Four Steps to Better Performance: Training Self-Storage Staff
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Dan Cosgrove
Posted on: 12/19/2008


Recruiting and training good employees in the self-storage industry can be tough. As with many service-sector jobs, employees may not have higher education or much training in sales, listening and other skills important for effective interaction with customers. But the right training program—combined with holding employees accountable for performing—will succeed in making almost anyone, regardless of skill or education level, achieve at their best.

The following is a four-step, foolproof program for successfully increasing employee productivity and organizational profitability, while enhancing customers’ experiences and satisfaction.

Step 1. Design the Customer Experience You Want to Deliver

Don’t focus on employees; focus on customers. What do they want, and what will make them decide to rent from you instead of the competition? If you know these answers you can design and deliver the desired customer experience.

We frequently hear operators say, “I just want managers to close the sale! I want them to get the customers into the rental units.” But how? Unless there’s a step-by-step process in place, how can your inexperienced employees become effective salespersons? Here’s how: Give them a systematic approach to sales that not only increases productivity, but allows you to replicate success in location after location.

One key is realizing that low prices are no guarantee of success. Our research shows that customers want a combination of attractive pricing, knowledgeable, responsive service and overall value—clean, secure locations, convenient access and additional resources when needed. Deliver this and you even can charge a premium.

Step 2. Help Employees Deliver the Best Experience

When you’ve determined what the customer needs, the next step is designing the right sales process. Our analysis of self-storage customer and employee interactions shows how difficult it is for most employees to take control of sales calls. A prospect might say, “I need a 10–by-10 storage space. What’s the price?” If the employee immediately answered this question, he might never have a chance to discuss features and benefits better suited to the caller’s needs and may differentiate his company from other facilities.

We created a simple script. It starts with the employee saying, “I’m going to go through three steps with you to make sure we meet your needs.” Then, step by step, the employee analyzes the customer’s needs (items to be stored, dimensions, specific requirements such as a temperature-controlled space); discusses the features and benefits offered by the facility (such as security, free access to truck and other resources, the availability of boxes and supplies, 24-hour storage access); then quotes a price, while explaining applicable specials and discounts. This simple, organized approach demonstrates to customers the salesperson’s understanding of and desire to meet their needs. It’s easy for any employee to understand and follow, and improves the odds for closing the sale.

Step 3. Measure Performance

When the sales process is in place, the next step is to set goals and measure performance. Many self-storage companies rely on mystery shoppers for this step, often with mixed results. Applying traditional mystery shopping techniques to the self-storage industry requires shoppers to be carefully selected and trained to look and sound like typical renters. (In mature shopping programs, we often add new program elements or shopper training to make sure shoppers aren’t recognized.)

One way we enhance accuracy and integrity of the data is to record and analyze some or all of our clients’ sales calls. We score employees’ performances on these calls and provide actionable feedback to both managers and employees. Recordings also help us to identify and correct weaknesses in the sales process, and identify employees who need additional training.

Maintaining an effective measurement program requires a variety of techniques and elements. Unless programs are periodically updated, they can become less effective at delivering actionable data to improve operations.

Step 4. Reward, Retrain or Terminate

The key to making the entire program work is accountability for specific, measurable goals. We help clients establish a scoring system for each call that reflects their priorities. Employees are scored on every aspect of the sales process, as well as such factors as how quickly and courteously calls are answered or returned. (Employees actually appreciate knowing exactly what is expected, and that standards are being applied consistently to everyone.)

Facility operators must set minimum performance levels, and use them to reward, retrain or terminate. Standards become empty promises when not enforced—or morale busters when applied inconsistently or unfairly. When employees’ scores don’t meet goals, they receive a follow-up call and coach them on specific aspects they can improve. Outstanding employees also get feedback to let them know their good work is being noticed.

In one organization, the first time employees were scored, three fell well below the acceptable level (90 points out of 100). After coaching, one employee went from a score of 45 to 91, another from 67 to 93 and the third went from 75 to 96!

Over time, the scoring systems can be changed to emphasize specific things. For example, customer surveys showed that if prospects received a follow-up call from a facility more than half of them ended up renting. On average, follow-up calls were being made only about 27 percent of the time! By changing the scoring systems to emphasize follow-up calls, employees increased the follow-up percentage to more than 80 percent.

Sometimes it may be necessary to terminate an employee, if coaching and retraining doesn’t help them reach an acceptable level of performance. But while it is always difficult to fire someone, our clients find it much easier when they know they’ve provided the tools and training to succeed.

Capacity and competition in the self-storage industry have reached the saturation point in many markets at the same time that higher costs are eroding profit margins. Yet many savvy operators have been able to increase their rental rates and market share by following this simple recipe: design a great customer experience, train your employees to deliver it, measure results and make necessary adjustments, and hold employees accountable for performance. In our experience, it’s a foolproof system for success, even in challenging times.

Dan Cosgrove is CEO of Brentwood, Calif.-based Mercantile Systems, a customer-experience monitoring firm that has worked with dozens of self-storage firms to develop programs to improve profit. By monitoring employees and customers and extracting operational data, Mercantile Systems helps managers eliminate revenue-eroding issues that plague all service-dependent businesses. For more information, visit