Using Software to Enhance Customer Service

Markus Hecker Comments
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Storage operators put their management software to good use by tracking payments, improving collections and managing many other primary business functions. But management programs also offer increasing opportunities to mine customer information for more personal and prompt customer service.

Those programs able to mine data connect guest information in new, meaningful ways and offer powerful recommendations to storage operators. Owners taking advantage of programs' analyses of marketing or guest preferences, for example, can offer more targeted or added services. In addition, some programs use technology such as e-mail to facilitate communication between stores and their guests. In all cases, operators using software to its full extent realize higher retention rates, positive word of mouth and repeat business.

Some of the more powerful yet simple features included in self-storage programs are customizable invoices and payment receipts. Many operators have benefited from invoices showing all units and charges for a tenant on one page. However, some programs allow you to get extra mileage out of invoices by adding a message each time you print. For example, you could mention holiday greetings or operational changes to your store, such as updated hours or new methods of payment.

Programs offering customizable receipts let you take your messages a step further--you may print receipts more often than invoices. When you tell customers about your business or remind them to pay their bills, you make it easier for them to use your store. The more flexible you are about delivering your message, the higher the value of service to your customer. Therefore, some programs offer postcards, invoicing or reminders by e-mail. You may not have to use postcards or e-mail to deliver your message, but some clients will prefer and thank you for them.

Mailings reiterate your store's message to customers and help them benefit more from your services. Mailings will be more effective if your management program allows you to target customers with specific messages. For example, imagine you just received a call from a prospect inquiring about storing from you. You managed to receive a mailing or e-mail address, and your software allowed you to fire off a letter of introduction to him with information about your facility, its features and benefits. Not only have you made the prospect feel welcome, you have just added to your database of prospects.

Your management program should discern between current, past and prospective tenants and prompt you on appropriate correspondence for each. For example, some programs prompt you to print a thank-you letter each time a tenant moves in or out. Clearly, the service to your customer is in the clear, well-tailored messages that help him stay in touch with you.

Your service to customers can be even more powerful when you deliver the message in person. Each time a tenant steps into your office, your management program can display key notes or personal facts you or other employees have input on his file, such as a spouse or child's name, or something you may have sold or assisted him with at the time of move-in. Mention these facts and you immediately connect with your tenant on a personal level. Recalling details makes a tenant feel appreciated. And remembering you sold a tenant boxes or services in the past may lead to another sale when you ask if he needs more.

Relationships should not end when tenants vacate. Not only do some management programs facilitate mailings to moved-out accounts, they keep data such as addresses and ledger information handy until these clients return to rent from you again. When your program "remembers" tenant data upon their return, they will feel their relationship with you didn't end just because they moved out temporarily.

Programs offering flexible payments and transactions can offer a big leap forward in customer service. Customers' time is valuable; they will thank you for getting them through payments and adjustments quickly. For example, offering reservation fees helps you sell units and offers a tenant assurance that his unit will be available when he arrives. However, to make for seamless move-ins, your program should apply reservation fees to rent. Similarly, programs should quickly process tenants moving from one unit to another and clearly communicate transfer balances or credits. Management programs taking into account balances, credits and deposits of current units, and applying relevant items to new units, make transfers a seamless, one-step process.

Finally, some programs make it easy for operators to respond to growing needs for ancillary services. If you do not already sell tenant insurance, boxes or locks, for example, you may be missing out. Tenants storing boats, RVs or other vehicles will thank you for offering teak oil, polish or detergents because such items add convenience and eliminate a trip to other stores. If you do not already offer 24-hour access, a controlled entry system may let you offer and charge a premium for those hours some clients specifically request. Any add-on service or product enhancing your customers' rental experience will add to your bottom line.

Operators use programs to find out who their customers are. When management programs combine data you have entered about tenants with their preferences, you are able to offer better and more targeted services. Excellent customer service applies to current and previous tenants, as well as prospects. Management programs make it easy for your customers to rent, adding to your bottom line in the form of longer stays, referrals and returning, satisfied customers.

Markus Hecker is director of marketing for SMD Software Inc. out of Wake Forest, N.C. SMD provides management software for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 919.562.6711 or visit www.smdsoftware.com.


SMD Software Inc.

152 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC 27587
Phone: 919.562.6711
Fax: 919.562.0269
E-mail:info@smdsoftware.com
Web:www.smdsoftware.com

Contact: Markus Hecker, Bob Meyers

Product(s): SiteLink

Software Type: Management software, accounting software, online management/accounting software

Price Range: Varies

Designed specifically for storage? Yes

New version to be released: Updated continuously

Demo: Available via mail or download.

Tech support: Service contract includes tech and accounting support, and updgrades for $399 per year. It is accessible via phone and e-mail, 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. EST, with a separate number for afterhours support.

SiteLink is a powerful program for self-storage management. User-friendliness, complete audit trails and accounting links make it a popular choice for single- and multisite operators. The program's e-commerce module includes electronic billing, online account management and electronic invoicing. SMD works closely with its clients and delivers quality support. The company's responsiveness produced industry-first features such as the Revenue Manager for yield maximizing, comprehensive reporting and onscreen video training.

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