of a sea of confusion. If you think about it, most of our days at home and work are filled with critical thinking and problem-solving challenges. We are most successful when we know how to use critical thinking to solve problems.

Pearson, an established authority in education, identifies critical thinking as the #1 workplace skill. It is consistently rated by employers as being a skill of increasing importance, and yet a recent study showed 49% of employers  rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as only average or below average. In fact, employers claim the critical thinking skills gap is a significant problem with new hires, specifically the Millennial generation. With only 28% of employers rating 4-year graduates as having “Excellent” critical thinking skills, the burden of developing those skills rests on the employers. The best place to practice these new skills is where the work takes place.

According to www.skillsyouneed.com, someone with critical thinking skills can:

  • Understand the links between ideas
  • Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas
  • Recognize, build and appraise arguments
  • Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning
  • Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way
  • Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values

It requires a person to use their ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information, which is why learning this skill fits perfectly into the work to learn model.  Critical thinking, perhaps more than any other business skill, can make the difference between success and failure. Once gained, critical thinking skills become a powerful asset for the employee and the company.  Those who attain this skill are more likely to bring new ideas and solutions even to the toughest daily challenges. In the work to learn environment this skill is invaluable.   

Problem-solving is a universal job skill that applies to any position and every industry. While everyone is tasked with some form of problem-solving in their workplace, not all employees are good at it. In fact, Albert Einstein once said, “You can never solve a problem at a level on which it was created.” At first glance, a problem seems straightforward, but there are many who stumble over one or more of the steps, failing to successfully resolve workplace issues. There are many moving parts to the problem-solving process, and multiple steps that you can take.

  • Identify the issues. This requires thought and analysis which stems from critical thinking.
  • Understand everyone’s interests. This requires active listening and engaging in conversations with those involved.
  • List all possible solutions.
  • Make a decision. It is time to put on the critical thinking cap again because this step involves a careful analysis of the different possible courses of action followed by selecting the best solution.
  • Implement the solution. Take action! This is where we tend to face new problems and quit.
  • Monitor and adjust as needed. Follow-up. Seek feedback.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are important in every industry, and ours is no exception. If you have ever spent a day in a leasing office you know that you face an onslaught of problems on an hourly basis. Some are more complicated than others, and there is not always a right or wrong answer. Quite often, it comes down to the best option you have even if it does not feel 100% right. In the leasing office, one of the most important things you do is simply handle the day-to-day issues that arise. There is no better classroom to teach and nurture these skills than the leasing office where the real work takes place.

3. Nurture the Future Worker

Once you have the right manager in place, and they are trained to understand how critical thinking and problem-solving work together and impact performance, it is time to prime the work to learn leasing office! The manager’s new mindset should be ready and willing to recognize, nurture, and reward these critical skills.  The job is to build a team of employees who are constantly discovering new thinking, ideas and resources and sharing them so that others can benefit from their new knowledge.

There is a plethora of ways to challenge, build, and explore critical thinking and problem-solving skills at work. In fact, the work to learn environment often opens the door to some very basic and simple approaches that encourage human interaction, collaboration, one-on-one discussions and simple, productive fun. Learning these skills can provide a nice break from the computer screen. Here are a few simple and practical activities that could be effective within any office setting and budget.

Stuck and Unstuck

The leasing office is filled with problems that can cause employees to sometimes get stuck and cry out, “Help!” This humorous video is a great launching pad for a discussion on problem-solving. Ask your employees to watch it before they come to work. In your weekly meeting, brainstorm about the obvious and not so obvious details of the video. Present a current problem in your leasing office that has you and the rest of the team stuck. Present the question, “How do we get unstuck?” The goal is to get your employees to a place where they are able to identify and apply different strategies to solve a variety of problems. This could be an activity for a group, or for an individual learner. Getting unstuck only comes from practice and normalizing the struggle. When we recognize the struggle and have a history with it, it is much easier to solve it the next time.

The Noun Problem Solver

In this creative approach to solving a problem, your employees are launching off of a noun from the dictionary or a random book to brainstorm ways to approach and solve the problem. Watch the video!  

If You Build It…

This activity is designed to encourage communication and develop the problem-solving skill. Divide into pairs. Pass out an equal amount of random materials like pipe cleaners, blocks, straws, play dough, dried spaghetti, string, or marshmallows. Then, give each group the task of constructing something such as the tallest castle, a bridge that will hold the most weight, etc. This activity will allow employees to sharpen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The manager should take notes and closely observe how the personalities interact during the activity. Following the discussion, have a conversation about what worked and what did not, what they learned in the process that they can apply in other work challenges. For trainers training managers, check out an approach to this activity with a larger group—The Leaning Tower of Feetza.

Socratic Questioning

Socrates is one of the most famous Greek philosophers and is regarded as one of the wisest people who ever lived. He used a process which sought to discover the answers to questions by allowing his students to examine ideas more closely and evaluate the validity or truth of the subject matter, which later became known as Socratic questioning. The Socratic method is a form of critical thinking which uses six distinct types of questions to help you question your question and reach a different conclusion to the questions you are asking. Teaching managers the skill of Socratic questioning could prove to be invaluable.

Problem Presented to the Manager: “I am just not a very good leasing professional. I don’t close as many sales as Molly.”

  • Question for clarification: Why did you say that? Can you explain this in more detail?
  • Questions which produce assumptions: What can we assume from your problem? Can we verify your assumptions from your past history or leasing data?
  • Questions which necessitate reason or evidence: What has caused you to believe this? Do you have an example that confirms that you are not a good leasing professional? Why do you think this is happening?
  • Questions regarding perspectives: Is there another way to look at this? Do you think that others hold the same view about your leasing performance? Do the customers perceive you this way? Could your thought be part of the problem?
  • Questions which calculate consequences: How does your thinking affect your performance? What is the implication of your statement? How does your belief affect the rest of the team?
  • Questions on the question: What is the point of your statement? What does it mean? Will it help you achieve your goal?

Socratic questioning can help you reach a different conclusion to the questions you were asking. There are a number of ways you can use Socratic questioning and many more questions than listed here. In fact, there is a great article posted by the Harvard Business School on the Socratic method.  With a little tailoring, it can be applied to a wide sphere of workplace problems. By applying pointed questions to issues, a manager can begin to influence the way an employee thinks about certain workplace challenges. When employees can attain this skill and use it to reflect and solve their own problems, it is a game changer.

In the old learn to work environment, it is quite common that power disparity kills an employee’s ability to function at an exceptional level because they have been trained to go to their manager for answers and stop thinking for themselves. While this is sometimes necessary, too much of this can stifle the employee’s ability to think critically through a sea of possibilities and solve problems with the best solution they can determine. The work to learn manager, is never focused on being the smartest person in the room, or being the one who always has the answers, or even the one who is always making the decisions. They understand that their primary obligation is help grow and develop the skills of the people around them so those individuals can realize their full potential.

Join us next quarter as we explore the cognitive skill – the ability to learn, to process and apply knowledge; to analyze and reason; and to evaluate and decide – and how a manager can grow and nurture this critical skill in their employees.

We thank you for your ongoing 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 mystery shopping and resident surveys but also a training resource (including our partner Edge2Learn) for your organization. Additional support and information can be found on our website.

July 31, 2019

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 mystery shops and resident surveys.