What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping” | The Zebra Blog

What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping”

Note from the author:  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!

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2 Responses to “What I Learned from “Mystery Shopping””

  1. Emily says:

    I love Undercover Boss! I agree that the real (and maybe only) benefit of Open Houses is the potential for follow up and create lasting relationships. If you think you failed because you didn’t get an offer that day, then you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

    • Denise Lones says:

      I love your mindset around this Emily. Open houses really are an opportunity to create relationships … and relationships are what you need in this business, not simply transactions.

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