A Self-Storage Manager's Secrets to Providing Top-Notch Service
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Gina Six Kudo
Posted on: 10/19/2009



 

We all know when we receive great customer service, but how often do we really note basic or nominal service? Have we unconsciously lowered our expectations? Think about your most recent purchasing experiences. Does any interaction stand out as stellar?

On the flip side, have you extended any outstanding customer service to someone else? It seems we have become accustomed to the bare essentials when it comes to service. If you’re lucky, you get a “Hi” or “Welcome” from someone who doesn’t even make eye contact. If you’re at a business where you use your credit or store membership card, you may receive a “Thank you Mrs. Jones,” but again, with little or no eye contact.

Great customer service boils down to honest, open, human interaction. The service provider must treat each guest as that one special person he will encounter that day. Eye contact, a warm smile and a nice handshake are all great starts, but you must step it up from the beginning.  

Making a Connection We’ve all had that sour-faced customer walk in the door, and when you see that person, it’s your first test. Can you make that person smile within the first 10 seconds? “Hi, Mrs. Jones, its time to pay rent again, huh? Wow, time flies by so fast when it’s not a fun task. But I truly appreciate your business ... and your contribution to my paycheck.” Even if it’s a mock chuckle you receive in response, you’ve got her. There’s a chink in her armor.

At this point, you can ask a leading question. “Mrs. Jones, we’re doing a survey of our favorite customers.” Notice her standing up straighter? She’s a favorite! “Can you think of anything else we can do to make your visits here more pleasant?” Be prepared to respond with a nice “Thank you” and “We’ll run it by the owners” if Mrs. Jones should offer any suggestions. Can you imagine a business that goes so far above and beyond with customer service that everyone who visits enjoys himself while plunking down quite a bit of cash? We all want that place to be ours.

A company that arguably provides some of the world’s best customer service is Disney. The slogan, “Be our guest,” didn’t just happen by accident. When you visit “the happiest place on earth,” you can see where the training in customer relations has really paid off. The customer-service model the company has honed over the years is a good place to start when modeling your own training program. You can take a peek at it at Disneyinstitute.com. You’ll never catch Mickey and friends with frowns on their faces. Should your office be any different?

Start with a genuine, warm smile that comes from within, translates easily from one human to another, and cannot be forced. Determine what brings a genuine smile to your face and keep that information in your back pocket. Some days, you’ll find you’re just not as perky as others, and you’ll need to pull this skill out of your bag of tricks, especially for the Mrs. Joneses in your daily interactions.

Customer-Service Basics

I happened across an interesting website, Servicesavvy.net, hosted by several South Florida businesses and the chamber of commerce. The website’s entire focus is customer service. In one of the site’s videos on customer service is this simple acronym: LEARN. Here’s how I apply it to self-storage:

  • Listen to your customers.
  • Empathize with the reason they need storage.
  • Apologize about the difficult time they’re enduring (a move, divorce, layoff, etc.)
  • React by providing the best service and product you possibly can.
  • Notify the appropriate supervisor of any problems or concerns that arise during the customer’s stay.

So, we have the smile down―at least we’re working toward perfecting it―and we all know the basic rules of customer service. The next major focus is to develop the ability to truly listen, which requires focusing your full attention on the person in front of you. As you listen, you’ll pick up clues. This information can be used to determine what’s important to that person.

Consider this scenario: Mrs. Jones always eyes the chocolate jar on your counter, but she never indulges. The next time you notice her eyeing the jar is another chance to engage her in conversation. “Mrs. Jones, I admire your willpower. I’ve seen many a big, strong, guy succumb to that jar. How do you do it?” It turns out that Mrs. Jones is a diabetic. Consider adding a second jar labeled “sugar-free delights,” so the next time she walks through your door, you have something specifically for her.

Customer service is not one-size-fits-all. You need to adapt to your customers, see what they need or desire, and do your best to fulfill that want. A small, sweet gesture like the one above shows you’re aware and considerate, and your care translates into a wealth of goodwill with customers. A customer who willingly sings your praises is advertising that’s invaluable.

Just as customers are individuals, so are the people who provide the service. While the basics are a constant, how you deliver them is unique to you. Determine what comes naturally to you, and pay attention to how others respond and interact with you. Whether it’s always professional or cajoling, or a combination of interaction types, your style will morph into a fantastic sales tool. All you need to do is watch, listen and learn to determine what works best for you and your customers.  

React and Notify

Next up in our customer-service evaluation is to determine our own company parameters, within which we can give our customers more value, whether perceived or actual, and ultimately make their experience with us stand out. It’s the R and N from our acronym: react and notify.

You and the facility ownership need to be willing to react to market conditions and adjust accordingly. It’s up to you, the person on the front line, to notify ownership if you see any trends developing and help determine any necessary adjustments to business practices. All of these are part of providing the best product and customer service possible.

With everyone stretching their dollars, you need to really shine above the competition. Dollar move-ins work, but the customer who desires and responds to excellent customer service still exists, and a well-presented product despite a higher out-of-pocket cost will sell. Shouldn’t that customer belong to you?

From your warm, personal greeting to your astute listening skills, from addressing any problems or concerns and empathizing to providing the best product you can, all of this combined puts your core values in place. Now it’s up to you to pull it all into a cohesive package and sparkle. How will you know when you’ve achieved “IT”? You’ll know from the way you greet each day and from the random comments that will begin to occur more frequently.

What are you looking for in those comments? The young man who walks through your door and says, “My buddy sent me here. He said the people are cool.” Or the customer’s 8-year-old daughter who bursts out singing your praises about all the things she loves about visiting your storage facility.

The validation of achieving the pinnacle of customer service will appear in unanticipated comments, from unexpected people and places. If you’re not there yet, take some quiet time to self-evaluate, and then move forward. Life and work are infinitely more enjoyable when you’re at the top of your game.

Gina Six Kudo is the general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She has more than 15 years of self-storage experience, and a strong customer-service and sales background. She can be reached at 408.782.8883; e-mail gina@cochranestorage.com.

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