Follow-Up & Follow Through

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"How is your meal?" This is the typical question asked by restaurant servers—usually when you have a mouthful of food! I think restaurants train their staff to catch you at the right moment so you don’t have the opportunity to give feedback. So I was extremely surprised by a phone call I recently received after picking up a take-out order from my local Applebee’s restaurant. The employee said, “We just wanted to make sure you enjoyed your meals.” The food had been great, but the call is what really got my attention.

Applebee’s, with its “Carside to Go” program, has joined the growing number of chain restaurants offering curbside service. The full menu is available for take out, and you can even view it on the website. When you pick up your to-go order, an employee brings it out to your car. I was impressed with the follow-up phone call and wondered if it was just for first-time take-out customers or integrated into the company’s customer-service discipline.

For years, self-storage operators have sent welcome and thank-you letters to new customers. While tenants may view them as “warm fuzzies,” the letters have an underlying purpose. For example, if a letter is returned as undeliverable, it sends up a red flag about the authenticity of the renter’s contact information. You should always give customers the benefit of the doubt, as you may have transposed a number in the address or made another error while typing in the database, but immediate follow-up is necessary. Some owners will actually lock a tenant’s gate code until the situation is resolved.

Instead of just using letters, consider placing a welcome/thank-you phone call. It would be easy enough to create a follow-up system by adding all new rentals to a “To Be Called” list. Then just pick a time frame after the rental, maybe two or three days, during which to make contact. The phone call could help to solidify the relationship you are trying to build with new customers.

Yes, there may be a downside to making these calls (I’m sure managers could come up with a long list). For example, talking to Mrs. Smith as she first discovers Mr. Smith has rented a storage unit could make for an uncomfortable conversation, but the same kind of mix-up could easily occur with a welcome letter. Just like when you make a collections call, you have to be sure you are speaking to your actual customer.

Give the thank-you call a try. If you already have a successful calling program, let me know so I can share your results with readers.

Quotes to Share

People who do training or public speaking are always looking for new material to use in their presentations, and I’m no exception. So when I find a gem or two, I like to share them. Here are a couple of great quotes to help you keep perspective in operating your storage business.

The first comes from Pope John Paul II. His passing inspired hundreds of hours of news coverage and reminiscences by thousands of people touched by his influence. Many of his meaningful and motivational sayings will be remembered, but the following is one I particularly enjoy—not only because it’s true, but because it shows the man’s great sense of humor.

“Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.”

The next quote, from legendary American author Maya Angelou, truly applies to our industry. I wish everyone who owns or works at a self-storage facility would remember this bit of wisdom each day when they open the office door or pick up the phone.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

There are a number of websites that provide quotes from historical figures, authors and other notables. One of the best sites I have found is www.thinkexist.com. Turn to it the next time you need a particular quote for a special occasion, or even on a daily basis to find motivational tidbits.

Congratulations, Rhode Island!

Congratulations to the owners and managers who gathered in Pawtucket, R.I., on April 14 to officially establish the Rhode Island Self Storage Association (RISSA). The group represented nearly one-third of all storage facilities in the state.

Lianne Marshall, president of Storage Center, will serve as interim association president while the board of directors is created. Chris McGrath and Judith Burke, who already manage the state associations for Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, have also been chosen to manage RISSA and provide organizational guidance in the creation of the organization.

The April meeting addressed several critical issues, including the Rhode Island lien law and auction procedures and local changes in fire code. One owner has been ordered by the local building department to install fire-safety systems in her 25-year-old buildings. The traditional “grandfather protection” normally afforded to structures contracted before new regulations or codes are adopted has been eliminated by legislation. The change is a direct result of The Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people in February 2003. RISSA has created a special task force to address the issues all owners could face as a result of new standards.

State associations serve an important role in protecting self-storage in capitols across the country. We all owe something to the associations that guard, support and market our industry. I urge everyone to join their state association or recruit a new member. For a complete list of associations and detailed contact information, visit the online Buyer’s Guide at www.insideselfstorage.com/dynamiciss.asp and click on the link for “Associations.”

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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