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Reclaiming Your Service Savvy to Run a Successful Self-Storage Business

By Jim Mooney Jr. Comments
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We’ve all heard the stories from our parents or grandparents about how service was much better “back in the day.” I remember tales of full-service gas stations where the attendants would not only pump the gas for you but clean your windshield and check your oil and tire pressure—all with a smile on their face. Or the bag boys at the local supermarket who’d pack your order and help you to your vehicle.

With today’s “want it now” mentality, service has fallen by the wayside. We now have the Internet, self-service kiosks and self-checkouts. But I still believe there’s a place in this world for good old-fashioned service.

Here’s an example to ponder: You take your family to a restaurant and the food is OK, but you wait longer than expected for your meal or a refill of your beverage. The cost is cheap vs. going to another restaurant where the server is attentive, glasses are never less than half full, and the food is promptly delivered hot and fresh. Which would you visit again? To which would you refer a friend? The answer should be obvious—the second one, right?

Now think about the self-storage industry. In the early days, we hired retired couples to be caretakers of our facilities. The wife usually handled all the paperwork, and the husband took care of minor maintenance. The site might have sold locks and boxes, but for the most part, it was a small, bare-bones office.

Fast forward to current times. We spend a lot of money and time focusing on marketing to drive business to our doors. Why wouldn’t we want to have the best sales-oriented person answering the phone or standing in the doorway when a potential customer walks through it? We’ve all heard about storage facilities where it seems the customer is bothering the person behind the desk. Yours shouldn’t be one of them.

Customer service is vital to our daily business. Whether it’s showing units, collecting rent, or selling boxes and packing supplies, service is key. Unfortunately, some operators have lost this aspect of their business. Here’s how to get it back.

An Easy Decision

A self-storage facility should be staffed with salespeople who are ready and willing to help potential new tenants make a smart storage decision. No one wakes up one morning and says, “You know, I think I want to rent a storage unit today.” People who come to us have a real need and, often, it’s not the best time for them. Whether this necessity stems from a divorce, adult kids moving back home, in-laws moving in due to health, etc., it should be our job to make their choice as easy as possible.

Every facility should have the right people available to guide customers through rough waters and get them the best possible unit at the best possible price. You earn a customer and, more important, an advocate for your brand if you can accomplish this simple task!

You can often see the worry and frustration leave customers’ faces when you, the storage professional, give them guidance based on your experience. By asking a few relevant questions and listening, you can do a great deal of good. There are many managers who do this every day, and there’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone solve a problem or concern.

A Positive Attitude

Service is what sets you apart from your competitor down the street. Let’s face it, we’re all selling space in a metal box. Some facilities are fancier than others, but at the end of the day, every 10-by-10 serves the same function.

When shopping for storage online, most people are looking for a convenient site at a competitive price. But they usually follow that search with a visit to the facility to make their final decision. Industry research shows women make most of the decisions when choosing a storage facility. While bathrooms and cleanliness are key to this demographic, equally important is the initial interaction with the person behind the counter.

Our facial expressions are our inner façade being shown to the world. Some operators have a mirror on their counter to remind managers to smile when talking on the phone or to a live visitor. You've likely been told that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. This alone should make you want to smile more often! People can also detect your mood by your body language and demeanor. Most would rather not interact with someone who projects a negative attitude.

We’ve all heard the success stories of customer-focused companies such as Chick-fil-A, Disney and Southwest Airlines. Who wouldn’t want a reputation like that in the storage world? There are many fascinating articles about these companies and others online. Take a moment to read how they’ve stepped up their service efforts. We don’t need to recreate the wheel. We just need to follow the examples that have been set before us.

The Platinum Rule

Customer service means different things to different people. Many live by the Golden Rule, but it’s not the always the best or only solution. The problem is it assumes everyone wants to be treated the same way. Instead, consider the Platinum Rule, which allows us to think about how others want to be treated instead of how we want to be treated. Once we make the switch in our mind, we begin to understand we must offer options to our customers based on their needs, not our own.

No matter how you think about it, customer service is the key to self-storage survival in today’s fast-paced environment. The next time the phone rings or the door opens, make sure you have a smile on your face and your ears are open to your future customer!

Jim Mooney Jr. is vice president of operations for Devon Self Storage, which operates 47 facilities. Known as a modernizer of industry processes, he leverages his 15 years of experience to improve the performance of the Devon portfolio. He’s the lead contact for the company’s vendor relationships and has spearheaded several management takeovers for its acquisitions. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and conferences, and is a member of the Maryland Self Storage Association Board of Directors. To reach him, call 717.767.2735; e-mail jmooney@devonselfstorage.com; visit www.devonselfstorage.com.

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