Lessons Learned From Mystery Shopping – Varsity Branding


Many times we are asked by clients to mystery shop their competitors to find out current pricing, occupancy and incentives. While these things are important to know, what’s even more important from a sales perspective is to find out about the customer experience. We want to engage in the sales process, see things from the customer’s point of view and come away with impressions and observations that help us assist our clients in creating a unique experience for their customers. Our evaluation includes things like: Were we made to feel welcome? What kinds of questions were asked? Was the presentation of the community tailored to what’s important to me or was it a generic “tour”? Was there any follow-up after the meeting? What we find, fairly consistently, is that the initial call and tour of the community are not handled well at all. 

Overwhelmingly, sales counselors are not dedicating time and attention to discovering what prospects value in life, and then demonstrating how the community can deliver on those desired experiences. With few exceptions, we get the standard tour of common areas, are shown the model apartment, then are sent on our way with a packet chock-full of information, some of which is not pertinent to a decision. On my first visit to the community, I do not need to know the extension numbers of department heads or when my trash will be picked up.

Some other common pitfalls identified during mystery shopping are as follows, along with absolutely true examples of each, which you may find shocking, or, at the very least, amusing.

Pitfall 1: Talking too much about yourself. I have learned way too much unnecessary personal information about some of the sales counselors I’ve encountered. Some examples:

  • “I am one of 11 children. My mother wasn’t expected to be able to conceive and then she had two sets of triplets, two sets of twins and my brother. I’m a triplet. I’m used to sharing and cooking.”
  • “According to the state, I only have four dogs, but in reality I have seven dogs and too many cats to count. Our house is in a dumping area for animals and I can’t turn them away. I have such a heart for animals.”
  • “I live in an apartment here in the community. I have two cups of coffee in my apartment, then come down to my office and have another two cups. That’s it for the day unless I start to doze off at my desk.”

It’s one thing to share your experiences if they match up to those of your prospect, demonstrating that you have something in common or are in agreement about something, but these statements were unsolicited and not in response to anything I said. Please shut up, ask good questions and listen. It might help to role-play your presentation so you are more comfortable.                       

Pitfall 2: Answering unasked questions, sharing too much information or airing dirty laundry. This may be due to lack of training, nervousness or not being prepared.   

  • “The residents in memory care are primarily vagrants who were dumped off here by the sheriff.” (When I asked if my forgetful mother would qualify for assisted living or memory care)
  • “We had a terrible mold problem last year but it has since been corrected.” (The thought hadn’t occurred to me but now I’m worried about breathing.)
  • “It doesn’t usually smell this bad here.” (Skilled nursing tour)
  • “Just a heads up, it smells like raw sewage in the model cottage and we haven’t identified the cause yet.” (We toured it anyway instead of seeing another cottage.)

Even though these statements were true, they certainly didn’t make me want my mother to live there! Don’t feel the need to say something just to fill dead air. Ask questions instead of just saying whatever pops into your mind to break the silence. And plan your appointments beforehand so you don’t walk into an unfortunate situation.

Pitfall 3: Not listening and/or not recording notes in the CRM. If the sales counselor is doing all the talking, it doesn’t leave time for listening, and certainly doesn’t make the prospect feel special or understood. Examples:             

  • “Your daughter can stay in our guest apartment when she visits you.” (I had stated earlier that my daughter lives near the community and I wanted to relocate to that town in order to be near her.)
  • Repeated voicemails asking, “When can you come and tour our community?” (I had already been there and had a tour.)

Take good notes on what your prospect is saying to you. What’s important to them should be important to you. And make sure to add your notes into the CRM so you, or your successor, can review them prior to your next interaction with the prospect and show your sincere interest in their life and situation.     

Pitfall 4: Not closing on the next step. On many community tours, I was not brought to a closing area to go over prices, availability, questions, etc., but rather sent on my way with a packet and the parting words:

  • “I hope you come live with us.”
  • “Have a nice rest of your day.”
  • “We strive for great reviews. Would you please go on Google and give me a positive review, mentioning me by name?”

Closing is not difficult to do. It is proposing an action that the prospect either accepts or rejects, such as, “May I call you on Tuesday to see if you have any questions?” or “Let’s set up a day for you to come in for lunch.”

Mystery shopping has really opened my eyes as to what our prospects experience when they tour our communities. Unfortunately, a bad experience at one community can shed a negative light on us all. Treat each and every prospect as if they are the most important person to you … because they are!

Subscribe to
Varsity Prime