Is customer service a thing of the past or just hard to find? From buying that steaming cup of cappuccino in the morning to dashing into the grocery store on the way home, we are exposed to various levels of service throughout the day. As customer service is truly a “projection of attitude,” the treatment you receive at any given time can set the tone for the remainder of your day.
Even though your employees may change over the years, you can satisfy and retain your customer base by consistently maintaining a staff with a positive attitude. You want employees to provide that “keep them coming back” service at your facilities. The first step toward achieving this goal is to hire managers that have good dispositions, outgoing personalities and, if possible, a work history that includes service- based experience, such as in the hotel or apartment industries. Remember: Hire for attitude and train for skills.
After you’ve hired a great team with a positive attitude and winning smiles, empower them with the ability and the tools to use their talents to close the sale. Set guidelines for making deals, matching competitor pricing, giving free locks or boxes at move-in, etc., to enhance their natural customer-service skills. Even a positive outlook can use a little help to close a tough sale.
Once a sale has been closed, the quest to increase the longevity of your customer base begins. Think about what is important to you and what keeps you going back to a particular store or service. For me, a good attitude along with customer appreciation and recognition are the keys to keeping my business.
In self-storage, customers generally do not visit our facilities on a daily basis, so it is important to be in constant contact through other means. Developing a marketing/customer-service plan for “preferred” customers is a great way to follow up and maintain communication. Below are suggestions and ideas to try, or be creative and come up with something unique to your location or customer needs.
- Have a neat and clean facility. Even though you may not think of this as a customer-service skill, a presentable facility and restroom plays a large part in closing the sale and keeping customers.
- Within two days of a rental, send your new tenant a handwritten thank-you card. This will also confirm the addresses given to you at lease-up.
- Within 30 days of a new rental, call the customer to make sure he is happy with his space. Again, this will help confirm the tenant’s contact information.
- Mark each customer’s birth month on your “reminders” calendar and send him a birthday card.
- At their six-month anniversary, send customers a postcard or letter with the heading “Dear Preferred Customer.” Thank them for doing business with you and offer them a choice of preferred-customer “specials.” For example: rent a second unit and waive the administration fee or deposit; pay three months in advance and receive half off the fourth month; or get a double referral fee for any customer sent in the next 30 days, etc. Repeat the appreciation letter at 12 months and other regular intervals.
- Send holiday-greeting cards. Remember to keep them casual in respect of different religious beliefs.
- Have a monthly appreciation drawing for customers. Everyone who pays his monthly rent before the late-fee cutoff can be entered. For a low impact on your budget, give away a free month or a discount on next month’s rent. Other gifts to consider are holiday-related prizes, like gift certificates for hams or turkeys, food baskets, passes to local theme parks, etc.
- Host a monthly customer-appreciation day. Hang a banner on your entry gate promoting one day during the month when customers can come in to claim a free gift. Keep it simple. For example, pass out small American flags or pins during the month of July, ice-cream bars in August, apples in September, etc.
- Keep coffee, soft drinks, water and cookies on hand every day for customers.
- Set up a marketing table with fliers and business cards for local apartment complexes, movers, doctors and other businesses. Many of your customers are new to the area and may be looking for a particular item or service. This is also a great way to build relationships with other businesses and earn referrals.
- Participate in charitable events, such as hosting a drop-off point for Toys for Tots or a local food drive. If you have a reader board, offer one side as free advertisement for non-profit organizations.
Customer service is contagious. Spread it around and see what happens!
Sharon Pallas is executive assistant to M. Anne Ballard and an area manager at Universal Management Co. in Smyrna, Ga. Universal manages 30-plus facilities in Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia. For more information, visit www.universalmanagementcompany.com.