Three Reasons to Role-Play in the Classroom

Can you imagine taking a team of basketball players, drawing their plays on a whiteboard without practicing on the court, and then expecting them to perform on game day? Just like athletes, leasing professionals need to rehearse the actions of their jobs to perform at their highest potential, yet very little time is spent in the customer service training class role-playing. Why? It seems that there are mixed emotions when it’s announced in the classroom, “We are going to role-play!” Some leasing professionals will embrace the opportunity to role-play, pulling off stellar performances, while others will perceive it as a form of legal torture. Whether your students love it or hate it, even some trainers will question its usefulness. Can taking employees out of their comfort zone and displaying their strengths and weaknesses in front of their peers improve performance and the customer’s experience? Yes!

Consider these three reasons to role-play in the customer service training classroom.

1. We All Have a Role to Play

Typically, a sales role-play activity is designed with one person playing the customer, the other playing the leasing professional, and the remaining group observing the process. It might seem that the only person benefiting from the role play is the individual playing the leasing professional, but there is a hidden benefit to the person assuming the role of the customer and the observers. When your leasing professional takes on the role of the customer, they often see a reflection of their own productive and unproductive behaviors. This provides an opportunity to acknowledge and self-correct when necessary. If done properly, the observers will also learn to provide constructive feedback to their peers, which in turn will transfer back to their own community. Quite often common struggles bubble up during customer service training role-play, giving the trainer an opportunity to demonstrate ways to overcome obstacles. This is when real learning takes place! Role-playing has a way of increasing the alertness of everyone in the room. All parties involved will quickly realize that everyone has an active role to play in improving performance and the customer’s experience.  

2. Learning to Fly on the Leasing Floor Can Damage the Customer Experience

Would you feel safe in an airplane if you knew the pilot had only a few flight hours logged? Of course not! You expect that he or she is not still learning to fly when you step onto the airplane. The same is true for your new leasing professionals. Even if they are not new to the industry, they are new to your company’s “airplane” and they need to practice their new knowledge somewhere safe. “Learning on the fly” in the leasing world is a great way to lose the employee and damage the customer experience by treating them both as guinea pigs. It has been well documented that customers will switch brands because of a poor experience. Are you willing to put your customers at risk? According to a survey conducted by The Sales Executive Council in Washington, D.C., there are 5 things customers want from their salespeople: market perspective, ability to navigate alternatives, insightful advice, understanding their needs better than they do, and education on their issues and potential outcomes. Each one requires study and practice for effectiveness. Role-playing in the customer service training classroom is a safe place to test and strengthen each of these five areas and improve the customer’s experience.

3. The Better the Feedback, the Better the Practice, the Better the Learning

Feedback is the most powerful, yet most underused sales tool we have at our disposal in the training room. When a leasing professional participates in a role-play exercise they are bound to fail at some point. The impact of failure is where a learner truly gains self-awareness.

“Feedback is the process in which part of the output of a system is returned to its input in order to regulate its further output. It should be an essential part of education, training and personal development.”  -Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland

Role-playing in a group setting can ignite insight from peers who the learner respects for their knowledge and experience. The danger is when you have leasing professionals who believe they have no areas in need of improvement. Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” The best trainers know when and how to correct and to encourage. Too often we find leasing professionals working at communities where they experience a feedback famine. Their only performance measurement is the number of apartments leased. Few are receiving regular informal feedback about their performance on a daily basis. The leasing journey can be very frustrating without a roadmap. While many leasing professionals have a clear sense of direction on the leasing floor, this is not always sufficient to keep them on track. Instead of solely relying on events (e.g. leasing numbers) to gauge performance, role-playing can be the best way to practice, give feedback, and improve learning.  Why is my role important? What am I supposed to achieve with the customer? How do I compare to others? How do I handle that objection? Feedback is the information we all need to be truly effective in the leasing office, and customer service training through role-playing provides the perfect safe setting to fine tune and practice new skills.

Role-playing has been a common training method among military branches, healthcare agencies, the aviation industry, emergency response teams, and companies where quick decision-making is highly valued.

Are you ready to take your employees out of their comfort zone to improve leasing performance and the customer’s experience?

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions