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Tony Jones

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

Your Self-Storage Business Is Talking … Are You Listening?

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Many years ago, when I decided to pick up stakes in California and re-plant them in Arizona, I had an odd experience at my bank that has never left me. I was a poor college student who decided to transfer schools and take a year off from full-time classes while I gained residency in the desert. This was before the Internet and many other conveniences we enjoy today. I was going to be renting a room from a family friend and had no job prospects, much less any idea what bank I would be using.

Before leaving for Arizona, I decided to close my bank account and take what little cash I had with me. When I was greeted by the teller, I presented my last paycheck and told her I needed to cash the check and close my account. After I answered a few questions and signed some paperwork, the teller counted out my cash and handed me the money.

I noticed my paycheck was still sitting on the counter between us, so I reminded her that I also needed to cash the check. “Oh, I can’t cash that,” she said. When I inquired why not, she retorted, “You don’t have an account with us anymore.”

More than 25 years later, I’m still dumbfounded by that whole exchange. The ability to listen, hear and be intuitive to customer and employee needs is critical to business success. If you’re thinking that listening and hearing are the same thing, I offer you the wise words of Sidney Deane, Wesley Snipes’ character from the movie “White Man Can’t Jump.” During a memorable scene in which Sidney and Billy Hoyle (played by Woody Harrelson) are discussing Jimi Hendrix, Sidney says, “Look man, you can listen to Jimi, but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him.”

It’s a great scene and a better line, and it applies to good self-storage business principles. How well do you hear your tenants or potential customers? What about your employees or prospective staff members? A business’ collective listening skills can make the difference between a thriving workplace and a dysfunctional one. The art of listening well is a top-down proposition when it comes to business management and a ground-up philosophy central to effective customer service.

Many of the educational speakers at this year’s Inside Self-Storage World Expo mentioned the importance of listening in their presentations, and for good reason. Listening and hearing are the building blocks of productive relationships. During the hiring or training process, how well do applicants or employees follow directions? How do they respond to basic or complex requests? Astute hiring managers can weed out poor applicants and prevent future headaches with subtle techniques that reveal a lot about a person’s listening skills and ability to think on his feet.

On the flip side, once a new hire is trusted to manage a self-storage facility, how in tune are his superiors to his job performance and well-being? Creating, motivating and retaining good managers has a great deal to do with your company culture, including the ability to hear employee pain points and recognize issues staff may not verbalize but express through body language or actions. By the same token, having your ear to the ground and being a keen observer is part and parcel with operational auditing to flesh out managers who may be willfully or apathetically damaging your business.

During customer-facing moments, how well are your managers listening? Do they practice consultative selling techniques to steer prospects into the right size or type of unit? If they’re listening intently to customer responses to probing questions, they’ll learn details about the customer’s needs that will help guide him toward the conclusions they want him to reach, including potential upsells. If they’re merely focused on the upsell, they’re likely to come off as pushy and uncaring, and risk losing the sale.

When a tenant has a question or is experiencing an issue with his unit, facility access or payment, do your managers listen closely enough to understand the problem and act to resolve it quickly and correctly? Reviewing how your managers handle customer inquiries, including periodically asking tenants directly for their feedback, can be a great tool to gauge how your customers feel about your business. Fixing clear areas of concern reinforces customer-service strategies for managers and lets tenants know you’re listening and hear what they have to say.

Let us know how effective listening has helped improve your self-storage business by providing an example in the blog comments section.

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