Profit by Serving Your Customers

I RECENTLY DECIDED I NEED SOME REGULAR EXERCISE AND MADE THE DECISION TO WALK FOR A HALF-HOUR EACH EVENING. Being somewhat of a procrastinator, I concluded the best way to achieve this goal is to walk with someone. My neighbor, who is the exact opposite of me (she does everything on time and her garden is always immaculate), seemed like the ideal candidate. I called her and she agreed.

On one of our recent walks, I told her about this column, and she began to tell me about her work. Within the last five months, she started a new job as bank teller after working 26 years in quality control for a large manufacturer. She told me she had been nervous about her new job. She had never worked with the public before or done any bookkeeping, and the bank expects its tellers to promote its services.

One day, when she was working the drive-through window, one of her customers indicated she was closing her savings account because the bank was too far a walk from her home, her car was in a state of disrepair, and she couldn't afford to fix it. My neighbor suggested the woman talk to the branch manager about a home-equity loan. That conversation resulted in a new loan, a happy bank customer and, I'm sure, an increase in customer loyalty.

Another of my neighbor's customers was angry about a small fee added to her checking account. While the customer was at the teller window, my neighbor took the time to review this customer's banking history. What she found was the annoying charge was most likely unwarranted because of the customer's combined balances. She suggested the woman talk with the manager about establishing a trust. A meeting was set-up with the trust officer that day.

I have given you just two examples where a negative customer situation was turned into a positive one. My neighbor cross-sold a service, turned a problem into an opportunity, changed a customer's attitude and reinforced a business relationship. I wondered how many other bank employees acted similarly and were able to capitalize on situations. I wondered, too, if the bank knew how valuable my neighbor was as an employee.

Business situations are no different in self-storage. Lots of little things can go wrong. At the same time, sales or added-service opportunities are constantly presenting themselves. Are your people--the ones with whom your customers first come into contact--trained to turn a problem into an opportunity? Do they recognize when a customer is looking to them to help solve a problem that, if handled properly, can result in a sale or greater customer loyalty?

In these times of no or minimal service, it's amazing how a little customer care can really make an impression. It is ridiculous, for example, that to get "first-rate" service with a car-rental company, customers need to belong to a special membership club. Shouldn't a customer always be entitled to first-rate service? In the increasingly competitive self-storage industry, each employee who comes into contact with a customer can make an enormous difference to your bottom line. Think about it.

Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinko's and Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.

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