What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping” May be fine for Macy's to "shop" Gimbles, but for Realtors??

Reblogger Lenn Harley
Real Estate Agent with Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate 303829;0225082372

THINGS THEY DID NOT TEACH ME IN REAL ESTATE SCHOOL.

I didn't learn that lies, trickery and deceit are acceptablebusiness practices.
I didn't learn that deception is an acceptable business practice.
I didn't learn that following the REALTORS CODE OF ETHICS is optional.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am the nicest person on the face of the earth.  However, practice to deceive me with lies, trickery and deceit and there is no further communication.  Sure, I have been contacted by agents who pretend to be consumers.  It does not take long to ferret out their deceit.  I would bet money that they don't soon forget the conversation that follows when they admit their subterfuge, which is soon followed up with a letter to their broker

The reputation of every single licensee who seeks to practice real estate sales relies on. not only the public trust, but the trust and confidence in fair and honest dealing with each other.

FOR BROKERS who would participate in such a technique, the alternative is simple - AGENT TRAINING!!

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive?  Sir Walter Scott.

SEE ALSO:  http://activerain.com/blogsview/2612375/i-could-learn-plenty-if-i-hid-in-your-closet-too- from J. Philip Faranda. 

Courtesy, Lenn Harley, Broker, Homefinders.com, 800-711-7988.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Original content by Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc.

What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping”

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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Rainmaker
2,346,102
Roger D. Mucci
Shaken...with a Twist 216.633.2092 - Euclid, OH
Lets shake things up at your home today!

Oh would I love to be a fly on the wall when you have that conversation with the agent who admits their subterfuge............and not on the receiving end of that call.  BTW, Ms. Lones sounds like a real piece of work. 

Nov 20, 2011 12:54 PM #26
Rainmaker
1,560,731
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

I'm glad the post was featured.  Doesn't mean that AR approves of this "technique" . . . Apparently, MS. Lones has no concept of the NAR COE and the ethics which may be violated by her brilliant training methods.  Even more disturbing to me  . . . the fact that the home owner becomes inconsequential in ALL of this. 

Since when is an Open House "training" session for 007?!?  I hate to burst her over- and self-inflated bubble, but it's NOT her place to suggest that home owners' property is to be used in this manner.  The type of infiltration being encouraged and suggested by Ms. Lones does NOTHING but use the home owner's property without their knowledge and or consent.  An Open House is conducted in a PRIVATE RESIDENCE.  To conduct a "mystery shop" in SOMEONE ELSE'S PROPERTY without the owner's consent or knowledge . . . WOW.  That Zebra got some mighty big cajones.   

Nov 20, 2011 01:15 PM #27
Rainmaker
416,951
Rodney Mason
Guaranteed Rate - Atlanta, GA
Licensed in AL, FL, GA, SC, & TN

Secrets shoppers are a part of real estate though.  It wasn't too many months ago that some Atlanta Fannie Mae listing agents found that out the hard way.  After some very bad results, they lost a lot of their listings.  There are larger builders who have used them too.  In these cases, I don't think it was other agents doing the shopping.

Nov 20, 2011 01:48 PM #28
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Kate Elim
Dockside Realty - Spotsylvania, VA
Realtor 540-226-1964, Selling Homes & Land a

Hi Lenn...I do wish that post had not been featured.  There could be any number of newer agents reading it and glancing at the first few comments which supported it.  Heaven forbid they think that her advice is acceptable practice in our business.

Fortunately, Phil and many other agents brought her attention to the wrongness of her actions.  Considering that she has not responded to any of the non-supportive comments it's hard to know whether she read them or not.  I hope she did and learned from them.

Kate

Nov 20, 2011 06:41 PM #29
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Loreena.  It appears that AR featured that post.  I see nothing wrong with that.  Just because they featured it doesn't mean that they agree with the writer. 

RuthmarieNO, NO, NO!!!  Features do NOT, IMO imply even a tacit approval.  What features do is bring attention to posts.  Whoever featured that post may, in fact, agree with the practice.  Fact is, it shed light on the practice and that's important.

Kristin.  The fact that it was featured has, IMO, nothing to do with the policy.  If it hadn't been featured, many may not have even seen it.  FEATURES bring viewers, AGREED OR NOT.

Mitchell.  MY HERO!!!  You understand why I REBLOGGED the featured post.  Sunlight is a great disinfectant. 

Tammy.  Another good message.

June.  My pleasure.  I started to write a full original post, but I thought more "light" would be shed by showing the original.

George.  Absolutely.  Shed the light.  Shed the light.

Roger.  Very perceptive.  Agents who pretend to be buyers soon regret their deception.   As for Lones's reputation??  It preceeds this writing.

Carla.  Agreed and very well said.

Rodney.  Builders are rarely members of the NAR.  Further, neither is Fannie Mae.  It is the tenents of the COE that members of the NAR pledge to follow.  Neither builders nor Fannie Mae take such a pledge.

Kate.  I'm glad it was featured.  Perhaps it was featured for the same reason I reblogged it.  Shed the light on the character of the writer you're featuring.  Sweeping matters under the rug just lets the writer off the hook for possible unethical practices.  I'm also glad that it was not Members Only.  Shed the light.

 

 

 

 

Nov 20, 2011 09:37 PM #30
Rainmaker
1,854,474
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I have to agree with you Lenn.  Why not just go out there and be who you are?  If there are things you can change, then change them!  But subterfuge cannot be a good long-term business practice.

Nov 20, 2011 09:44 PM #31
Rainer
1,756,848
Conrad Allen
Re/Max Professional Associates - Webster, MA
Webster, Ma, Realtor

Hi Lenn - You said it very well.  The Code of Ethics is not optional.

Nov 20, 2011 10:45 PM #32
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Jay.  Brokers should be training their agents, not spying on them.

Conrad.  Thanks.  It appears to be a mere afterthought from some.  Or, a forgotten pledge.

Nov 20, 2011 10:56 PM #33
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Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods

Hi Lenn,

I was checking in to see if that post has been removed and indeed, it has not, nor has she responded to any of the comments.  Of course, I'm curious if anyone has reported her to the NAR yet.  Her blantant breech in our COE's, even after being called out on it is shocking...although after watching what she did before to the agent all the way across the country, this behavior shouldn't really shock anyone!

Nov 21, 2011 03:52 AM #34
Rainmaker
1,478,680
Maureen McCabe
HER Realtors - Columbus, OH
Columbus Ohio Real Estate

Oddly she responded on Facebook in the tech group.  She is disappointed in our comments (there.)  

 

Nov 21, 2011 04:59 AM #35
Rainmaker
439,574
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

There have been a number of comments in the arenas where this article has been posted. I wanted to share a few points of clarification.

First, there is nothing about mystery shopping (as I perform it), that violates the COE. References to Article 3, SOP 3-7 are not pertinent. That article begins by stating, “When seeking information from another Realtor concerning property under a management or listing agreement …” and goes from there. When I’m hired to mystery shop, I am not seeking information about the property; I have been asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the agent. Because the focus is the agent, not the property, mystery shopping is clearly not a violation in the manner many of you have indicated. In fact, I not only abide by the COE, I’m a licensed instructor who has, on many occasions, taught the COE to agents and brokers.

Mystery shopping is very common in our industry, and is most regularly used in the new construction segment. As a M.I.R.M. (Master In Residential Marketing), I am extremely well-versed in new construction practices. This degree is the most prestigious designation offered by the Institute of Residential Marketing (IRM), and is the top-level of achievement for professionals in new home marketing. 

There’s nothing “improper” about mystery shopping, as someone implied; it’s a legitimate tool used in many industries (not just real estate) to measure performance. Builders have a right to know how their agents are representing them, and mystery shopping is an effective way to do so.

Lest any of you think I am jetting around the country doing mystery shopping, when a builder wants mystery shopping done, we typically hire a local team of professional mystery shoppers who pose as clients. These professional shoppers understand that agents are involved in working with “legitimate” clients, and are careful not to impinge on an agent’s opportunity to create a “real” sale. In unusual circumstances, I will also take on mystery shopping duties personally. 

I’m disappointed that so many of you made the assumption that mystery shopping is simply “spying”. The point of mystery shopping is to show builders how their product is being presented with an eye toward providing training for agents who may need help. It’s because our industry has been highly criticized that builders and brokers want to have agents who are good representatives for the industry. My entire business is built around helping agents succeed, not merely pointing out their challenges.

Nov 21, 2011 05:34 AM #36
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
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Debe.  I wouldn't expect that post to be removed.  In fact, I'm sure she believes that she's offering a great service to brokers. 

 

Nov 21, 2011 05:44 AM #37
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Maureen.   Not surprising.

Ms. Lones.  It remains my belief that with initial training, agents in open house activities and employees for new home builders would have better production with fewer problems. 

Offering or requiring training prior to expecting an acceptable level of production is positive for all concerned. 

What is surprising is the surprise at our response to the original post about Mystery Shopping.

Nov 21, 2011 05:54 AM #38
Rainmaker
439,574
Denise Lones
The Lones Group, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
CSP, MIRM, CDEI - Real Estate Coaching & Branding

Ms. Harley – I couldn’t agree with you more on the topic of training by brokers and builders. Ongoing training is of the utmost importance. My point is for agents to apply that training and try to connect with each and every person who comes into their open house or site model. Connect with them there, connect with them after they leave, and provide an unprecedented level of service. One of the things I have seen time and time again, is that untrained agents often communicate in an agent-centric way. Tweaking the way an agent communicates to better match the client is so much more effective not only in the here-and-now of the open house or model home, but in the follow-up as well.

I need to address another point made by the comments here. I am not advocating brokers spy on their agents, nor did I indicate anything about that in my original article. When I was referring to going undercover in your business, I was referring to going undercover in your own business – as an independent contractor and take a look at your business with fresh eyes.

Nov 21, 2011 07:37 AM #39
Rainmaker
227,414
Jackie Hawley
Coldwell Banker Professionals - Oxford, MI
Southeast Michigan Real Estate

I don't understand the commenters' anger directed toward Ms. Lones. I would think the anger would be directed toward the person who HIRED the shopper- probably your broker or client (client includes builder).

Nov 21, 2011 08:50 AM #40
Rainmaker
525,704
Dave Halpern
Keller Williams Realty Louisville East (502) 664-7827 - Louisville, KY
Louisville Short Sale Expert

Lones has created another controversy which gets more people talking about her.

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

That strategy doesn't fit everyone's style, but Lones is still around so it obviously works for her.

Her google analytics are probably spiking right now, and that may have been her goal.

Should we care about her strategies and tactics? Or should we get back to running our business, just like Papa did in "Ode To Billie Joe" when he heard that Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas,
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense,
pass the biscuits, please."
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow."

Nov 21, 2011 01:04 PM #41
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Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods

Jackie:  It's not anger, we're just letting her know that she's violating COE's.  Here is my comment that I also left on her post.  She may have another explanation for her actions but, the verbiage is there that is blatant violation, as we all pointed out to her:

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 (salaried) 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.  

And, let me be even MORE clear--unless you EMPLOY--that is pay hourly wages or a salary to these agents across the country on whom you are mystery shopping, you're in violation.

Nov 21, 2011 02:45 PM #42
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Jackie.  No anger involved.  There is, however, a strong disagreement about how to raise the quality of services of agents.  The broker or builder didn't write the post.  Ms. Lones did and Ms. Lones provides the "Mystery Shopper" services.

Dave.  HA!  Focus is always a good skill.

Debe.  For me, it's a simple matter of subterfuge and transparency.  I remain steadfast in my belief that, if a broker wants to employ skilled and productive agents, they must train them. 

I've been in this business for many years.  I have observed the practice of "hire and toss the agents in the deep end and see who can learn to swim". 

I strongly disagree with Ms. Lones description of the ideal duties of an agent providing open house services to an owner/seller.  It is typical PUSH, PUSH, PUSH.  That's not my style but it is the belief of many, or most real estate brokers and many agents. 

I wouldn't begin to discuss the matter of PULL advertising with the average broker/agent because they are so entrenched in the sales processes that developed over the last 25 years, it would fall on deaf ears. 

However, I ask, what is our collective ranking of "positive" in popularity with consumers???  I believe we're somewhere around the bottom, above or below used car salesmen.

Nov 21, 2011 10:18 PM #43
Rainmaker
227,414
Jackie Hawley
Coldwell Banker Professionals - Oxford, MI
Southeast Michigan Real Estate

Debe and Lenn- The comments on this blog, another post about the original post and the comments on the original post itself sound quite angry to me. She is just selling a service. Would I work for a broker who mystery shopped me? Probably not. I did list a new development a few years ago, and the builder warned up front that a mystery shopper would probably come through at some point, and looking at it from his perspective I was able to live with it and it actually turned out to be a good learning experience. I assumed the agents I had sitting the model knew more about new construction than some did.

As far as the COE. I don't know that what she does is a violation. I do know she is guilty of nothing until found guilty or liable by the proper deciding body- not an online lynch mob. I have not seen this much vitriol about any other vendor selling a service- which is how I took her original post.

We have choices: we can work for a broker or builder who may hire a mystery shopper, or we can choose to work for someone else or get a broker's license and work for ourselves. Many of the comments mis-represent the content of the original post, acting like there are mystery shoppers going to pop into open houses and waste our time. She's only providing that service if she's getting paid.

Sorry about the length of the comment- probably should have made it a post on its own :)

Nov 22, 2011 03:39 AM #44
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Jackie.  Make it a post and get different views.  ActiveRain members are generally very open to other views.

I don't see a "lynch mob".  I see an objection to brokers who would contract for these services and the services themselves. 

I see the practice of secret shopping agents demeaning to the agents shopped.   For me, anything that demeans any agent demeans us all.

I also offer an positive alternative, training.

The misrepresentation of the "shopper" as a consumer is a subrerfuge.  My heart goes out to any agent who would be advised by their broker that they had been "shopped" and didn't stack up.  Sadly, they'll never again feel comfortable with any visitor to an open house.

Perhaps I'm seeking something in real estate practice that the "Secret Shopper" would seek to destroy, DIGNITY for the Open House agent.

Nov 22, 2011 04:48 AM #45
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