Before beginning the hiring process, have a clear idea of your expectations and the type of person you want to hire. During your initial phone interview, listen for verbal skills, attitude and voice quality. Was the candidate inquisitive? Were you impressed with him over the phone? If so, set up a live interview. While conducting the interview, focus on the candidate's activities, accomplishments and attitude. Ask questions that provoke a response, such as "At your previous job, how did you spend your day?" Explain the position to him and what you expect. Use as much information as you can, keeping in mind we all make good choices along with mistakes.
Once you make your hire, plan to give the new employee more than a couple of days of training. That is not enough time to teach the process of renting a unit, answering the phone, using the computer system, operating the electronic gate, providing quality customer service, maintaining the facility--and, oh, don't forget marketing! The ability to earn customers in your market directly correlates to the amount and quality of training given employees who answer the phone and greet potential new tenants. You can have a wonderful, full-page ad in the Yellow Pages and spend large amounts of money on marketing, but if the person handling the incoming customer traffic is poorly trained, it is all a waste.
Yellow Pages ads generate the largest percentage of inquiries to a facility. When a call comes in, it should take precedence over whatever else is happening in the office. Employees should be trained to ask prospects what is being stored, whether they have used self-storage previously, and when and how long they will be needing the space before counseling them on unit sizes and prices. By controlling the conversation and asking questions rather than simply reading facility features and benefits from a script, they will better understand the reasons prospects seek storage and choose to rent from a particular facility.
Also train employees to not give their name in the initial greeting of the phone conversation. They can then use it as a tool later, saying, "By the way, my name is John. Can I get your name?" To the customer, this feels less like an invasion of privacy and more like a friendly gesture, which will help earn his respect. With the average customer, the phone conversation should take approximately three to four minutes and result in a scheduled appointment for the person to visit your store and the imparting of directions to your facility.
When you introduce these concepts to your managers, you may experience some resistance. You may hear the argument that if there is a customer in the office, he deserves their full attention, and they should ask the customer on the phone if they can call him back when they have finished taking care of people in the office. This seems the polite thing to do. However, the caller will probably agree, offer his name and phone number, hang up, then call your competitor. By the time your employee returns the call, the prospect may have already committed to rent a unit at or at least visit another facility. When employees do not extract enough information from potential clients before quoting them a size or price, they lose a chance to close the sale.
This is a dilemma all operators face at some time. With this in mind, we must give managers the proper training and tools to deal with the situation. One possible solution is to equip facilities with a coupon to present customers waiting in the office while managers are on the phone. It might say something like, "I'm sorry to have made you wait. This coupon is good for $5 off your transaction today. Thank you for being a valued customer." Managers should be trained to use this coupon when they feel in-office customers have had to wait for an extended period of time. The coupon should be signed and dated by the customer and placed in his tenant file.
In most market areas, managers must be trained to use marketing programs above and beyond the Yellow Pages. It is typically their responsibility to set up and monitor referral programs, direct-contact marketing or cold calls, fliering programs, or move-in specials. In the beginning, most managers are willing to work very hard to make these programs successful. After a few months of minimal success, most will become disillusioned with the results and simply stop the process. This is not due to lack of effort on the manager's part, but to the fact that in self- storage--which is a need-based and not an impulse-based product--this type of marketing produces slow response. For marketing programs to achieve desired results, three things must happen.
First, employees must know the facility's market and from where their customers are coming. Without this information, they might as well advertise your Los Angeles facility to people in Miami. If they don't know where tenants are coming from, how do they know which areas to target? The old three- to five-mile radius theory is just that--a theory. Your facility may have natural barriers, such as interstates or rivers, that make it less attractive to some prospects. Teach employees to use a customer questionnaire during the initial rental and as customers vacate. This will provide a wealth of informaton. Most of the management software on the market provides a ZIP-code-analysis report employees can use to determine their true market.
The second thing that must happen for marketing programs to be successful is you must determine objectives for your employees and set goals to achieve them. Without goals, nothing will get accomplished. Finally, and most important, you must provide constant motivation and positive reinforcement to your employees. Determine what is important to them. Is it money, sports, family, time off from work or recognition? Work with them toward a common goal and reward them for a job well done. As their confidence grows, so will their ability to aggressively market your facility.
Motivation and Retention
Are you using Band-Aids, aspirin and a fire extinguisher to operate your business, or do you motivate and train employees to provide quality customer service? In other words, are you constantly putting out fires instead of providing a working environment that encourages employees to achieve excellence? This is not as difficult as it may sound. It does, however, take careful planning and supervision.
In the storage industry, our biggest competitor is the dumpster. When a customer makes the decision to store his belongings with you, the items themselves are often not worth what he pays to put them in storage. That being said, how do you teach and motivate employees to use the right customer-service methods? And what services can they provide to entice tenants to stay? Most of the services facilities offer cater to new tenants, such as the sale of moving supplies and truck rental. Once the customer has moved in, employees have limited contact with him. It becomes necessary to go the extra mile to provide excellent customer service.
It is necessary to provide ongoing training to new and existing managers at your facilities. You cannot expect them to continue this program on their own--your participation and follow up is a requirement. By properly training and motivating your employees to succeed, not only will you retain managers for a longer time, you will see happier customers who also extend their stays.
Tammy and Stephan Ross own and operate Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management & Consulting. Together they have more than 25 years of self-storage experience in third-party management, consulting and feasibility studies. They have managed more than 2 million square feet of storage and are currently managing facilities in Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. They can be reached at 801.273.1267. Visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com.