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Tony Jones

Tony Jones
Manager, Inside Self-Storage Store
tjones@vpico.com

For Self-Storage Customers, the Waiting Can Be the Hardest Part

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I’m not easily broken as a consumer. I tend to be extremely loyal to companies and service people I like, so it can be particularly frustrating when my loyalty is thoroughly tested. This happened recently when I took my car in for some regular maintenance at the so-called “express lane” at my dealership.

It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and when I pulled up, there were already two side-by-side lines of cars snaking through the parking lot. I was immediately on notice, watching, studying, formulating opinions and wishing I was still in bed. I sat in line (trapped is more like it, as other cars queued up tight behind me) for nearly 15 minutes before a service tech greeted me—without issuing an apology—and took down my information. That’s awful customer service.

Even if they were short-staffed, I shouldn’t have been waiting for more than two or three minutes without being acknowledged, apologized to for the extra delay, thanked for my patience and assured someone would help me as quickly as possible. Fifteen minutes without acknowledgement or apology is a massive fail, and based on the numerous, angry complaints I overheard that day, this place lost a ton of current and future business.

Why did I stick around, particularly knowing all of the “express” services that day would take hours? As I said, I’m not easily broken. My mix of patience and stubbornness can make me a glutton for punishment as I voluntarily enter a battle of wills. You don’t want to know how long I’ve sat on hold just to prove a point. Besides, I had previously experienced excellent service with this dealer, so I kept thinking, “It’ll be any second now.” Any notion to leave felt like defeat.

I also knew right away I would eventually use the experience as an example in an article or blog, so I had some incentive to stick it out and document the experience. If you’re thinking that type of ulterior motive makes me different than some of your typical self-storage customers, then you’re underestimating the power of Yelp and every other consumer-review outlet at their disposal. The difference is I’m not a disgruntled customer with an ax to grind, seeking venues to name names and spit vitriol with the intent of costing you more business.

The importance of customer engagement cannot be underestimated, particularly for new prospects. I was already a customer with previous positive experiences. I had the advantage of history and perspective. If that had been my first visit to the dealership, I likely would not have waited to be helped, and I certainly would not have been a repeat customer.

When was the last time you unwittingly tested the patience of one of your customers or prospects? Was it in person, on the phone, online, or maybe through an automated kiosk? Maybe all four? Self-storage businesses today have so many points of potential contact with consumers that the opportunity to create frustration and lose business can occur several times every day. If you create aggravation upon first contact, simply by making a prospect wait for service, he can quickly form a negative assessment of your operation and will likely be lost forever.

A simple Google search of self-storage reviews and wait times reveals a mixed bag. Customers discuss and comment online about waiting in management offices, being placed on hold, and even how long they have had to wait for an elevator. Time is a precious commodity for everyone these days. Every aspect of your business is being scrutinized, and prospects are quick to judge and form opinions.

Not long ago, I called a storage facility with a simple question and was quickly placed on hold for three or four minutes listening to total silence. If I had been a prospective tenant, I probably would have moved on to the next facility on my list. Instead, I turned to the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community to gauge the reaction of managers.

“If we can’t speak with the customer when they call, we explain why we can’t, ask for a call-back number and call them back ASAP,” responded SMSSId, a senior member on SST, who also noted customers are not placed on hold if it will be longer than a minute.

Of course, there is often a juggling act that must be performed if customers are simultaneously in the office and on the phone. What would you do? How do you minimize inconvenience? Most managers would serve the walk-in customer and obtain the phone customer’s contact information. Whatever your procedure, it’s critical that both customers be acknowledged and engaged, no matter who takes precedence. Call centers can also be invaluable in handling overflow and enabling managers to calmly and quickly take care of walk-ins.

During situations when there are multiple walk-ins present at the same time (much like my express-lane experience), it’s important that your office is equipped to subtly assist the manager in handling the situation. The manager certainly needs to communicate with each customer, but having coffee available, complimentary snacks, company brochures, magazines, a television, artwork, or other comforting and stimulating distractions can send positive messages about your facility and help ease the sting customers feel while waiting.

Believe it or not, there’s a whole area of mathematical study called “Queuing Theory,” with academic studies on the effects of wait times on customers. If you’re curious to see this issue broken down into mathematical equations, you might want to grab some caffeine and peruse this study. But, frankly, you’re not going to handle every time challenge perfectly, and you don’t need to mimic pizza-delivery guarantees.

The key is simply to be prepared and minimize as much frustration as possible. Without training and customer-service policies and procedures in place, efficient speed of service and customer patience are at risk. If you need incentive, simply assume that every customer you engage is a potential negative review. I may not be easily broken as a customer, but I cannot say the same for your tenants and prospects.

Let us know how you minimize customer-waiting issues in the comments section below.

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