The Five Ws of Customer Service

Good customer service doesnt just happen because you want it to; it happens because you work at it, all the time, every day. Following are the five Ws of effective service. They will help you measure your ongoing efforts and retain customers over time:

1. Who are your customers?

2. Where do they come from?

3. What do they think they need?

4. When do they need it?

5. Why do they need it?

By asking these questionsalso known as the service needs assessmentyou find out what needs to be done to satisfy customers requirements. The answers should reveal the gap between where you are and where you need to be.

Some types of information will be easier to obtain than others. How do you find out who your customers are and where they come from? A professional market analysis of the area within a 5-mile radius of your facility will easily reveal demographic details such as age, income, the ratio of commercial businesses to residences, etc. How do you find out what your customers need and why? Ask them when they call or visit the site. In the end, every transaction you complete fills a need of some sort.

The Manager Is the Key

The key to understanding and satisfying your customer base is your facility management team, who is responsible for building personal relationships with tenants and discovering their needs. The effectiveness of this team will ultimately determine the profitability of the business, so make sure employees are qualified to handle critical day-to-day responsibilities. You need assertive, experienced staff to make the grade.

If youre lucky, youll find candidates with self-storage experience, ones who possess all the tools and skills to satisfy existing customers, attract new ones, and retain them all. But hiring is a tricky process and, in most cases, staff will need to be trained in some areas. Fortunately, there is an abundance of assistance for operators who dont feel up to the task. Professional consultants and management companies can find and train employees from the beginning, setting up the policies and procedures necessary to run a smooth operation. They can also monitor the teams success on an ongoing basis.

Remember, customer service starts and ends with employees who understand the customer and his needs. So among other skills, they must have the ability to listen . Customers often contact a facility during unsettling times, such as a death in the family, divorce or long-distance move. Empathy is important at times like these. After all, youre building a rapport and attempting to gain prospects trust. Those who connect with you or a member of your team will probably rent a unit, stay longer and refer you to others.

While a personal touch is vital, dont underestimate the role of facility maintenance in keeping customers happy. An attractive, well-landscaped, clean facility helps retain existing tenants and attract new ones. All positive customer service contributes to a facilitys bottom line. A talented management team and well-maintained site mean good business, and good business means profitability.

Sweat the Little Things

In self-storage, the little things can mean a great deal to the customer:

  • When a customer enters the office, acknowledge him with a smile and let him know he can expect assistance as soon as possible, even if youre with another customer.
  • Whenever there are tenants on site, peruse the facility grounds on foot or in the golf cart and offer assistance. For example, provide a cold bottle of water on a hot day.
  • Consider using a call center-service to take overflow or after-hours calls. No one wants to hear a voice message when they have a question or need to talk to a live person. Statistics show customers will simply go to the nearest competitor if they cant get immediate attention.

Effective customer service and retention go hand-in-hand. If you take care of your tenants, youll keep them. Use the five Ws to help you figure out who they are and what they need. If you dont, you can count on one thing: Your competition will!

Susan Head is vice president of sales and marketing for The S&W Group, which provides management and consulting services to self-storage owners, and Phone Advantage, a division of S&W Property Management that offers an off-site rental source. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.sandwgroup.com.

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