Third 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. 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. We believe that the more you know about your customers and what they have to say about your employees, product, and services the better you can respond to and anticipate their needs. 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 multifamily training theme is “Transitioning from Learn to Work to Work to Learn“. Time, geography, technology, budgets, and generational changes have brought us to a point where we can no longer leave all learning to multifamily training departments. Learning is mobile – it is available everywhere we turn, and it should also be taking place where the work is being done – in the leasing office. In a work to learn culture, employees are encouraged to take on the responsibility of understanding rising situations, recognizing 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. In the Second Quarter 2019 Benchmark letter, we tackled the critical thinking/problem solving skill and how it can be nurtured in the leasing office on a day-to-day basis. In this letter, we will focus on cognitive skills development which is the ability to learn, process and apply knowledge, to analyze, reason, evaluate, and make a decision. Virtually all jobs require employees to exercise these “thinking” skills while they learn and grow from their daily work experiences.

We thank you for joining us each quarter as we pass on combined Benchmark results and sales trends and offer practical improvement ideas for your company and employees.


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 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 84% for Third Quarter 2019, representing 11,169 shops. In 2018, the overall average Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark score was 3.6 and remains steady at 3.6 for Third 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 Platinum Level Achievers

Tier 2
(30 – 69 completed shops)

  • IMT Residential

Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark Gold Level Achievers **

Tier 1

  • Cortland Partners
  • Lewis Apartment Communities
  • Matrix Residential
  • Mill Creek Residential Trust
  • Wood Partners

Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark Gold Level Achievers **

Tier 2

  • AMLI Residential
  • GHP Management
  • Holland Residential
  • HSL Asset Management
  • IMT Residential
  • JLB Partners
  • Richman Property Services, Inc.
  • Windsor Property Management Co / GID
  • ZRS Management, LLC

*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 74% for Third Quarter 2019. In 2018, the onsite response rate averaged 87%; Third Quarter 2019 increased marginally to 88%. Teams took an average of 5.2 days to respond in Third Quarter 2019 versus an average of 5.7 days in 2018.


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

  • Block Multifamily Group, LLC
  • Capstone Real Estate
  • CWS Apartment Homes, LLC
  • Fore Property Company
  • 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
  • Woodward Management Partners
  • Zaremba Management Company

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

  • Carlisle Property Management (CPM)
  • CLMS Management
  • Dolben
  • GDC Properties, Inc.
  • Ghertner & Company
  • Goldberg Realty Associates
  • HRI Properties
  • Provence Real Estate, LLC
  • ResideBPG
  • Reybold Venture Group
  • Russo Development
  • Samuels & Associates
  • Sunrise Management & Consulting
  • TM Realty Services
  • Woodside Village Management

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



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, their desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt their skills set to remain marketable throughout their working life. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trend research, 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 grow and nurture these in-demand skills? While there are great learning platforms available 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 that not all multifamily training can be forced into the traditional training model or even captured in an LMS, so we need to nurture the lifelong learner and meet them where they are, which is in the leasing office. The leasing office is where we can invest in our future workforce. It is the training ground where employees can practice the sought-after skills they will need to be successful in any role and any industry.

This quarter we laser in on cognitive skills. What are cognitive skills? In short, they are the core skills the brain uses to think, learn, retain, reason, and recall. As these skills work together, they take incoming information and relocate it to our knowledge bank which we use every day at work and in life. Virtually all jobs require employees to exercise cognitive skills even if they do not realize it. If even one of these skills is weak, learning and performance are impacted. According to research, most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills. Let us consider a few common areas and how a weak cognitive skill can impact leasing performance.

Lack of Focus/Attention:

  • Unfinished projects
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Frequent errors made in process and/or procedures

Logic and Reasoning:

  • Not able to solve problems
  • Feeling stuck or overwhelmed in a process

Analyzing Problems and Evaluating Options

  • Not knowing where to begin
  • Unable to determine which solution is most appropriate

Unable to Suspend Analysis (“Stuck in the Weeds”)

  • Not able to freely brainstorm and list solutions

Clearly, this list could go on and on. Interestingly, strong or weak cognitive skills are difficult to pinpoint in the interview process. While many companies do offer testing for these types of skills, they are not often proven or disproven until they are put to the daily test while on the job. Consider this. When was the last time you interviewed a potential employee and directly asked them, “Can you think?” “Can you suspend analysis?” “Can you focus?” Of course, you would not do that. Yet if you think about the people you have hired in the past, I would bet that each of these areas is lacking in someone somewhere. While cognitive skills are more complicated than the critical thinking/problem-solving skills discussed in our previous letter, there are many similarities. The good news is there are ways to grow, stretch, and challenge cognitive skills in the daily workplace.

Here are three areas to consider when your goal is to encourage your employees to intentionally exercise their cognitive skills at work.

1. Creating New Experiences and Connections

We all fall into patterns. We wake up at the same time, we drive the same route to work, we aim for the familiar parking space. Habits are comforting and comfortable to most people, but if we want to exercise those cognitive skills, it is time to shake it up! It is time to do something we know how to do, but do it differently. A simple change in routine can create new connections and ideas, insert some fun into a daily activity, and result in new discoveries. If you are a jazz fan, then you probably are familiar with Miles Davis. His 1959 album, Kind of Blue, is considered by many as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. He decided to break away from the fast tempo songs that were most popular during that era and take a new approach with his band. This risk resulted in one of the highest grossing jazz albums in history. This would not have happened had they simply relied on their old routines or habits. They had to be in full creative and discovery mode so that everything they explored was a first-time experience.

What great things could take place at your apartment community if your team was encouraged to create new experiences and connections with their community? Here are some simple ideas to get you started.

  • Break it up. When you ask your leasing professionals to walk the community, what do they see? For some, it feels like you are asking them to climb Mount Everest due to the daunting size of the property. What could happen if you changed their visual perception? Ask them to imagine that the community is divided into four equal areas. Before the office opens, ask the employee to take a notepad and explore area one. How many trees? How many steps to the pool, playground, etc.? How far is the model from the office? How can the area be improved? What makes it unique? Ask them to write down at least three things they have never noticed before in this particular area.
  • Move it around. When was the last time you encouraged your leasing team to move around some of the office furniture, plants, coffee pot, tables? A simple change in the physical environment is an easy way to create a new experience for employees and residents. When things remain the same, everything tends to fade into the background.
  • Break out. The leasing routine is probably the best opportunity to exercise cognitive skills by changing up the process and considering something new. Do your employees follow the same leasing routine every day? What would happen if they changed it up tomorrow? What if they tested a new telephone greeting or in-person greeting, or moved to a new location to qualify the customer? What about taking a different route to the model? If they never try something new, they will never know what great rewards they could be missing out on.
  • Rotate. Some employees simply need a set of fresh eyes to make new connections and rejuvenate themselves. A great way to encourage this is to relocate them to another community even if for just one day. You will be amazed at the things they will see, learn, and discover in a whole new way when they return. If you really want to stretch and test their ability to brainstorm, draw from their past experience, and problem-solve, take them into an apartment at a different community, give them five minutes to familiarize themselves with their surroundings, and then challenge them to lease you the apartment. This will force them out of their routine because they are in unfamiliar territory. Their true strengths will be revealed.

If your leasing professionals can tour the community with their eyes closed, it is probably time to consider something different to help them stretch those cognitive skills. They could be so comfortable with their routine that it has become boring. If so, they are probably boring their customers, too. Changing up daily routines can be a powerful way to unlock new ideas and exercise cognitive skills.

2. Draw from Experiences

The daily life of a leasing professional can be a very stressful one because they are often moving from one problem to another, but how are they navigating through each one? Are they learning through them or simply surviving? Clearly, some are naturally better at it than others, but effectively solving problems requires good logic, reasoning skills, and reflection. Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Solving problems is an outstanding way to build new connections in the brain and strengthen cognitive skills. We must provide ways for employees to practice and challenge themselves in this area. The problems we face on a day-to-day basis tend to repeat themselves; therefore we can draw from our experience as leaders and present employees with hypothetical situations so they can practice and anticipate future problems. Walking employees through such activities can strengthen cognitive areas such as logic and reasoning, analyzing problems, and evaluating options. 

In a 2017 issue of The Leadership Quarterly, Michael Mumford in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma and his associates discussed problem-solving skills critical to leader performance. They argued that effective “real world” leadership occurs in situations where the person has knowledge, experience, and creativity nurtured through experience. That we have stored mental maps that assist us through the problem because we have been through similar or have witnessed something similar before. Our ability to draw from past experiences also gives us the mental resources to anticipate problems and potential consequences. In the article, Mumford and his team identify nine key skills people in leadership positions utilize when working with stored knowledge to address problems. Surprisingly, some of these familiar points lead us right back to the Consultative Selling Process because essentially it is simply a problem-solving process. Skills such as identifying and defining problems, analyzing causes and goals to solve the problem, formulating plans, and anticipating outcomes are just a few of the nine skills that made their list.

How do you practice and build these skills in the workplace? Create realistic scenarios. Here are some simple activities that can be easily executed in the leasing office.

  • 40-20-10-5: Ask each employee to submit in writing both a common and a unique situation or problem that a leasing professional might have to solve during the day. It should be written in 40 words or less. If you have several new employees on your team, the manager can create these scenarios. Then ask the employee to reduce it to 20 words; then to 10, and then finally to 5 words. These 5 words are often the root of the problem, but they can also be the root of the
  • Futures Wheel: This activity was created in 1972 by Jerome Glenn. It can help your employees explore the consequences of change or a decision as they identify all possible outcomes. Present a problem scenario and ask the employee to write one possible solution in the center of a piece of paper. Then ask them to list possible direct results/consequences of the solution throughout the day around the center idea in the shape of a wheel. Finally, ask them to list possible indirect results/consequences based on the direct results/consequences. The Futures Wheel is a simple, practical tool that helps you brainstorm the direct and indirect consequences of a decision. Once finished, you’ll have a visual map that lays out all of the implications of the problem, allowing the employee to manage the situation appropriately.

The objective here is to encourage your employees to think about the problem in a different way and have some fun while solving it, both of which will enhance their creativity in finding and implementing a solution. These activities will create a history map in their brain which will be available for them to draw from when a similar challenge comes their way.

3.  Experience it All!

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” The more experiences you can create for your employees, the better connections they will be able to make to find solutions. The great news is we work in an industry filled with multiple experiences just waiting to be captured on a daily basis.  Managers need to be intentional about encouraging all employees to try new things. Leasing professionals should not confine their daily experiences to a desk. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Pair up two employees who are responsible for unique tasks such as resident party planning, marketing, etc. Have each employee share their experience and teach the other employee the process. Think of it as on-the-job tutoring, similar in some ways to mentoring.
  • Play a game! Choose Happiness at Work is a game designed as a tool for team performance and employee engagement. The game consists of over 50 common workplace scenarios and over 100 science-based solutions. Each scenario identifies and provides context for a common workplace situation, followed by a succinct scientific justification for why it is a problem at work. With a price tag of $200, it is a game concept which could easily be reproduced and modified using some industry-specific scenarios. Collect scenarios from all of your employees including your service department. Spend some time every week with your team working through each scenario as a group so that every employee can experience the problem and the possible solutions. Do your leasing professionals know how to reset a garbage disposal? When approached, does your service team know how to respond to the resident who just backed into their neighbor’s car? Do your leasing consultants know how their marketing budget was created or what it includes?

No business wants an employee who presents weak cognitive skills and constantly hits brick walls in the course of their daily work. We want employees who are capable of using their initiative and seeking out their own solutions. This requires practice.  Encouraging development in these areas results in an employee who is proactive and competent and does not constantly lean on the shoulders of others who are more experienced.  When cognitive skills work together, employees are better able to independently complete projects, solve problems, analyze situations, and determine solutions through brainstorming and drawing from experience. When we invest in their experiences, they are able to experience more “aha moments” and see the familiarity of the situation. These experiences give them the confidence to proceed.

Join us next quarter as we explore social skills – the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures, and body language.

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

October 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 apartment mystery shops and resident surveys.