Customer Service: A Good Fit

Jim Chiswell Comments
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I’ll confess that, for me, clothes shopping falls in the same category with wallpapering the bathroom and having a tooth drilled. So when the mood does hit me, I put on my best smile and head out to the store. Surprisingly, the last time I went shopping, I had fun. The best part was watching the well-trained Men’s Wearhouse salesperson, seeing the training philosophy of company founder George Zimmer in action.

Fortune

magazine selected Men’s Wearhouse as of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2005. The company has been around for more than 30 years, with 700-plus stores in the United States and Canada and more than $1.5 billion in annual sales. You may want to look at the 16 keys to Zimmer’s business philosophy. (Read them at www.menswearhouse.com—click on “Our Company,” then “Common Threads,” then “Our Philosophy.”) You might be surprised how many of them apply to your business.

A few days before my shopping excursion, my wife had made a reconnaissance trip to the store and talked to our sales rep, Lamar, about my needs. When we walked in the door together, he greeted her with a warm handshake and then turned to greet me. I was in need of sport coats, and he offered me a variety. We quickly narrowed the selection, and Lamar helped me into one, encouraging me to look in the mirror. Knowing it wasn’t an exact fit, he mentioned necessary alterations, never pushing me with the usual salesman’s hype, such as “Boy, that fits you like a glove” or “That looks great on you.”

I watched with admiration Lamar’s cross-selling skills. My basic blue blazer was quickly laid out on a table and a pallet of pants was offered for our consideration. Once I had narrowed the choice to two pairs, Lamar said, without skipping a beat, “You should really try those pants on with a pair of dress shoes.” And just as quickly, the appropriate size shoes were on my feet. (I never did buy the shoes, but the sales approach was great.)

In the end, the sales counter held two sport coats, two shirts, two pairs of pants, a tie and a belt. Lamar quickly completed the paperwork and the final sales act unfolded: With receipt in hand and all of the claim tickets for the alterations, he stepped from behind the counter and came up next to us to review the order and repeat the pick-up date for the garments. When he finished, he reached out his hand and said, with the sincerity of an old friend, “Thank you for your business. I stapled my business card to your tickets, so if you have any questions, you can call me.”

The sales cycle started and ended with a handshake. I felt special, given personal attention from someone committed to offering a solution to my shopping needs. The best thing is the handshake took no effort and didn’t lengthen the sales process—all it took was initiative and an extended hand. I learned some valuable customer-service lessons that day. And guess where I’ll shop the next time I need clothes?

The moral for those of us in the self-storage industry is we need to be ready to help people “try on” the unit we have helped them determine will meet their needs. We need to get them to actually walk inside the space. You’ll be amazed to find even a 5-by-10 looks bigger from within. We also need to be totally comfortable with our product and its extras, like locks, boxes and other moving supplies. I challenge all of us to improve our skills in selling retail products.

Blink

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, should be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever second-guessed his gut instincts. In it, Gladwell describes research projects from around the country that suggest our snap judgments about people and situations are often correct. The book also describes the role “implicit associations” play in our behavior—those attitudes and beliefs we are unwilling or unable to recognize, either because we feel they are unacceptable or because they are unknown to our conscious minds.

For example, research conducted by an insurance company looked at doctors and malpractice suits. It showed the vast majority of patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by poor medical care, they file lawsuits because of how they were treated on a personal level by their doctor. Alice Burkin, a medical malpractice lawyer explains, “People just don’t sue doctors they like.”

Other research demonstrates that people often cannot separate a “product” from its “packaging.” For example, one study showed female musicians were historically denied equal treatment in competitions for placement in the world’s orchestras. That changed with the initiation of a new practice: Candidates began to play for judges anonymously from behind a screen. Another study showed people perceive ice-cream in round tubs as being better tasting than that in square containers, even when the contents are the same.

To see firsthand how implicit associations may be affecting your personal perceptions, you can take a series of Implicit Association Tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu. After taking several of them myself, I can say you need to be prepared for the honesty of the results.

Keeping Gladwell’s research in mind, pay attention to how you treat your customers. Would you fall into the “liked” category that will keep you out of trouble should complications arise with a tenant? And how is the presentation of your facility influencing prospective customers’ decision of whether to rent with you? I strongly recommend this book to anyone who works in a job where he has to deal with people and make snap judgments every day, like self-storage.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to being a member of the

Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS Expos and various national and state association meetings. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.
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