Second Quarter 2020 Benchmark Results for Mystery Shops and Resident Surveys Executive Summary

Since 1984, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions has specialized in helping customers achieve their business goals. 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. Our apartment 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.

Given the current circumstances and the impact to the multifamily industry, especially to onsite teams, Ellis will continue to publish an abridged version of our Benchmark results.   The objective for Ellis’ 2020 Benchmarking results is to bring awareness to leasing performance and customer service TODAY.  Leasing and renewal strategies continue to change as companies adapt to the rapidly changing environment.  Each day brings a new challenge and having our onsite teams refocus on the basics will make the difference.  With that in mind, we are pleased to release the results of the Second Quarter Mystery Shop and Resident Surveys Benchmarking, with this quarter’s letter focusing on “Getting Back to the Basics”.

Don’t touch your face. Wash your hands. Stay in your personal space. We have returned to the basics we were taught in kindergarten. This pandemic has forced all of us to slow down and reflect as we find ourselves sitting at home more than we have in years. Gardens are exploding, families are gathering, and outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, etc. are on the rise. Certainly, we are all living in uncharted waters, yet going back to the basics is what is helping many of us get through these trying times because it is familiar.  As we reviewed the results of the Second Quarter mystery shops, we noticed the success stories in our industry came down to leasing teams focused on great customer service and leasing presentations, which unfortunately seems to be missing in many leasing presentations. The old and familiar just might be the key we need to turn the tide towards continued success at this moment in time.

We hope our findings will encourage your teams to get back to the basics.

ELLIS’ SECOND QUARTER 2020 BENCHMARK: OVERALL RESULTS

Mystery Shops

Ellis benchmarks apartment mystery shop performance on 10 key Benchmark questions and the Customer Experience for telephone/onsite presentations. Effective with this quarter, Ellis will also benchmark on 10 key Benchmark questions for virtual leasing presentations. Pre-COVID, Ellis ranked companies who qualified for platinum, gold, silver, or bronze level based on their company’s overall Benchmark scores. Due to COVID-19 circumstances, Ellis is not publishing mystery shop performance by Tier/Rank or Top-Performing Companies for Second Quarter 2020.

In 2019, the overall average Ellis Traditional Multifamily Industry Benchmark score across Ellis’ entire database of eligible shops was 85%. This rose slightly to 86% for First Quarter 2020. During Second Quarter 2020, the average decreased significantly to 79%, across nearly 1,000 in-person shops, as many leasing offices were closed to the public. In 2019, the overall average Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark score was 3.6 and remains steady at 3.6 for Second Quarter 2020, which is very encouraging.

In response to industry needs, we have introduced the Ellis Virtual Leasing Multifamily Industry Benchmark in Second Quarter 2020. Ellis’ Virtual Leasing benchmark is based on 9 of the same key Benchmark questions plus an additional question on the effectiveness of the follow-up contact. For Second Quarter 2020, the average Ellis Virtual Leasing Multifamily Industry Benchmark, based on over 3,000 shops, was 56% (100-point scale). As the onsite teams continue to acclimate to their new style of leasing, we are optimistic that these numbers will continue to shift upward.

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

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Mystery Shops Overall Average Performance

q2 shops overall

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 2019 was 75%, and it increased slightly to 76% for Second Quarter 2020. In 2019, the onsite response rate averaged 88%; Second Quarter 2020 reflects a strong 90% average. The response time was 5.7 days in First Quarter 2020. It improved to 4.6 in Second Quarter 2020. Most of the resident survey results for the quarter were very encouraging, as we witnessed an increase in four of five the individual survey touchpoint scores (Move In, Maintenance, Pre-Renewal, and Move Out) by 1-2% compared to First Quarter 2020. Lead Conversion touchpoint scores decreased by around the same margin, however, which reflects an improvement in the resident experience and a decline in the prospect experience.

Note: Ellis is not publishing Resident Surveys Top Performing Companies for Second Quarter 2020.

Resident Surveys Overall Average Performance

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

Loyalty scale

ELLIS’ SECOND QUARTER 2020 BENCHMARK: QUESTION/TOUCHPOINT RESULTS

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 for telephone/onsite and virtual leasing shops for Second Quarter 2020, as well as the Customer Experience for telephone/onsite shops by category for this quarter. 

These results are reflective of the challenges leasing teams are facing as they transition to and operate in an ever-changing environment. Performance in some key areas is lacking, while others remain strong. This data provides a roadmap to success, which in most cases means returning to the basics of sales and customer service.

Shops breakdown

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 2020, as well as the combined overall loyalty score and average accountability performance results.

Surveys benchmark

GETTING BACK TO THE BASICS DURING THE COVID-19 FOG

Wear your mask. Abide by our rules. Submit to a temperature check. Many businesses are so focused on the pandemic “rules” they have forgotten about the customer experience. They are failing to ease the stress from the customer’s standpoint by simply being helpful, kind, and enthusiastic. The multifamily industry is no exception as teams struggle with getting acclimated to the virtual leasing world, as well as guided and self-guided tours while still attempting to build a connection with their customers. The Second Quarter Ellis Virtual Leasing Multifamily Industry Benchmark shows that many of our leasing professionals are understandably operating in a COVID-19 fog. Large chunks of the leasing process are being overlooked, and performance is being negatively impacted. As we continue to navigate through these rapidly shifting times, one thing is certain – it is time to get back to the basics of sales and the customer experience!

Training

It is no secret that historically when times get tough, training is the first to go, but COVID-19 is different. IMT Residential is one of the companies who prioritized training early on in this pandemic, and their efforts are clearly reflected in their positive shopping report results. We spoke with Kelly Maier, the Director of Training and Shannon Doyle, the Training Manager at IMT Residential regarding the early steps the company took.   “We did not delay our training. Approximately one week after the pandemic began we hosted our first virtual training session.” They shared the importance of the daily calls with all levels of leadership to make certain that everyone understood the plan.  “We rolled out our virtual training in phases and practiced a lot. We conducted many one-on-one training sessions to help acclimate our teams to Zoom and delivering an effective virtual tour. We assumed no one was an expert videographer, so we kept it simple. While we were training, our senior leadership was reinforcing the importance of training to our regional and local management teams.”

When the message comes from and is supported from the top down, things can happen quickly.  Maier and Doyle shared that their leadership team listened to many recorded telephone calls which they used to make quick adjustments in their training plan. “Our people are absolutely amazing, and it has taken every single person on our team giving it their all to achieve this.” The IMT Residential message of do not delay, keep it simple, and practice a lot, is not a new concept, yet it is a powerful one. Their success is a great reminder that when you do not know what is ahead of you, it is important to keep your navigation on and to be flexible enough to make quick changes.

Many onsite teams have been so overwhelmed with just staying afloat, that the customer’s experience has been placed on the backburner. A significant part of this experience is time invested. Time invested is the one thing we do have control of, and it is the main piece lacking in many of the leasing conversations we reviewed this quarter. We attribute the lack of time and attention invested in the conversation to the drastic drop in three particular Benchmark areas:  positive first impression, asking specific needs, and selling features and benefits. Here are three key improvement areas:

  • Increase the amount of time spent with the customer on the telephone and more specifically during virtual tours. Leasing professionals should view the virtual tour as a blend of the telephone and the in-person presentation. It is not a quick, “here is the information—do you want to lease?” All elements from both traditional sales interactions are required for success. Our data shows that the Ellis Virtual Leasing Multifamily Industry Benchmark scores have been declining since April 2020. As the scores continue to drop, the time spent with the customer continue to drop with it. The average time spent on a call with a customer in April was 7.29 minutes. In June it declined to 7.13 minutes.
  • Practice the process and become comfortable with the technology and the virtual tour. It should feel natural to the leasing professional and the customer. Free training for conducting effective virtual tours can be found in Edge2Learn’s, Covid-19 Multifamily Training Resources.
  • Have a plan for every appointment. Be prepared.

For some employees, the learning curve for technology can appear steep, but it is often people’s insecurities that are the biggest interruption. Labor experts have warned for years that a coming wave of automation and digital technology would upend the workforce and change the way the world does business. In the past four months, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed some of those predictions into reality. According to a recent study, half of Americans were working from home by May which is up from 15% before the pandemic.

While we do not have a crystal ball, researchers at the Markle Foundation, in a report published last year, studied the pace of digital tools moving into occupations during the previous decade. The fastest rates of digitization were in jobs in retail, warehouses and health care. Strengthening the leasing conversation, fine tuning the technology skills, and building more time into the conversation can turn these numbers in the right direction and improve the overall customer experience.

Focus

Moving is never a fun experience. During normal times, it is easy to show empathy to the customer and centralize our concerns around them. However, these are different times. Many onsite employees are facing the same challenges as their customers. Consumed with their own problems, it can be difficult to place complete focus on the needs of the customer, but doing so is crucial for success. The goal is to build positive relationships with customers that are bound to last long after the crisis has ended. How can we increase the focus on the customer during the telephone and virtual tour conversations?

  • Remove distractions. This is a tough one as employees are dealing with situations which are far outside of their sales role. Additionally, many employees are working from their home and attempting to set-up virtual tours while other members of their household and domestic situations are demanding their attention as well. We know there is not a universal solution to this challenge that is contributing to the drop in scores. However, there have always been distractions in the workplace and eliminating as many distractions as possible will allow the onsite teams to get back to the basics.
  • Show customer care. Customer care is something most companies have always placed at the top of their priority list. Many posters and websites have the words “customer care” sprinkled throughout. Pre-COVID, companies were trying to lock down the next big idea to show customers they care. Today, you are lucky to get a human being on the telephone and a returned call within a few days. It is time to go back to the basics. Return calls in a timely manner. Give the customer our full attention while we are on the telephone and virtual tour. Establish a connection by asking questions, identifying needs, and presenting personalized solutions.
  • Solve problems. All customers have some sort of a problem, and they are contacting the leasing office hoping to find a solution. COVID-19 has ramped up the problems to a whole new level. The way your team deals with their customers in a crisis is likely to leave lasting memories in those customers’ minds. All normal patterns of life have come to a halt, and everything is difficult right now. Providing options can help the customer make a good choice for their future home. Asking questions can reveal areas of need. The time spent focusing on the customer and their needs during the telephone call and virtual tour is critical to the success of the relationship. Again, refocusing on getting back to the basics will make a difference.
  • Give them your time. Chances are you have recently called a customer-service line once, twice (maybe 10 times) only to be left on hold repeatedly. In fact, many companies are discouraging customers from calling at all. They have moved to online chat boxes and some let you request a call back which is often many hours or even days later. This is the current reality. We must treat the customer’s time like a precious commodity. Take us back to the days when the customer called, and we cleared all activities from our desk and gave them our full and uninterrupted attention. Give them your time and they will give you their trust and loyalty. Get back to the basics.

Missed Opportunities/Lost Customers

Our industry and mostly likely every industry is struggling with a high lost customer rate, which no one can afford during these challenging times. Customers do not have the patience or time to wait around for a call, forgive you for a missed appointment, or hope that you show up eventually for their virtual tour. Out of the over 3,000 Ellis Virtual Tour Shops conducted from April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020, 65% received no call back after leaving an initial message for a leasing professional. Additionally, we saw a spike in unanswered calls, messages left through the call center for a virtual tour from the onsite teams, and missed appointments by onsite teams during this time period. Overall, as an industry, the focus on the customer and effort given to the leasing presentation declined significantly. While we can speculate on specific causes that resulted in these outcomes, many of our indicators point back to the areas we addressed above: lack of training and focus. Maybe it is time to review daily activities taking place in the leasing office, workloads of on-site teams, the hidden challenges consuming them, the volume of calls, etc. to determine the causes. Certainly, each community will be unique, but if we do not identify the cause and address it soon, it will be difficult to shift these numbers in a positive direction for the next quarter. We would love to hear your thoughts and findings!

While the current COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis, it is also an opportunity for leasing teams to support their current and future customers by operating in a caring and empathetic manner. The first steps are to return to the basics by improving the key areas of training and focus and understand the cause behind lost opportunities. By doing so, leasing teams have the potential to create real connections, provide some measure of relief to the customer, and show they truly care. The positive impacts of taking this approach will outlive the social and economic impacts of any pandemic.

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 partner Edge2Learn) for your organization. Additional support and information can be found on our website. Also, Edge2Learn’s free COVID-19 multifamily training resource library includes several leasing training resources for you and your teams.

Stay safe, healthy, and positive during these challenging times.

July 31, 2020

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

 

 

 

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