By Nick Lackner
What does customer service really look like in a tech-tastic world? Walmart Founder Sam Walton said it best: “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.” Excellent service brings significant rewards, including greater revenue and profit, reduced churn, and lifelong customers. This applies to all industries, including self-storage.
Nordstrom is another retailer well-known for its customer service. The company’s employee handbook contains only a single line on the topic: “Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” That’s it. No footnotes, appendix or training guide—just those meaningful words.
This seems to leave little room for technology. By all accounts, customer service is dependent on the quality of the people you hire and the quality of their interactions with customers. Technology is absent from the equation. Or is it?
City Center Self Storage is a small, independent storage operation in downtown Pittsburgh. We’re surrounded by much larger, better-funded competitors; yet we’re consistently ranked highest in overall customer satisfaction by our customers, measured by the number and quality of our reviews on Yelp. We hire, train and empower outstanding individuals—those who embody the Nordstrom ethos. But we go one step further: We surround them with tools and processes that help them achieve legendary customer service through every step of the customer lifecycle.
Here are some proven tech-tastic approaches that can help you strengthen your customer service at your own storage facility.
Customer service begins on your website. Prospective customers should be able to experience your facility virtually through quality online videos and slideshows as well as written content. Online-video testimonials from real tenants are a great way to showcase your business and your commitment to customer service.
Once a customer determines you’re the right solution for his storage needs, he should be able to complete the entire rental process online. This involves much more than filling out a “Contact Us” form on your website. Consider integrating your website with your management-software system so there’s no need for the customer to fill out additional paperwork or bring in supporting documents when he visits your property.
We’ve found most of our customers have scanners or smartphones capable of high-resolution photographs. This enables them to provide scanned copies of their insurance binder and driver’s license online. Fully executed agreements can be digitally signed and e-mailed to your new customer before he ever arrives at your facility.
Bill payment can also occur through an online portal. Note: Add provisions for automated monthly billing to make your cash flow predicable and cut down on late-payment fees. Putting the customer in complete control of the process virtually eliminates clerical errors and speeds the onboarding process.
Customer-relationship-management (CRM) systems are inexpensive and can be used to regularly communicate with your customers. Through your CRM program, you can inform tenants about property upgrades, specials and events at your facility or in your community. CRM is also vital in helping you track and nurture new leads, providing useful storage tips and ongoing education to prospective customers throughout their decision process.
Finally, make it easy for customers to contact you. Ensure your phone calls are forwarded to your mobile device when you step away from the front desk to assist customers. We’ve gone one step further and automated communication between our smartphones and the security system at the building to allow remote access when a customer accidentally forgets his security code, which happens quite frequently in the age of the ubiquitous PIN.
Storage is a simple business. There are only so many places you can and need to automate. Our investment in technology has eliminated all paper and clutter from our operation and helped us get closer to our goal of legendary customer service. In the final analysis, technology is an amplifier of your overall service approach. When considering when and where to automate, follow Nordstrom’s credo and “use your best judgment.”
Nick Lackner is the founder and 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. He also has an advanced degree in real estate studies and development from Columbia University. To reach him, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.citycenterselfstorage.com.