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Third 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 in 2020, new ways of navigating customers through the leasing process are being tested – online communication channels (chat, text, booking online, etc.), internet and telephone experiences and virtual, guided, and self-guided tours. 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 continue our 2021 theme, Barriers to Lease Conversion”, and turn our focus to the leasing tour as we evaluate the customer experience based on virtual and in-person shops using clean data from 2021.     

ELLIS’ THIRD QUARTER 2021 BENCHMARK: OVERALL RESULTS

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%. Second Quarter 2021 reflected a marginal decrease to 82%, and the average dropped again to 80% for Third Quarter 2021. In response to industry needs and customer demands needs during the pandemic, 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 Second Quarter 2021 the Ellis Virtual Shopping Benchmark improved to 60% and the Third Quarter 2021 reflects another increase to 64%, which remains higher than last year’s average. The Ellis Customer Experience Benchmark score remained steady at 3.6 for the Third 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

CONGRATULATIONS TO ELLIS BENCHMARK TOP PERFORMING MYSTERY SHOPPING COMPANIES THIRD QUARTER 2021

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

Third 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
  • Holland Residential
  • IMT Residential
  • Morgan Group
  • Wood Partners

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 Third Quarter 2021. In 2020, the onsite response rate averaged 89% while dipping down to an average response rate of 86% during Third Quarter 2021. The average response time was 5.9 days in Third Quarter 2021 as compared to 5.3 days in overall 2020.

Note: Ellis is not publishing Resident Surveys Top Performing Companies for First Quarter 2021.

Resident Surveys Overall Average Performance

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


CONGRATULATIONS TO ELLIS BENCHMARK TOP PERFORMING RESIDENT SURVEYS COMPANIES THIRD QUARTER 2021

Ellis wishes to congratulate the companies below for their Ellis Surveys Benchmark performance for Third 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)
Affinity Property ManagementBlock Multifamily Group, LLCCathcart Property ManagementF and F RealtyFPI ManagementGuardian Management, LLCLincoln Property CompanyLMC, a Lennar CompanyMack Property Management, LPManco AbbottSimpson Property GroupSparrow PartnersTriBridge ResidentialWoodmont PropertiesEvolve Management Group, LLCGDC Properties, Inc.Longboat EnterprisesSamuels & AssociatesSouthern Land CompanyStockbridge Capital GroupSunrise Management & ConsultingTM Realty ServicesUnited Financial

Companies are listed in alphabetical order

ELLIS’ THIRD QUARTER 2021 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 and the Customer Experience by category, as well as the combined overall Benchmark scores for Second 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 Second Quarter 2021, as well as the combined overall loyalty score and average accountability performance results.

BARRIERS TO LEASE CONVERSION:  THE LEASING TOUR – THE ART OF BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Since the earliest months of the pandemic, our industry has made great strides in adapting to the virtual leasing world. Despite this, challenges remain. According to Mike Schultz, President of RAIN Group, “Developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, delivering value; these are challenging regardless of the selling and economic environment.” Now in its sophomore season, is virtual leasing effective? How does it compare to in-person visits? What barriers exist? How does the experience in-person and virtually translate to the overall score? As the customer’s expectations for virtual leasing in terms of speed and quality of response continues to evolve at warp speed, we can use clean results data to gain insight and adjust to keep pace with the customer’s needs and desired experience.  

The good news is that the Virtual Shopping Report performance gained 4% from Second Quarter to Third Quarter 2021, yet there is much work to be done with the overall average still lagging 16% behind the standard in-person tour. One of the biggest challenges we see in the tour is the lack of customer engagement both in-person and virtually. Clearly, it is more difficult to engage with customers behind a screen because physical distance prevents leasing professionals from observing the customer’s emotions as they demonstrate their product, yet we also see the residual pressures from the pandemic having an impact in the leasing office. Let’s face it, the pandemic has taken its toll on all of us. We also know that people behave differently behind a screen, where emotions can be hidden and distractions are often invisible, which makes it difficult to determine when you have someone’s attention and when you don’t. In fact, with 5.7 million employees now working virtually, distractions once considered discourteous, unprofessional, or impolite, have become more acceptable.

Is there one secret sauce to removing barriers to lease conversion in-person and virtually? Probably not. Yet, many companies are traveling down the familiar “let’s get back to the basics” road and refocusing on long-standing strategies such as being authentic, engaging, and building trust with the customer.    

Let’s Begin with the Data. What Does It Tell Us?

In a random sampling of over 5,000 shopping reports completed between Q1-Q3 2021, we identified the following three key result areas that helped us to compare the in-person and virtual tour:

The effectiveness of the tour percentage was derived from the Ellis Benchmark question, “Would you lease?” Research tells us that customers tend to be much more forgiving in a face-to-face sales interaction than in the virtual world. Skilled leasing professionals can recover from deficiencies and setbacks more quickly when they are selling in-person.

Time spent with the customer in-person is typically longer than the virtual experience which results in increased relationship building opportunities. Additionally, in a random sampling of approximately 5,000 shops this year, Ellis found significant differences in the prospect experience and conversion likelihood for guided in-person tours versus self-guided tours. Not only were there missed opportunities in selling the home and apartment community (18% better performance on guided tours), but prospects felt they were less prepared to make a leasing decision after a self-guided tour (78%) than after a guided tour (98%) and they were asked less often to make a commitment to leasing. Our research also showed that leasing professionals followed up 11% less often after a prospect took a self-guided tour. In cases where a self-guided tour is preferred or the only option, leasing professionals can make themselves available during the tour by phone or text to answer questions to help build a connection.

Certainly, time with the prospect is a factor as is being able to gauge facial expressions and body language, and quickly respond to those non-verbal as well as verbal cues from the prospect throughout the tour. Yes, the fundamentals of the tour are the same. What sets certain leasing professionals apart is how they deliver the tour experience. If we can take advantage of every opportunity to be ‘in front’ of the prospect whether in person or virtually and let our personality and passion shine through, we will be much closer to driving the sale. Remember, personal connection is a human need, not to mention distractions are minimized when the customer is face-to face with the leasing professional. Our data points highlight opportunities for leasing teams to improve the overall virtual leasing and self-guided tour experience.

What drives the closing score averages? These scores are derived from simple yes or no questions. Did the leasing professional ask for a financial commitment right then and there? Did they ask you to lease? There really is no emotional trigger hidden within this. They either did or they did not. Interestingly, the closing score average does not heavily impact the overall score or the effectiveness of the tour average. If the leasing professional fails to ask for the sale, the customer can still respond positively and choose to lease the apartment, which is also highlighted in the data. Such a gap between the virtual and in-person overall score speaks to the power of the leasing professional’s effectiveness during the in-person tour.

Aside from the challenges that come with the lack of face-to-face interaction during the virtual tour, there were three controllable areas which negatively contributed to the virtual score resulting in a 12% overall score gap for Third Quarter 2021: asking specific needs (-25%), describing amenities (-24%), and selling features/benefits (-29%). While the leasing conversation often flows naturally in a live in-person environment, it requires more intentional effort virtually to feel the same results.

These gaps and challenges are not specific to the multifamily industry. Data from a blog post by the Rain Group rated 18 challenges companies are facing in the new virtual sales environment. Bubbling to the top of the list:

  • Gaining customer’s attention and keeping them engaged virtually: 91%
  • Solving customer problems: 89%
  • Developing relationships with buyers virtually: 88%

In the same survey, the customers were asked what factors have the greatest influence on their purchase decisions when interacting virtually? The top three points include:

  • Leading a thorough discovering of their wants and needs: 71%
  • Helping them solve a problem: 68%
  • Listening: 68%

Leasing virtually using Zoom, Facetime, video, screenshare, etc. is very different from touring the product in-person. In addition to specific technology training, leasing professionals must build specific skills that will help them to effectively translate their message online. Investing time in preparation and practice can produce positive results and help close the performance gap between the two sales methods. It’s time to rediscover the art of building relationships in-person and virtually!

Rediscovering the Art of Building Relationships

 1. Be authentic and stand out!

If you have spent any time in this industry, it is likely that you have messed up or embarrassed yourself while on the leasing tour with a customer. Maybe you picked up the wrong keys? Fumbled through your presentation? Maybe you scheduled two appointments at the same time? No matter the situation, you were authentic, and you stood out! A captivating leasing professional can get away with a mediocre or messy presentation and carry it over the finish line on the back of their personality. How can we build up that authenticity in-person and translate it into the virtual conversation?

  • In both the virtual and in-person tour, preparation is key! This is necessary to facilitate a good experience for the customer. The extent to which you prepare will be amplified online when you can no longer rely on body language. Are all the pieces of your virtual presentation intact and ready to go? Are you sending the message to the customer that you are prepared and in control of the presentation? You can’t be “you” if you are struggling through the process.
  • Set yourself up for success BEFORE the presentation begins. How will I help this customer? What needs do they have? How does my product meet their needs? How will my product solve their problem? What do I want the customer to learn from my presentation?
  • You grabbed their attention. Now, content is key. Every industry is crowded. The content presented must differentiate you from the competition, in-person and online. It should turn the customer towards you. With limited time and attention, what content is going to reap the greatest rewards?
  • You give up or you follow up. It’s a harsh statement, but competition is brutal, so having an effective and consistent follow-up strategy will most definitely cause you to stand out. Why? Because no one is doing it. Our data on virtual tours from 2020 through Q2 2021 showed that only 38% of customers received any follow-up, and only 58% of that number agreed that they received answers to their questions. Consistent exposure to you and your product can be key to turning prospects into customers.

2. Collaborate and Engage with Customers

No one likes to move. In fact, making the decision to relocate is emotionally exhausting for most people, so it makes sense that choosing their new home would be a very stressful experience. When you build and launch your leasing approach around this idea, you quickly realize that the sales tools you utilize must encourage collaboration for the customer to be fully engaged. The conversation is the key to success and utilizing the consultative approach/questions listed on the Ellis Benchmark will lead to greater success. The more you engage with a customer, the more trust you build. The more trust you build, the more likely they are to lease from you. As we mentioned earlier, customers tend to be much more forgiving face-to-face than in the virtual sales world which is clearly reflected in our data. Too often, when leasing professionals move into the virtual leasing tour world, their approach is backwards. Instead of using the virtual technology as a collaboration tool first and a presentation tool last, they spend all their upfront energy in “presentation mode” which is often filled with generic information that does not speak to the customer. This unwanted and unnecessary one-sided information goes in one ear and out the other, resulting in an unmoved customer who is indifferent or actively disengaged.

According to a Gallup study, customers are either fully engaged, indifferent, or actively disengaged.

  • Fully Engaged customers are emotionally attached and rationally loyal. They will go out of their way to locate a favored product or service, and they will accept substitutes. These true brand ambassadors are a company’s most valuable and profitable customers.
  • Indifferent customers are emotionally and rationally neutral. They have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude toward a company’s product or service.
  • Actively Disengaged customers are emotionally detached from a company and its products or services. They will readily switch brands.

Our goal for the in-person and virtual tour is to fully engage with customers. This is only accomplished by collaborating with the customer while probing with quality open-ended questions to lead the customer to answers. It is the piece of the leasing puzzle that will positively improve the “effectiveness of the tour” question on the Ellis Benchmark and begin to close the score percentage gap between tour effectiveness, closing the sale, and the overall score.

3. Build Trust

Building trust with customers has always been important. Whether in-person or virtually, a great way to build trust is to remove the customer’s pain points. But no customer is the same, so leasing professionals must ask the right questions and present the appropriate solutions which should have been uncovered in the collaboration/engagement step. Always avoiding yes or no questions and utilizing open-ended qualitative questions that require an in-depth explanation will reveal a broader view of the problems they face. Many of these questions and examples can be found on the Ellis Shopping Report.

Dr. Roderick Kramer of Stanford University stated, “Some of the best trust builders I’ve studied display great attention to, and empathy for, the perspective of the other party. They know what steps to take to reassure people, and proactively allay the anxiety and concerns of others.”  Dr Kramer’s point is crystal clear: The ability to see things from the perspective of the other person builds trust into the relationship. If you prepare for the customer collaboration, tailor your questions and messaging appropriately, and ultimately solve their problem or achieve an objective for the customer, you will build trust. All points are connected. Trusted advisors and customer influencers can move fluidly between the in-person and virtual sales mediums and achieve success regardless of where they collaborate with the customer. No longer is it good enough to simply have the best service or the best product. Customer trust is everything, especially during unpredictable times.  

Authenticity, collaborating and engaging with customers, and building trust is truly an art mastered only by those who intentionally prepare and practice. You cannot wing it and sustain success! Creating a strategy around every interaction whether it be in-person or virtually will lead to more positive leasing results on paper and most importantly at the leasing desk. Great strategies move customer engagement from reactive to proactive. According to data in a blog post by RingCentral, how someone feels about you and your brand could edge out both price and quality. The quality of your relationship with the customer will not only determine if they lease, but also whether they would recommend you to a friend or family member—the greatest compliment you will every receive. When you rediscover and master the art of building relationships, your customer’s will sing your praises on their own!  What songs are your customers singing about their relationships with your leasing team?


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 and policies and procedures resource (including our partner (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.

November 1, 2021

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

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