More Than a Smile


Writer Kara Jill Stancell-Salazar (right) poses outside San Tan Self Storage in Chandler, Ariz., with her parents--the facility's managers-- Jack and Carolyn Stancell. The Stancells became managers last August, and have been setting a model example for customer service ever since.

When you are offering clean, new, high-tech storage units at a competitive price, just like the storage units at another facility a few miles away, how do you convince a potential customer to choose you over a competitor? Simply, you must offer the customer superior service. But what is that? Can you define service?

"Service with a smile" is the cliché we've all learned and put into practice. Researchers have spent millions of dollars researching how to enhance those smiles in order to bring our competitor's clients to us. But isn't service more than a simple smile?

Generically speaking, service is the way in which you deliver to the customer what he wants. For example, how do you treat the tired, dusty, sweaty person who arrives at your office driving a loaded moving truck an hour before closing time? He needs to rent a unit size that you don't have available. How do you inform him of this? Are you honest with him? Do you offer him options? Are you flexible for him?

While you may not have the air-conditioned, 10-by-10-foot unit he needs, you can have the service he needs but may not even expect. Show that you care. For example, are his physical needs apparent? Often, something as simple as offering a canned soda and a cookie can demonstrate an awareness that equates to service and a new customer. Focus on him and his individual needs at that particular moment.

Above all, be sincere. Don't offer your potential client a soda merely because you want a profit and stand to gain. Offer it because he is thirsty. He'll appreciate it and show his appreciation by signing your contract.

Following are two scenarios that illustrate service much better than words. In both instances, service was an action that demonstrated that someone cared.

Scenario One: Closing Time

When he arrived at the self-storage facility with his moving truck, it was one of those 113-degree Phoenix afternoons. And it was only half an hour before the gates were scheduled to close. He knew he would be charged additional fees if he stayed past closing time. He fumbled as he punched in his access code, spilling his already warm cola on the floor of the truck. The orange and white arm raised, and he made his way to his unit.

Just as he stepped from the truck cab, the self-storage manager drove up in his cart with a dolly strapped beside him and canned drinks in his lap. "It's awfully hot out here this afternoon. You like diet OK?" He handed him an ice-cold soda. He then dismounted his own dolly and proceeded to help unload the truck in record time. No extra charges were incurred. No heatstroke. No, "You'd better hurry--we close in half an hour. You'll be charged a fee in you're not out of here."

Yes, those were the rules, but beyond the rules was a message: "I'm here to serve you." Service was rendered, not with a mere smile, but with a cool drink and some hard work. While this story will be told to friends and possibly neighbors, and may become a valuable networking tool, this wasn't the reason the manager offered his help. The man needed help, and that was the value of service.

Scenario Two: A Near Miss

The wake-up-call service failed to call and wake him. His flight was to leave in a hour-and-a-half for Asia. He only had a half-hour to get his car to his storage unit and get to the airport in time for check-in. Fortunately, he was already packed and had arranged for the shuttle to meet him at the self-storage facility.

He raced along to the facility--no time for eating, showering or shaving. He wore a crumpled, white T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes with no socks. He looked and smelled horrible--not quite the image he was accustomed to projecting.

Upon arrival at the self-storage facility, he couldn't recall his access code and ran into the office. The managers, a husband-and-wife team, listened to his frantic story. She offered him use of their shower. He looked at his watch. The airport shuttle wasn't due for 10 minutes. He accepted the offer, as well as the razor, aftershave, new toothbrush, clean shirt and socks that had all been placed on the basin.

He now had four minutes left. The husband helped him get his car into the storage unit. Just as they put the lock on the door, the shuttle arrived. The woman walked outside and handed him a sandwich bag full of cookies and a thermos of fresh coffee. "I'll think about you every day," the man said with gratitude as he accepted the care package. "You saved me." He shook hands with the husband, smiled and waved as the shuttle left for the airport. They smiled and waved back. It was service with more than just a smile. The man obviously needed help, and he received it. That was service.

These scenarios define effective service without a written definition. Service is offering help when a person needs it. Service is a cookie, shower, toothbrush. It's honest, hard work. It's an act of kindness, not just that smile you've perfected over the years to win clients. While that smile often works and is fine with some customers, real service is offering of yourself.

Kara Jill Stancell-Salazar served as a legal research analyst prior to her current editorial position at a newswire service. The husband-and-wife team she describes in the scenarios are her parents, Jack and Carolyn Stancell. Newcomers to the self-storage industry, they offer their customers at San Tan Self Storage in Chandler, Ariz., service that is unselfish, honest and helpful.

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