Hiring Your Next Self-Storage All-Star
By Nick Lackner
“Everyone whom I spoke to at City Center Self Storage was friendly and helpful.”
“The staff has gone out of their way to ensure my needs as a customer have been met and exceeded.”
“He is extremely helpful and easy to work with. Five stars!!!”
When was the last time you looked at your online reviews on Yelp or Google+? What are customers writing about? Is it about your climate control, surveillance system or newly improved website? Probably not. Chances are, they’re writing about your customer-service team. At least, that’s our experience. All the other considerations are secondary. Or, if not secondary, they certainly were not forefront in their mind when they wrote the review. Customer service—that is what people remember.
If that’s true, then recruiting and training is arguably the most important responsibility of a self-storage owner or general manager. But how and where do you find good people? Word-of-mouth and employee referrals are one source of leads, but they tend to dry up pretty quickly. Other intensely “customer-service” establishments are a great source of talent. Baristas, retail clerks and fast-food franchises can be a good source of candidates looking for extra spending money.
However, we found Craigslist to be the best and most cost-effective source of prospective employees. For $25, you can post a job opening, complete with pictures, a map to your location, and a thorough description of the role.
Once the job is posted, prepare for a deluge of responders. We received dozens of resumes the first day and a steady stream since. Winnowing down the field to the best few was a three-step process.
The first cut was made on the basis of relevant experience and the overall impression that came through in their e-mail response and resume. We looked for enthusiasm, friendliness and examples where they went out of their way to put the customer first, especially in highly charged situations.
The second cut was based on a phone screen. To move the process along quickly, we developed a short phone-screening questionnaire. Like most self-storage operators, we have a very high close rate once the customer is on site. Getting them there is the most important step, and the phone (and to a much lesser extent, e-mail) is our principle tool. If an applicant is able to sell themselves on the phone, the prospects are good he’ll be able to sell the merits of our Pittsburgh self-storage facility.
We invited the best applicants in for face-to-face interviews and again had a series of pre-defined questions and “what if” scenarios to see how people would handle specific customer situations. In addition, we administered a computer literacy test. Good skills with the computer are essential to our business. Staff must be able to manage truck reservations, sign up storage clients on our iPad, conduct research on the Internet, and write and send e-mails to customers and prospects.
It’s hard to get a definitive answer when you ask someone if he has good computer skills. People are inclined to overstate their ability, so the best way to get an understanding of someone’s skill level is to run him through exercises to assess Excel, Word, e-mail and the Internet.
The entire process took approximately three weeks. We identified several qualified applicants and hired the one with the greatest schedule flexibility. Training starts this week and will continue for the next four weeks. If we’ve done our job correctly, our string of five-star reviews on Yelp!, Google+ and other sites is assured.
Nick Lackner is the general manager for City Center Self Storage in Pittsburgh. A Pittsburgh native, Lackner graduated from John Carroll University and joined CBRE, one of the nation’s largest real estate service companies. In 2006, he received an advanced degree from Columbia University in real estate studies and development. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.citycenterselfstorage.com.
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