Technology Is No Substitute for Old-School Self-Storage Principles
A Guest Installment by Jim Chiswell
There is no question technology has caught up to the self-storage industry. Beyond the ever-improving facility operations management software programs, we are seeing innovations like the new “Call Potential” software to manage inbound telephone calls. All types of Internet-based enhancements for prospecting, and even apps for tablets, are emerging. The recent roll out of the iPhone 5 pointed out how obsessed we have become with having the newest technology.
I've realized over the past few years that the performance of many managers has started to suffer as a result of using these various technologies as crutches. They are looked at by some as substitutions for old-school customer-service principles. Nothing will ever replace a warm smile, a confident handshake and a sincerely delivered message during your conversation with a prospect that tells them, “I am someone you can count on to help solve your storage problem.”
I urge owners and managers alike to take a mental step back from how you are running your business and look at the total picture. Have you allowed technology to come between you and your customer? I don't question how many of these technological innovations have helped us to streamline some of our processes. However, I still believe the biggest difference between a successful and unsuccessful self-storage business is the attitude and performance of the woman or man behind the counter.
Walt Disney said it best: “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." That is just as true today as when he spoke those words decades ago. We may not be making people’s dreams come true, but we are certainly problem solvers for our customers who walk in the door to our office in search of a storage solution.
Over the years, we've all read letters from tenants thankful for the fact that we were there to help them. I've yet to see one of those notes compliment us for enabling tenants to pay online or at a kiosk. Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that technology has not helped us. What I'm saying is don't put more emphasis on those things than the people side of your business. Technology should be used to enhance manager performance not as a substitute.
In addition to standing up to greet someone who has just walked into your office, there is still tremendous sales power in using a clipboard. We've all been in situations during our lives where a person in authority stood in front of the group holding a clipboard. No one knows what's on your clipboard, but it sends a signal that you are organized and ready to carry out your job to help them. If you're not using one, on your next trip to OfficeMax or Staples grab an old-school clipboard for yourself.
Make sure you have your vacant unit list, rental rates and discounts, along with information on your insurance program and the moving-and-packing supplies you have for sale clipped to the board. You are now ready to jump on that golf cart and handle any question that a prospective new customer asks. It is also one of the greatest props that allows you time to pause to think of the answer to that person's question. Simply taking a few seconds to turnover a few pages provides the opportunity to come up with the best sales answer.
The next time you find yourself playing Words with Friends, are lost in the Gardens of Time, or simply playing Solitaire, ask yourself how many old-school techniques you no longer use when answering your phone, doing your product demonstrations or asking for the order. You may discover the old techniques and simple courtesies, like trying to always use the customer's name when you see them, can pay big dividends in renting more units and retaining customers.
Jim Chiswell is an industry veteran and owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence, mentoring and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He has served for a number of years on the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, is a moderator on the SelfStorageTalk.com interactive online community and is faculty member of the Self-Storage Training Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.selfstorageconsulting.com .