I recently did an experiment: I called more than 50 storage facilities after business hours to see what kind of outgoing message I would hear on their answering machines/voicemail systems. I mostly encountered a lack of professionalism —outgoing messages seemed to be an afterthought. Many didn’t include the essential elements of good communication.
What’s the purpose of your phone message? If you didn’t respond “to sell more units,” you’re answer is incorrect. The majority of outgoing messages I heard went something like this: “Thanks for calling ABC Self Storage. If you’ve reached this message, we’re either on the property or gone for the day. Leave a message and we’ll call you back.” But a message can—and should—do more to assist your sales effort. Here’s how.
Voice and Message
There are two components of your outgoing phone message: the voice you use and the content you deliver. First, let’s talk about voice. Since the majority of renters (or those making the rental decision) are women, use a woman’s voice. It should sound professional, be easy to understand and use an accent from the local area. Although many people are enamored of a sexy British accent, your message should not sound like it was recorded by James Bond’s secretary. Instead, find a local woman who has good diction and whose speech pattern won’t intimidate callers.
In terms of content, your message should:
- Thank people for calling.
- Provide callers your USP (unique selling position) and benefit(s).
- Explain to callers why you’re not answering the phone.
- Refer callers to your hotline for more information.
- Give callers incentive to leave their names and numbers, such as a contest drawing or promotion.
The first thing callers should hear on your outgoing phone message is, “Thank you for calling (the name of your facility).” This is painfully obvious, but out of the 50-plus facilities I called, more than 10 didn’t even use the facility name in their greeting. When callers listen to your message, they should learn what makes your facility different than any other in your area—your USP. (If you don’t have a USP, you have a problem. See my column in the April 2004 issue for more information on this topic.) Along with your USP, you must explain its benefit to the customer. For example, if you tell people you are the only one in town with individually alarmed doors, also say, “so we immediately know when an unauthorized party opens your unit.” If you have more than one USP, pick your best or most powerful. To enumerate more than one on the phone would make the message too long.
Your message should also explain why you’re not answering the phone. It should say something like, “If you’ve reached this message, we’re either on the property showing one of our spacious units or we’re gone for the day.” Give potential renters a reason you’re not in the office, particularly during business hours when they expect you to be there.
Another important tool I’ve addressed in past issues is the storage hotline. The hotline is a three- to five-minute message set up on a separate phone line that gives people a complete set of reasons to rent from you. You don’t have the time to do this with your standard outgoing message, but you can direct people to a separate hotline for more information—it will do the “heavy lifting” for the sale. On your standard greeting, refer to the hotline as a “24-hour, free recorded message” about your facility or the service of self-storage.
When you ask callers to leave their names and phone numbers, many will be reluctant to do so. You need to motivate them with an incentive. For example, provide the opportunity to be entered into a contest to win something. This will encourage them to leave important contact information.
If you have caller ID, it will often give you the names and phone numbers of people who called while you were out, even if they didn’t leave a message. While it isn’t appropriate to call those who hung up on your machine or voicemail, it is acceptable and even smart to send them a postcard with a special offer. By inputting a phone number into an online reverse directory, you can often get a mailing address. What will people who receive postcards think? Most will be shocked at the “coincidence.” The majority won’t connect the two events, but even those who do shouldn’t be offended.
Each morning, have your manager check the caller-ID unit and follow up with callers appropriately. It is crucial to take action immediately after the calls, on the same day you pull the numbers off the system. When people call about storage, they aren’t going to sit around and wait. Most will decide where to rent within the next few days.
Putting It All Together
What is a good outgoing message? It should sound something like this:
Thank you for calling ABC Self Storage, the only facility in Des Moines with individually alarmed doors, so we know when someone unauthorized enters your unit. If you’ve reached this message, we’re either on the property showing one of our spacious rental units, or we’re gone for the day. To hear a complete description of our facility, feel free to call our 24-hour, free recorded message at 555-1212, or check out our website at www.mystorageplace.com. At the tone, please leave your full name and phone number to be entered into our contest to win a free trip to Hawaii.
If spoken quickly but clearly, this won’t be too much information to provide in your message. Whatever you do, take time to come up with a well-planned, friendly greeting.
You concentrate on “selling” people when you speak to them over the phone— why not make sure that when they reach your message, they receive an equally effective sales effort?
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. He is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success—Revealed! (available for purchase at www.selfstoragesuccess.com) as well as the producer of professional training videos on self-storage marketing. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.