Telephone Mystery Shopping: A Study

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“Friendly and personable, but not distinguishing their properties from competitors, and not attempting to close.” That was the overall conclusion from a recent study of storage-facility managers and employees. My company conducted this first-ever Benchmark Telephone Mystery-Shopping Study for the self-storage industry. Mystery callers placed almost 1,000 calls to more than 500 storage facilities across the United States, posing as “very interested” potential customers.

Too often, storage owners hire managers and employees based on their personalities, rarely with any testing of their telephone- sales techniques or ability to close a sale. Then they provide little if any specialized training, and do even less follow-up and ongoing monitoring to ensure their staff investment is providing value. If tests are not administered to determine a hire’s strengths beforehand, mystery-shopping services can at least provide a map for improvement moving forward.

Study Identifies Weaknesses

Here is an example of the type of calls encountered during the study (all names have been changed to protect the guilty!): One manager answered by saying, “Thank you for calling ABC Storage. This is Debbie.” I told her I could barely hear her, and she said she was in an elevator, on her cell phone, running an errand. There was a great deal of static, and it was very difficult to understand her. She asked if I could call her back in about 45 minutes—not what I would call a professional presentation.

The study identified many challenges managers have in telephone-sales techniques:

  • Only 25.4 percent of those called actually asked the prospect if he wanted to rent a unit. The first rule of sales is: If you don’t ask for the sale, you won’t get it! Specifically asking someone for his business in a friendly manner without being pushy will, at the very least, bring out his objections. Upon hearing those, a good salesperson kicks into a new mode to overcome those protests and move the customer toward closure. You would be surprised how many more sales can be made by simply asking for the business.
  • While almost 98 percent of the callers were invited to visit a property, only 33 percent were asked to set an appointment. Simply inviting someone to visit is not effective and results in little or no commitment from the prospect. Asking to set a specific date and time will result in more actual visits and, thus, more new customers. The majority of prospects who visit a facility will rent a unit— provided they are handled appropriately.
  • Only 21 percent of managers offered to send the caller any follow-up information. If 67 percent of prospects are not invited to make an appointment and 79 percent are not offered follow-up information, what will get them to your property? In most areas of the country, consumers have multiple options for storage space, and if you don’t use tactics to get them to rent from you, you risk competing on price or losing them to a competitor who has better sales tactics.
  • Finally, 22 percent of those called did not provide information about the property’s features. In most cases, they seemed to want to get off the phone as quickly as possible and simply answered the basic questions posed to them. Again, with multiple existing competitors and new ones constantly entering the market, you must make it clear why a prospect should rent only from you. Otherwise, you will be lumped in with your competitors and simply evaluated on price.

The Friendliness Factor

The good news from the study is the vast majority of employees answering the phones are friendly. That means half the battle is already won. If a customer doesn’t like your employee, or the employee doesn’t present a friendly, professional image, all the sales training in the world will not help him sell more space. In this area of the study:

  • Phones were answered in a friendly, professional manner 92 percent of the time. For this study, an employee was considered “friendly” if he stated his name and the property name in the greeting, had a sincere tone of voice, focused on the caller, and silenced all unprofessional background noise during the call.
  • 90.9 percent asked the prospect how they could be of help.
  • 94.9 percent asked the prospect questions to determine his needs.
  • 92.5 percent exhibited enthusiasm, friendliness, and a positive and professional demeanor.
  • 83.2 percent thanked the caller in a sincere, friendly tone.
  • Only 39.8 used the property’s name in the closing.

At the conclusion of each call, mystery-shoppers were asked the highly subjective question, “Based on your conversation with this employee today, would you rent storage space from him/her?” Their answer was not based on any factors about the property, such as the features described, pricing, spaces available, etc. It was founded solely on whether they were comfortable with the person with whom they spoke (the “friendliness factor”). Nearly 87 percent of our callers responded positively.

The takeaway from this is friendliness is important in self-storage, probably even more so given our high reliance on telephone sales. But if a competitor has an equally personable employee answering his phones, owners must design and implement a sales process that distinguishes them from competition and requires their salespeople to actually ask for the business.

If you are not measuring your employees’ telephone performance on an ongoing basis, you should start immediately. Mystery-shopping programs can provide an incredible tool for quick, effective improvements in sales techniques and result in more sales. Used appropriately, they can also help you motivate and retain outstanding employees.

Ron Welty is the president of Perrysburg, Ohio-based IntelliShop, a national provider of mystery-shopping and other customer-experience measurement services throughout the United States. For more information, call 877.894.6349; visit www.intelli-shop.com.

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