By Pamela Alton
When I moved to the East Coast from California a few years ago, the first thing I noticed is how friendly the people were. At first, I would get impatient when the cashier at the grocery store took the few moments to ask the customer in front of me how his son was doing in college; and then I realized he was just being friendly. It dawned on me: That's how good customer service should be!
In todays world, everything seems to move so fast. We use the Internet to purchase our goods and pay our bills. Were all wrapped up in our smartphones, texting, playing games or walking and talking, not paying attention to anyone around us. When was the last time you actually got a live person on the telephone when calling a business? Or when you did get one, you had to wait for what seemed like hours? By that time, you were about to pull your hair out!
How many times have you gone to a restaurant and been ignored by the server? How about going into a store and standing at the counter while the clerk keeps talking to the other clerk and doesnt even acknowledge youre standing there? It doesnt really make you want to go back to that business, does it? In contrast, businesses where you were greeted warmly by the staff are the places youll visit again and tell your family and friends.
Over the years, for good or bad, the use of call centers has become the norm in self-storage, and some industry operators may have lost the personal touch with tenants. Offering superior customer service almost seems like a thing of the past. In reality, its what makes a business successful and keeps customersthe key ingredient that sets you apart from competition.
Self-storage is a people business, and the manager behind the counter is the face of it. That persons attitude can make or break the operation. There are a lot of aspects to a facility that you cannot change, but you certainly can offer good customer service.
Lets face it: To our tenants, a 10-by-10 space is just a 10-by-10 space. Its not a place where theyre going to live; its just a space where theyre going to store their stuff until they dont need to any longer. Of course, they want a good value for their money. Most people seeking storage call or visit at least four facilities before they rent. Why so many?
Price is one factor, but the rates in any given market are usually pretty comparable. Customers sometimes look for specific amenities such as security gates, doors alarms, video surveillance, climate control and others, but a storage business doesnt have to offer all of these to be successful.
So why is it some facilities in the same market are more profitable than others, no matter if its new site with all the bells and whistles or an older, but well-kept one with manual gates? Its the customer service the tenant receives that sets it apart from the competition.
On the Phone
Good customer service begins with how we treat a prospective customer on the first call. Managers, if your company has a phone script, learn it, and then put it into your own words. Callers will know when someone is reading lines vs. speaking genuinely. If you take the time to make the customer feel comfortable, acknowledge and respect his needs, answer all his questions and offer a good value for the price, hell rent with you.
Great customer service also applies to collection calls. One way to put a positive spin on this dreaded process is to make these calls before your tenants become past due. It then becomes a reminder rather than a collection call. Tell them youre trying to help them avoid a late fee by paying now. Then ask for a credit card payment over the phone or direct them to your website to make a payment.
On the Property
Good customer service doesnt stop at that initial call or visit or even after youve rented the unit. Once a person has become your tenant, you should continue to offer excellent service. Do you get up out of your chair when a tenant enters your office and greet him with a smile and a handshake? You should. If youre on the phone when someone walks in, immediately make eye contact and acknowledge him. No one likes to feel ignored.
Its also a good idea to keep your gate log up on the computer screen so you know who enters your facility. That way you can call each person by name when he enters the office or you see him on the property.
Walk the property several times a day. Stop and talk to your tenants. Ask them how theyre doing. Carry some water bottles and offer them a cool drink on a hot day, or direct them to the office for some coffee or hot cocoa during cold weather. Ask if theres anything you can do to make their stay with you a better experience.
Now, be honest ... Are you doing all you can to offer your customers the best service possible? How can you improve? Would you rent a self-storage unit from your business? The Golden Rule is the basis of good customer care. Offering good service will get you referrals from your tenants and keep them coming back when they need storage. Remember, a kind word and a smile dont cost you anything.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management Services, a company that has been placing self-storage managers all over the United States since 1991. She can be reached at 321.890.2245 or www.mini-management.com .