The downturn in the economy has hurt most self-storage businesses financially but has also fostered a change in the way customers and facilities interact. Operators have noticed an impeding impact on their bottom line and refocused their attention on the consumer.
They’re asking themselves questions such as: What drives customers to their facilities? What more can they do to exceed customers’ expectations, fulfill their needs and increase loyalty? How can they maximize the revenue from the leads and tenants they already have? That’s where customer relationship management (CRM) enters the picture.
What is CRM?
CRM refers to the methods companies use to interact with customers and prospects. In the self-storage industry, CRM systems should focus on managing contacts: active tenants, inactive tenants, prospects who make inquiries, and prospects who make reservations and ask for quotes.
A CRM system designed for self-storage integrates with your management software as well as your call center and phone systems, streamlines processes, and simplifies your overall operation. Your management and CRM software should share one central database where call-center agents, store managers, district managers and executives can have instant access to tenant and prospect information, including history.
Some CRM applications provide an online chat feature. This allows prospects to connect to your website, enter their phone number, name and e-mail ID, and start chatting or request a phone call. In addition to providing another sales tool, the chat feature provides another avenue for current tenants to connect with you and discuss issues.
Another feature common to CRM systems is an e-mail manager. This allows the corporate office to e-mail all contacts—active tenants, inactive tenants and prospects. It also provides important statistics on the results of each e-mail campaign, such as percentage of opens, opt-outs and undelivered.
We recently spoke with three self-storage operators about how they’ve benefited from CRM systems. George Abdow is CFO of eZStorage, a company with 44 facilities throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Wendy Elliott is the sales center director of Stor-All, which has 44 facilities in five states. Dave Ratliff is the area manager for A-1 Self Storage, a company with 38 facilities throughout California.
What is the main focus of CRM?
Abdow: CRM is for establishing relationships with existing customers, with the goal of delivering an industry-exceeding customer experience. We want to deliver the highest quality experience so potential and existing customers conclude they have only one real choice.
Elliott: The customer! For me, having CRM is like having a crystal ball. I know who is calling, how many times they called and, most important, why they’re calling. All of this provides better customer service, company-wide awareness, and the tool needed to create solid targeted marketing campaigns.
Ratliff: We have two primary goals in launching CRM. One is to improve our tracking of people who contact us about renting a unit. The second is to help us more efficiently follow up with those people.
Are off-the-shelf CRM applications suitable for the self-storage industry?
Abdow:Based on our evaluation of several off-the-shelf solutions, we believe they would require significant customization to serve our needs.
Elliott: Not necessarily. When we looked at a few of the off-the-shelf providers, it was more about fitting into their world, how they defined a customer and their needs vs. our world and what’s valuable to us as a company.
Ratliff: I imagine there’s something out there that would work, but all the integration issues and the hidden costs associated concerned us.
What are the main factors a self-storage operator should consider when choosing a CRM application?
Abdow: Our main factors were integration with our existing POS, business-intelligence and call-center applications.
Elliott: Look for someone who listens and understands your industry. Can they make customizations based on your needs? Are they available for you at all times?
Ratliff: First, figure out exactly what your goals are—what you do have to have and what would be nice to have. Then, figure out how whatever you’re looking at matches up, and how it will integrate with your current systems.
Dave Skarzynski is the senior sales rep and Sachin Bhakta is vice president of development for E-SoftSys, a provider of management software for the self-storage industry. Products include Self Storage Manager, in Windows-based Standard Edition or Web-based Enterprise Edition, and add-on modules such as e-CRM, a contact-management module with e-mail campaign and online chat features. For more information, call 800.469.1740; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.selfstoragemanager.com.