What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping”

By
Education & Training with The Lones Group, Inc.
The Lones Group, Inc.

What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping”

Note from the author, Nov. 21, 2011: There have been a lot of questions and comments on various online sites regarding this recent post. I think it’s important to clarify two points:

1. Any mystery shopping I have done has been on behalf of my builder clients, who have hired me to assess the showing and selling skills of their representatives. In many instances, the mystery shopping was undertaken not by me, but by professionally trained mystery shoppers.

2. My post did not recommend that agents mystery shop on one another. Since you are independent contractors, the comment to “shop your own company” (and the sentences that followed) was clearly intended for you to look at your own business, to see what you can learn.

The spirit of the article was one of providing suggestions for ways to improve your business. I hope you take the article in the spirit it was intended.


Research tells us that mystery shoppers were first employed in the 1940s, when private investigators used mystery shopping to prevent internal theft, measure employee integrity, and anonymously evaluate customer service.

Today, businesses often mystery shopped include retail stores, restaurants, banks, movie theaters, car dealerships, and health clubs.  Actually, any situation which includes a consumer/business interaction is open to mystery shopping.

Over the years I’ve worked with many builders and developers.  And during the course of consulting with them, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of “mystery shopping”, both at open houses and on the telephone.  I’ve mystery shopped real estate agents all across the country.  Different states, different price points, different home styles, different markets.

But one thing was common – my goal was to see what kind of efforts agents made to either sell me the home they were holding open, or to follow up with me after I left.   

When I mystery shop, most of the agents I meet have the “Tigger” personality – they’re the “people people” – bouncy, energetic, friendly. (If you’ve heard me talk about personality types before, you’ll know I’m referring to “Promoters” and “Supporters”.)  They could certainly engage with me at an open house by chit-chatting.  In fact, sometimes there was way too much chit-chatting that was random and unfocused.  Often these “Tigger” agents were good at engaging with me “live” but they very, very rarely keep in touch with me after our initial contact.

Sometimes I would encounter other personality types at open houses – such as “Owl” (Analyticals).  Focused on providing data, Owls are rarely comfortable at open house settings, because they don’t find engaging with others as easy as the Tiggers.  And of course, because they didn’t “connect” initially, their ability to follow up was compromised too.   Same thing with “Rabbit” (Contollers) – a little bossy, a little overbearing, and very much expecting visitors to buy today, Rabbits are focused on a now transaction and rarely provide good follow-up.

Which brings me to this statement: Most agents treat open houses as a retail storefront … either buy what’s in front of you, or move on to the next “store”.  If you treat open houses (and your business!) in this way, you will continually have a one-deal-at-a-time, transaction-based business.

Stop treating people like they are retail shoppers … and focus instead on what someone’s bigger picture is!  Learn how to ask questions of open house visitors so that you get to the heart of what they want.  Don’t interrogate people.  Don’t oversell.  Instead, build a relationship with them by asking questions, listening, learning to read their clues (both verbal and non-verbal), and responding accordingly.

We all know that most people who visit open houses won’t buy that home.  So if you know that, why the huge sales push when they’re there?  And since they leave without “buying”, they obviously still have a want (or need) to buy.  Why aren’t you following up with them, providing them good information, and developing a relationship with them so that – when they’re ready to “buy” – they immediately think of you?  Of all the mystery shopping I did (and remember, I’m talking about hundreds of agents from all over the country) I found it almost impossible to find an agent that was still following up with me 90 days later. Follow-up at the 180 day mark was even harder … and one year later it was almost impossible to find an agent still in touch with me.

And now, a few words about a group of people who have taken “mystery shopping” to a whole new level!

Recently I’ve been watching the television show, “Undercover Boss”.  If you’re not familiar with the show, the premise is this:  a high-ranking executive or owner of a company who alters their appearance, changes their name, creates a fictional work history, and goes undercover in their own company and works as an entry-level employee.   The undercover boss spends about a week undercover in the company, working at several jobs under several different managers.  Along the way, they encounter typical scenarios for workers in the jobs they are pretending to hold and learn a great deal about both the managers and their co-workers.

At the end of the week, the undercover boss returns to his position, and calls in the employees he or she worked with over the course of the week.  The boss reveals their true identity … and then rewards deserving staff members through promotions or financial gains.  Other staff members are given training (or retraining!), or are provided better working conditions.

It’s a fascinating show, and it really proves the point that sometimes you have to get in someone else’s skin to really see how things work.  It’s fascinating for the CEO to see what’s really happening in the company.  And often, the CEO is transformed as a result of their experience going undercover … and the staff goes from being perceived as just “employees” to taking on the humanity of living, breathing people.

So now it’s time for the hard question: are you really doing the things you should be doing in your business … in the way they should be done?

I challenge you to go undercover and mystery shop your own company.  Look at your habits, your energy, your work, and your attitude.  Are you really doing what it takes to achieve success?  And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your clients from time to time.

Every real estate business could use a little bit of undercover.  It’s time to go undercover in your business!

By Denise Lones CSP, M.I.R.M., CDEI - The founding partner of The Lones Group, Denise Lones, brings over two decades of experience in the real estate industry. With expertise in strategic marketing, business analysis, branding, new home project planning, product development, and agent/broker training, Denise is nationally recognized as the source for all things “real estate”. With a passion for improvement, Denise has helped thousands of real estate agents, brokers, and managers build their business to unprecedented levels of success, while helping them maintain balance and quality of life.

The Lones Group, Inc.
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Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Lenn Harley 11/20/2011 10:17 AM
  2. Bonnie Jean Hart 11/20/2011 05:48 PM
Topic:
Real Estate Sales and Marketing
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Rainmaker
1,766,416
John Novak
Keller Williams Realty The Marketplace - Las Vegas, NV
Henderson, Las Vegas and Summerlin Real Estate

Now that a clarification has been made, I'm curious if any of the previous commenters will come back to revise or apologize for their comments. And all Rainers need to remember this -- "attack the issues, NOT the individual."

Nov 21, 2011 07:17 AM #56
Ambassador
525,439
Tom Branch
RE/MAX Dallas Suburbs - Plano, TX
Broker, CDPE, SFR, ACRE, Plano TX Ambassador

John,

Mystery Shopping is common among new home builders not the traditional resale market (outside of HUD who is not subject to the COE). The OP talked about mystery shopping agents at open houses not new home builder sales reps.

Maybe the OP wants to revise her post to say she only visits builders?

Tom

 

Nov 21, 2011 07:44 AM #57
Rainer
273,282
Emmary Simpson
Las Cruces Homes and Land - Las Cruces, NM
Serving Las Cruces, NM

I will stand by my comment, thank you very much. I am not attacking the OP, I am commenting on her methods.

And I stand by my comment that she is breaking the COE. She can say she isn't on every single message board on the net but, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, she's in violation of the COE. Period. End of story.

Nov 21, 2011 08:01 AM #58
Ambassador
854,119
Brenda Mullen
RE/MAX Access - Schertz, TX
Your San Antonio TX Real Estate Agent!!

Had to go back to your post and read it again.  You lump both open houses and builder's developments together.  If you are hired by a Builder to check on their sales reps, that is another thing entirely then to go to a Real Estate Agent's Open House at a Residence currently owned by a homeowner to whom the Realtor® works for.  While we are at an open house, our business is to sell the property we are holding open.  To simply assume that not following up with a buyer is a poor business practice is not known.  Perhaps the listing agent ONLY does listings.  

You, by going in there yourself or hiring other licensee's to go to the open house and posing as a buyer is against the NAR COE.  You say you teach this stuff...but I don't see how.  If I don't ask you to evaluate my business or my business practice then you have no business doing so.  If my broker is doing this behind my back, then I would be moving on.  It's deceitful plain and simple.  I do not think, if you were put in that situation of having people secretly checking you out, that you would appreciate it much either.  

Let me just say ditto to Carla above.  

Nov 21, 2011 08:14 AM #59
Rainmaker
227,314
Jackie Hawley
Coldwell Banker Professionals - Oxford, MI
Southeast Michigan Real Estate

I can understand not wanting to be "mystery shopped" BUT wouldn't your issue (to the commentors above) be with the person who HIRED her to shop you? It would probably be your broker or client (who could be a builder) who is "spying" on you.

Nov 21, 2011 08:17 AM #60
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Carla, I am very concerned by your comments, as they suggest that you didn’t actually read the post carefully or in its entirety.

I suggest you do so.

But if you haven’t bothered to do so yet, I can’t assume that you will.  So to summarize, the post talked about the fact that builders and developers hired me to mystery shop their agents.  That means I was shopping agents that worked for the builder, onsite, at properties they owned.  Nowhere in the article did I talk about mystery shopping agents at privately owned homes.  Your assumption that I was doing so is inaccurate.  And because your assumption was inaccurate, all your subsequent points lack merit. 

What I did suggest is that agents go undercover in “their own company”.  In fact, here’s exactly what I said, “I challenge you to go undercover and mystery shop your own company.  Look at your habits, your energy, your work, and your attitude.  Are you really doing what it takes to achieve success?”    As all agents are independent contractors, this was clearly a call to agents to look at their business to see what improvements could be made.  And the word “your” was used four times in the sentence that followed, to drive home the point that I was talking about their individual business.  I think it’s pretty clear to anyone who took the time to read the article that the intent behind it was to provide suggestions to agents for ways to help them improve their businesses … not a nefarious scheme to encourage agents to spy upon one another. 

 

Jackie, that’s exactly correct.  If people want to be upset with mystery shopping they should take it up with the clients who find it of value … the builders and developers who hire mystery shoppers.

Nov 21, 2011 09:39 AM #61
Ambassador
1,368,734
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

Ahhh... such a misunderstanding. I guess most of us read it wrong. We didn't take it that the mystery shopping was the implied method hired by builders and developers. I went back to re-read what I didn't read, I still didn't see that the paragraphs only applied to mystery shopping for builders like you had mentioned in your comment which was more clear.

However, you mentioned agents go undercover in their own company. How does one mystery shop him/herself? Unless TX is different than most states, an individual agent works for him/herself and no one else. How does one look at habits, energy, work or attitude in the Open House Mystery Shop way? Perhaps if you could enlightened me. Sometimes, as we uncover more in the comments than the original post.

Nov 21, 2011 10:41 AM #62
Rainmaker
525,654
Dave Halpern
Keller Williams Realty Louisville East (502) 664-7827 - Louisville, KY
Louisville Short Sale Expert

Denise,

You have created another controversy which gets more people talking about you.

Reminds me of Benetton's advertising campaigns that are designed to be despicable just to get name recognition.

That strategy doesn't fit everyone's style, but you're still around so it obviously works for you.

BTW, my local zoo uses images of zebras in it's advertising, I'm surprised you haven't gone after them.

Nov 21, 2011 12:34 PM #63
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Loreena – I am so glad you asked! What I am referring to when I am suggesting you go undercover in your own company is to be able to take a step back and look at your business with a fresh set of eyes. There are a couple of ways to go about doing this. You can either do it yourself if you have the ability to look at yourself objectively or you can ask clients for feedback.

 

If you have ever had one of those moments when you realized there was a better/faster/more efficient/more client-focused way to do what you were doing, then you very well may fall into the first category. Some examples of items you can look at for a self-audit would include:

 

1.      Emails – go back through your last month of emails to clients. Take a look at the ones to your past clients and ones to your potential clients. Have you simply answered the question or have you really gone the extra mile and answered some of their potential questions? Have you supplied MORE than what they asked for? This is the sign of good client care.

2.      Mail – go back through your mail to your past clients and database over the last two years. Has it been consistently sent? How is the quality? The content?

3.      CMA – how long does it take you to do a CMA? Is there a more efficient way to do it? Are you including unique information in your pricing discussion?

4.      And yes…open houses (both on site and listings) – Are you answering the door with a smile or hiding in the kitchen? Are you reading the body language of the client and adjusting your message to best suit the needs of that client? For example, if you have someone who is in a hurry, do you stay at the same pace or pick it up a notch, acknowledge they are in a hurry, and give them material to take with them or do you assume they aren’t interested? If you have someone who wants a detailed tour, do you slow it down? Are you offering the very best in client care that you can? When all is said and done, are you measuring your return on your investment – your TIME investment – and making sure you have made the most of your time at that open house? Think about every interaction you had during your last open. What could you have done to make it better?

 

There are scores more areas you can look at, of course, but imagine starting with just one area per week and “mystery shop” yourself. Then make a list of 3-4 things you could do to improve that activity.

 

If you have a tough time stepping outside the box and looking at your business, you can certainly send out a survey to gather feedback instead that can be answered anonymously. So imagine this is an open house. You can have feedback postcards at the door (postage-paid) and encourage people to fill them out and drop them off. You can have feedback forms on clipboards with a drop box by the front door. If you have received emails, phone numbers, or addresses, you can send a feedback form. There are even sites such as Survey Monkey that allow you to set up online surveys for your clients.

 

By auditing your business, you are taking a closer look. Feedback (self and from others) is valuable as an independent contractor because we don’t usually have someone in our business telling us how we could be doing things more effectively. Thank you for asking!

Nov 21, 2011 01:52 PM #64
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Dave – Again, someone who apparently didn’t really read my article as I didn’t outline anything in there controversial, but it was made so by the scores of agents who decided to make it a controversy.

 

Believe me, I have better things to do with my time (such as help the agents I coach and develop new content to help their business) than to “stir the pot”. And shame on you for your last comment. This sort of negativity does nothing to help our industry. What have you done today that was a positive influence on our industry?

Nov 21, 2011 01:55 PM #65
Ambassador
3,357,016
Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods

Denise, I did read and re-read your article and I believe that you've gone back and tried to explain yourself out of this one but, I stand firm on my original comments.  I would remove this post--you stated, "I’ve mystery shopped real estate agents all across the country.  Different states, different price points, different home styles, different markets."  and you further go on to explain the different types of agents that you "MEET."  Unless you 'meet' your agents for the first time at random Open Houses, you ARE, as indicated in these comments, 'spying' on other agents, who have NOTHING to do at all with YOUR brokerage.

This is not, as I said before, Undercover Boss, this is blatant deceit directed at owners of their OWN companies.  Unless you have agents who you EMPLOY across the US, you're basically tricking other agents "all across the country" and are in breech of our COE's, plain and simply.

Nov 21, 2011 02:16 PM #66
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Debe - As I have said many times already,  I do not spy on agents.  I have worked with builders and developers to help improve sales skills.  This is NOT deceit and it is done all the time. I respect that you do not like these facts, but these are the facts. My intent in writing this article was to share what I have learned in the hopes that agents might apply some of the mystery shopping principles (such as looking at one's business from another angle) and work on their interpersonal skills because it helps their bottom line. There are a lot of agents out there right now that could use some help with their bottom line.  

 

Nov 21, 2011 02:42 PM #67
Ambassador
3,357,016
Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods

I totally disagree--if that's the case, then put them in a training program and work onsite with them.  Unless you employ these agents on whom you're 'mystery shopping'--that is paying an hourly wage or a salary, they are technically owners of their own companies (not yours or the builder/developers) and the COE clearly states that you, as a Realtor®, must identify yourself...  

You're implying that you knew these agents and that this was your business/brokerage--if that is the case, why didn't you personally know the agents who you refer to in this post?   I've had local builders ask the same thing of me before and I explain our COE's and refuse to carry out such tasks for them.  They typically have a family friend do the spying for them and report back their findings.  I know for a fact that I have been 'mystery shopped' before--my builder confessed to me!  But, it was a friend of his and thankfully, I met his expectations!  

Nov 21, 2011 03:05 PM #68
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Debe - we are going to have to agree to disagree because your comments do not reflect what I wrote in my article. You have misunderstood what I have said and my intention. 

Nov 21, 2011 03:12 PM #69
Rainmaker
593,907
Neal Bloom
Brokered by eXp Realty LLC - Weston, FL
Realtor CRS-Weston FL Real Estate

I've seen the show Undercover Boss. I don't believe they have the same type of code of ethics as Realtors have so I wouldn't use that as a comparison. Maybe a similar idea. I've seen this in the automobile business. They send out new trainees to other dealerships and "pose" as buyers.

You said "I challenge you to go undercover and mystery shop your own company."

Can you clarify that statement? The way I'm interpreting it is ..you're asking Realtors to "pose" as a consumer for their own company. I've read some of your statements about saying this only applied to builders yet you're telling licensed Realtors not to disclose that they're really an agent evaluating their performance. It doesn't say anything about only applying to a builder. That statement could ...and is being perceived that you mean any Real Estate brokerage. I wonder if you would be willing to go in front of the code of ethics committee or bring on attorneys view as to whether this post has any liabilities.

Nov 21, 2011 11:55 PM #70
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Neal, I am happy to clarify that statement. In fact, please take a look at my post #66 on this very topic. I am asking agents to self-evaluate and I have outlined parameters for doing so.

Nov 22, 2011 03:40 AM #71
Rainmaker
525,654
Dave Halpern
Keller Williams Realty Louisville East (502) 664-7827 - Louisville, KY
Louisville Short Sale Expert

Denise,

Thanks for yet another example of what NOT to do.

Nov 22, 2011 07:25 AM #72
Rainmaker
593,907
Neal Bloom
Brokered by eXp Realty LLC - Weston, FL
Realtor CRS-Weston FL Real Estate

Denise,

I read #66. But it has nothing to do with the questions I've asked you answer.

Let me rephrase....according to what you implied "I challenge you to go undercover and mystery shop your own company"

  1. How does a licensed Realtor go under cover mystery shop and pose as a consumer without identifying themselves?
  2. Are you implying that I go to an associates open house who doesn't know me and portray myself as a buyer? And then report back my findings?
  3. Would you feel completely confident presenting this post and talking about this subject in front of any the code of ethics committee to ensure that this practice is not against our code of ethics? 
  4. Would you feel completely confident disclosing the names of any Real Estate Brokerage company(not a builder) that has used your services to mystery shop for them?

In my opinion...any Brokerage would look at agent performance by offering proper training in house and not the technique you are using. I would rather have my broker sit me down and discuss my performance and what changes they would suggest I need to make to my business. I wouldn't stick around knowing they went behind my back instead of coming to me personally...I'd rather go somewhere else if they have a problem with me.

I also don't see many or any Brokerages that would want to do it the way you're implying. If I was those brokerages..I'd be consulting legal counsel first.

I'm asking you these questions because it seems that you feel very confident that what you are doing isn't wrong. I ...along with others tend to disagree.

 

Nov 22, 2011 08:55 AM #73
Rainmaker
369,040
Miriam Bernstein, CRS
Rochester, NY

I also do not change my original comment.  A builder hiring you to evaluate their employees is one thing but you are still being deceitful and lying to them.  Going to an Open House and lying about why you are there is in itself unethical whether the seller is a builder or not.  You are saying that lying is okay if you are there because you have been hired and are being paid to lie?  Agents who are doing Open Houses are working for a home seller (who could be a buider) who hired them to sell their house and that home seller neigher hired you or gave you permission to come into their home and lie to their agent and use the agent's time on something that has nothing to do with selling their home. 

@Inna, disagree this has anything to do with the Zebra debacle.  How would you like spending an hour on the phone with someone a competitor hired to have you evaluated and you were lied to because that individual told you they were interested in a website.

It is my personal ethic to be truthful and not deceive others which is why this admission is so offensive.

Nov 22, 2011 09:33 AM #74
Rainmaker
432,971
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

I am going to put to bed the discussion regarding mystery shopping.  It’s well past time to do so.

 

Like many other real estate professionals on the Active Rain site, I offer my advice here for free of charge to anyone who is interested.  I do so because I’ve spent most of my adult life in the world of real estate – first as an agent, then as a broker, and currently as the owner of a company which provides marketing materials, training, and coaching for real estate agents/brokers, builders, and developers.

 

When you come across an article I’ve shared, it’s up to you to decide whether to read it or ignore it.  If you take the time and spend the energy to read it, you then can determine whether to apply the ideas I’ve shared.  It’s really that simple.

 

What isn’t appropriate is for any member of our community to attack others.  And it’s particularly not a good idea to do so if you haven’t read the article in question, or don’t understand some aspect of it.  As Active Rain members, our community guidelines dictate that we be respectful of one another, and not conduct ourselves in the forum in a way that disgraces our fellow members on the network.  Many of you who have weighed in on the post have made comments that are clearly disrespectful.  Our guidelines also prohibit personal attacks, and slander.  Some of you have stepped very close (if not over) those lines.  And some of you seem to have forgotten that there is zero tolerance on this site for threats. 

 

I want all of us to remember that, according to information provided on the site itself, over 80% of the visitors to Active Rain are members of the buying and selling public.  Frankly, I’m embarrassed for our industry.  So many of you were vicious in your comments.  While a very small number of the thousands who read the blog chose to criticize what I had said, the ugliness that emerged was not a good reflection on our industry.

 

I will not be responding to additional comments regarding the mystery shopping blog.  Most of you who responded – or complained – clearly did not understand the point of the article.  While I’m very open to having agents disagree with me and share their points of view, the comments on the Active Rain site are from a small group of dissidents hell-bent on portraying a common industry practice as something altogether sinister.   Rather than continue to engage with a small group of people who aren’t open to listening to my point of view (even though I was happy to listen to theirs), I am going to disengage from the discussion and return to what I do best – helping my clients and serving the real estate community.

 

Nov 22, 2011 12:50 PM #77
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Denise Lones

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