As a self-storage operator, you know exceptional service has a tremendous impact on the success of your facility. As a customer, you prefer to spend money with companies that provide great service and value your business. So why are many organizations still failing to make service a priority?
Some owners may not be convinced it’s worth the investment to train employees in this area. Still others may not know how to put an effective program in place. But if you join the thousands of self-storage companies that have learned to create lasting, effective, customer-based initiatives, you’ll undoubtedly increase sales and develop the culture you desire.
Train for Success
In an industry that sees newer, bigger facilities every day, you may wonder how you can make your business stand apart from competition. There’s no better way to differentiate your facility than through topnotch customer service. Specials come and go. Lower prices entice some customers but indicate lower quality to others. New facilities may offer features yours simply cannot, but great service never fails to create a memorable impression on potential customers and, more often than not, give you the competitive edge.
Start your customer-service program by focusing on your employees’ phone skills. Much of your business starts with a call, so you rely on the phone more than any costly marketing or advertising program. Each call is a ripe opportunity for a sale. The caller obviously has a need and has brought it to you. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s looking for an excuse to stop shopping; so give him a reason to do business with you .
Teach employees to be more than just dispensers of information or order-takers. Provide them with a sales process that will engage the customer in conversation. The goal is to learn more about the caller’s needs, create value, build trust, offer a solution and close the sale. Do your employees have these skills? They need to focus squarely on the customer, ask the right questions, and put him in a unit that makes sense for his needs.
If your caller is a first-time user, there’s probably a lot he doesn’t know about storage. He may not even know what questions to ask. Or, if he’s used storage before but some time has passed, he may not realize the options have changed. You and your staff are the professionals, and the customer relies on you to size the proper unit and provide exceptional service. This is a great opportunity to develop a relationship and even upsell. For example, maybe your prospect doesn’t realize you sell boxes and storage supplies to simplify his move.
Don’t be fooled into thinking customers are only interested in rental rates. When given the choice, most people choose value over price. More than anything, good service can create value in a customer’s mind. Of course, your facility must be clean, safe, secure and convenient, and your rates must be competitive with those of other facilities in the area. But most important, the customer must know he can trust you to care for his possessions. That trust can only be built through a purposeful and consistent focus on his needs and an exceptional service and sales culture.
Consistent, Effective, Ongoing
Once your engaging employee has started to form a relationship with a caller—established trust, learned about his needs, offered solutions and built value— it’s time to close the sale and get the prospect to sign an agreement. Too often, employees fall flat during this vital step.
Remember, a caller is likely to rent from someone —he’s just looking for a reason to quit shopping around. If your employee has gone through the steps of the sales process, the next logical (and critical) move is to ask him to tour the facility and rent a unit. With proper training, this part of the transaction will never feel like a forced tactic. Rather it will be a natural part of the progression.
Following a consistent and effective sales process will result in the conversion of more inquiries to rentals. It also will result in great customer satisfaction and the development of a measurable and reliable standard. An incoming call is vital to the success of your organization, so don’t let employees treat it lightly. Instead, help them focus on exceeding each caller’s needs and closing more business.
Your customer-service training program doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should be consistent and ongoing. Having a defined method for customer interaction will help employees understand exactly how they should approach, manage and close sales opportunities. Providing clear expectations and giving them the tools they need to succeed will create reliable, long-lasting behavior.
So how can you know for sure that employees are implementing the skills you have taught them, and how do you hold them accountable? It’s critical to reinforce customer-service training with a mystery-shopping program for phone and in-person sales.
Mystery shopping can create apprehension—and sometimes resentment—in employees who don’t know what’s expected of them. But staff members who have been through formal training and have the skills to perform up to standard actually enjoy these evaluations because they validate their performance and raise their confidence. Positioning mystery shopping as a way to recognize positive behavior, not a means of reprimand or criticism, will go a long way toward making employees comfortable. If you’ve given your staff the proper training, a mystery shop is a terrific, objective way to gauge staff performance, reward success and coach for improvement.
The investment you make in customer-service training will come back to you substantially. Imagine if you could convert just two more inquiries per week into rentals. If the average unit brings in $750 per year, that’s an annual increase of $72,000! Now imagine if you were able to sell an extra $25 per day in retail merchandise—you’d add a considerable sum to your bottom line.
Along with increased sales, there are other returns on investment that can’t be measured in hard dollars. Employees who are clear about their job responsibilities and given the tools they need to thrive are simply happier; and happier employees are always better with customers. In addition, those who are successful in their jobs tend to stay longer, reducing costly turnover. A shared vision of exceptional customer service tends to build a sense of ownership in the business and a more dedicated, loyal team.
So the next time you’re thinking about ways to increase rentals at your facility, don’t limit yourself to simply running a special or increasing advertising. Consider a purposeful and consistent customer-service training program that teaches employees to focus on prospects’ needs, ask the right questions, find solutions, and build value for customers. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and think about what type of interaction would make you choose one storage facility over another. Then make sure that facility is yours.
Barry Himmel, senior vice president for Signature Worldwide, has provided training for self-storage organizations across the country. His expertise in customer service and sales and his ability to deliver a fun, dynamic and unforgettable training experience have made him an industry favorite. Himmel has a bachelor’s degree in business education from Miami University of Ohio and an MBA from the University of Dayton. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and has written numerous articles on training. For more information, call 800.398.0518; visit www.signatureworldwide.com.