The success of your self-storage business is highly dependent on how customers perceive your company, employees and facilities. Whether you’re a one- or two-property owner or a larger, publicly traded conglomerate, providing a great customer experience is crucial to long-term performance.
Much of the self-storage buying process is driven by convenience. The trade area for most facilities is less than 5 miles, and competitors lie just around the corner. So you have to work hard—and quickly—to gain a prospect’s trust, often over the phone. You have to get him to come in and then, once in the door, sign a rental agreement. A strong selling point is how well your property stacks up relative to customer expectations and competition. But how do you know if you’re doing well or poorly?
A New Business Tool
To better understand how they are performing, many storage operators use mystery shopping as a feedback mechanism. While this can be a great tool for gauging the customer experience, shoppers often only look very briefly, once or twice per month, at operational compliance. This is fine as one aspect of the overall experience, but what about measuring the perceptions of many customers throughout the months and years? What about competition? Employee satisfaction? Without delving into these issues, you’re missing out on several critical pieces of the performance equation.
Customer-experience measurement (CEM) extends far beyond operational compliance and client satisfaction, examining the emotional and subconscious reasoning behind customer loyalty. A comprehensive, integrated CEM program can help you better understand and manage the drivers of this loyalty, thus improving retention and profitability. Increasing trial and reducing churn by even a few percentage points can have a tremendous positive impact on your bottom line.
CEM is about measuring your customers’ interaction and experience with virtually every aspect of your company and brand. Through face-to-face meetings, the Web, phone, mail and more, you engage with your customers, and they engage with you—in many ways and at many touch points. Only a full-circle approach to CEM will give you the panoramic view you need to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your business in the context of competition.
Measuring the Customer Experience
Setting a CEM program into motion first requires some understanding of how to measure and manage the customer experience. The first step is to establish the current level of satisfaction and engagement among your customers, nonbuyers (those who inquire but do not rent) and employees. This can be accomplished through a survey invitation, generally over the phone via an inbound interactive voice response (IVR) system or online.
IVR is an automated system available for customers to call 24/7, which allows them to participate from just about anywhere at any time. Customers simply dial an 800 number unique to your company/property, enter a code and begin. Most IVR surveys are between three and five minutes in length, which helps improve respondent participation and attentiveness while reducing fatigue.
The survey can also be done online, as approximately 75 percent of U.S. households have Internet access. Your customers can be directed to a website customized with your logo. They simply log into the Internet survey and answer questions related to you and their experience. Customers may also use their cell phones for either method (IVR or web).
In all cases, an incentive to participate is key. Your customers should be rewarded for taking time to complete the survey. Incentives can include things like a sweepstakes for a cash drawing, a gift card from a national chain, a discount off next month’s rent or a discount on retail supplies such as boxes and tape.
For the storage marketplace, customers can be given an invitation printed on their receipt (often at move-in or moveout) or a separate invitation card. Either method can provide a toll-free number or Web address where the customer can complete the survey. Employees can be given a different toll-free number or website.
This phase of the measurement process also allows you to see how perceptions of your company’s reputation and service compare across current and past customers and your competitors’ customers and non-buyers. You can also use mail surveys or phone interviews to help complete this phase. It’s possible to combine these methods to make the process easy for customers, which often helps improve response rates and representation.
Managing the Customer Experience
Measurements taken in the first phase of the CEM process can show you how to manage the critical touch points between your customers and your employees, organization and brand promise. By developing a customer-engagement index (CEI), you can gauge your operation’s performance in various areas and set goals.
This requires a customized reporting system, including tools to help you see how a property, region or entire chain is doing. This type of system, using an easy-to-understand dashboard interface, allows you to access to “report cards,” actual customer comments and helpful tips for management staff to keep customers engaged.
It’s critical to get program buy-in from top management all the way to the property level, so the program becomes part of your company culture. Ongoing training and announcements will demonstrate upper-level support for the system to customers and staff. In addition, a properly formulated action plan will help you achieve target CEI scores and increase profitability.
After the initial roll-out of the CEM program, you’ll have continuous support for customer engagement, including quarterly surveys and interviews with current and former customers. These will keep you up-to-date on how customers perceive you relative to your competition.
You needn’t go it alone. There are many reputable marketing-research firms that can assist you in developing a CEM program tailored to your specific needs, giving you powerful information you need to grow and sustain your business. So now that you know the basics, you can put CEM to work for you and see how your property measures up.
Sam Barrett a marketing consultant based in Dallas who specializes in the retail and consumer service industries. He is also the owner of Sambmarketing. He can be reached at 972.434.4077; e-mail email@example.com.
Shawna Fisher is director of marketing and panel development and Randy Hill is director of research services for Dallas-based Common Knowledge Research Services. The company has been delivering quality marketing-research data collection in addition to customer-experience measurement and product evaluation programs since 1988. For more information, call 972.732.7323; visit www.commonknowledge.com .