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The History and Value of Self-Storage Call Centers

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By Michael Sawyer

For most independent self-storage owners, new customer rentals are handled manually by facility managers during office hours. Their process to drive new tenant revenue is dependable and straightforward. Typically, the strategy only requires one manager to cover all the bases (telephone calls, website inquiries and foot traffic).

When new customers reach out by phone, managers are trained to drive them to the facility for an appointment and tour. When prospects visit the company website, strategically designed pages advise them to call the manager for unit pricing and availability. Regardless of where the communication originates, managers stay consistent with the strategy to drive appointments. In the end, all new customers are funneled to the property and manager.

This long-established strategy requires a face-to-face appointment to begin the rental process, assign a unit and execute the lease signing, and its effectiveness has been proven. On average, U.S. storage managers are converting 80 percent of their appointments to new tenants. But while this might sound like a positive statistic, there’s still more to measure before we consider a conversion process to be successful, according to Brad North, president of Advantage Consulting & Management, which specializes in sales, marketing and operational training to the self-storage industry.

“We have to first take into account how many sales calls were taken during any given time,” North says. “Then we would like to compare that number with how many appointments actually showed up. To gain deeper insight, we would want to measure a manager’s appointment-conversion rate as well. When it comes to statistics, knowing how to measure and interpret results is as important as knowing what to measure.

“There are also many little leaks that will constantly drain your profit. Due to a number of logical reasons, managers are only able to answer a fraction of your incoming calls. For storage operators who do the math, there is also a logical reason for concern,” North adds.

There's a profit leak in most storage businesses. In some, the leak is more like a hole that’s overlooked. Owners can analyze costs and profit and examine all the operational line items; still, most miss the leak. Meanwhile, profit is lost every single day.

Origin of the Call Center

Industry-wide, self-storage managers are missing 60 percent of the calls that roll into their facility. If they route calls to voicemail when showing units, maintaining the property or going to the bank, those calls could go unanswered for long stretches. The same is true if the facility only has one phone line or the store closes for any period of time. With so much at stake and little reason to gamble, operators are taking action to reduce missed opportunities.

The call-center concept was first implemented decades ago by the publicly owned self-storage giants—the real estate investment trust, or REITs—as a strategy to gain higher occupancy and better maintain a competitive advantage over smaller operators. The plan was devised to route all incoming calls to a centralized office. Over the years, the REITs’ investment in staffing and technology for these remote centers has become a vital business asset, one that only operators with several hundred locations could begin to justify (and afford). Yet the effect on profit margins has proven substantial.

By design, the REITs’ call-center agents represent the first line of communication for the business. They qualify leads, gather customer data, promote specials, and then drive appointments or reservations to the property. This allows the store managers to focus on operational duties, such as marketing, customer service, lead follow-up and closing sales.

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