Overcoming Obstacles to Training

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Staff training is becoming increasingly vital for self-storage operations. As competitive pressures rise and the power of the rent increase slackens, many storage companies will look to better training as a tool for improving revenue and profit.

Itused to be you could afford to miss a few storage sales or rental opportunities because business was good. There was very little expectation from consumers regarding our sales and customer-service abilities. Now there are more choices out there for storage shoppers, who choose to do business where they feel wanted, respected and well cared for.

Employee training can be the ticket to improved performance, but it involves overcoming some challenges. You’ll struggle to find the right type of training delivered with the right approach. You’ll struggle to make employees open and receptive to the training. Your financial partners will want to know how training improves your cash position and increases the value of your real estate assets. You’ll also have to learn to manage a training program.

Many people think training is a one-time thing that happens like the wave of a wand. You show someone how to do something once or twice, and presto! They know how to a certain task correctly from now on. But that’s not how it happens. Training is an ongoing process, because most of the things we want our staff to do are not what they would normally do when faced with certain situations.

Fighting Human Nature

A person’s natural reaction when seeing a burning house is to run away from it. Firefighters and fire rescue squads, on the other hand, do the opposite. They go into the fire to pull people out and extinguish the flames. Even if you’re a pyromaniac, you need training to survive walking into a fire. You need schooling to know how to put out the fire without getting yourself killed.

Now let’s consider a day in the life of a self-storage employee. A person’s natural reaction to being yelled at is to fight back or retreat. But when a storage employee is being confronted by a disgruntled customer, he has to be nice and diffuse the situation. He can’t be hostile, nor can he act like a wimp.

When your manager answers the phone and is asked by a potential customer for the price of a storage unit, his natural reaction might be to blurt it out. What you want him to do is ask good questions, build rapport, and get the caller excited about renting with you. All of these things take training.

Overcoming Human Nature

Some parts of self-storage training are more in tune with human nature. For example, it’s natural for a person who is responsible for a property’s appearance to pick up any trash he might see while walking through the grounds. He doesn’t need a lot of instruction to know he needs to keep the place clean (unless, of course, you hire a slob).

But how do you train people to do things that are against their nature? You have to set up relevant exercises. You have to explain the importance of not following gut instinct in certain situations. And you have to reinforce the training with lots of practice. Then you have to evaluate the results, tweak the training and practice some more.

Not everyone absorbs information the same way. We all have a different learning style. Some of us prefer reading. Others do better by listening or using a hands-on approach. So you have to use a mix of all these methods to set the lesson in an employee’s behavior repertoire. And not everyone is motivated by the same things. Many people aren’t even clear about what motivates them, so you have to try different things and see what works.

Also ask yourself: Are you hiring people who are trainable? Most people would say they are at least they want to be. But not everyone will actually allow themselves to be trained.

Finally, are you trying to make a working dog out of a lap dog? Some people apply to customer-service jobs in general and self-storage jobs in particular because they look easy. They think a storage-management position is a great way to spend the day with their feet up and the “gone to lunch” sign displayed. Then you come along and want to show them how to be great sales and service people.

What About You?

Consider your role in the equation not everyone is cut out to be a trainer. You may have some very engaged and capable people on your team who are trying to learn everything you throw at them. Unfortunately, training may be the least of your talents, and all you’re doing is giving mixed signals and stressing your trainees to the max.

You may also have a hard time equating training to profit. If rental demand is down during a month when you’re focusing on staff education, it’s easy to believe training was a bad choice. Remember that training is an investment, one that pays off with positive results over time.

Finally, how do you judge progress? This is a quandary too. Will you use benchmarks, scores, customer comments or some other method? Training requires a means of measuring performance. If all the issues involved in training have you feeling a little queasy, start with something simple. Choose a basic exercise with an obvious result and see what you can accomplish. You may find training is a lot of fun and helps you learn your business exceedingly well. 

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an offsite sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training and Internet-lead-generation services. Mr. Jordheim is also a member of the National Speakers Association. You can read what he is up to at www.selfstorageblog.com. For more information, e-mail tron@phone-smart.net

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