By Jim Mooney Jr.
In the self-storage industry, conducting mystery shops on our own stores or the competition is (or should be) a way of life. I couldn’t begin to count the number of facilities I’ve visited during my industry career. There are still times when I leave an office shaking my head and wondering, “How are they still in business?” I’m sure we all have these stories, but we try to convince ourselves it doesn’t happen at our company. Well, I’m sad to say, it happens more often than we’d like to think.
We all have our thoughts on how to control the self-storage inquiry process. One way is to use a call center to answer inbound calls and ensure all leads are logged and followed up. But what about the customer who walks in the front door or comes from a third-party directory? Most operators will say they close 80 percent to 90 percent of all walk-ins. But what happened to the other 10 to 20 percent? Did the operator do everything possible to secure that rental? Not based on what we’ve seen in the field.
Thankfully, there are several companies in the marketplace whose focus is to perform mystery shops. A mystery-shop program will help you better understand the sales your closing as well as those you miss. Here are a few other reasons to hire a partner.
At my company, our sales system is completely customizable so we can set the criteria for our site managers. However, it can be hard to self-monitor. Personalities come in to play, and whether we want to admit it, so does favoritism. Having a neutral third-party shopper and staff to grade the resultant shops can cut out a lot of grey area.
Multiple Avenues to Review
To ensure we’re covering all the ways a customer can interact with our company, we instituted a multi-level shopping program. The first shop is in person at the facility, with an audio recording to remove the “he said/she said” from the equation. If the manager doesn’t log the lead into the management software, no matter how well the rest of the visit went, the score is a zero, as there’s no opportunity for him to follow up and close the deal.
The second shop is via phone. Since we use an all-call system with a national call center, this is a two-part shop. The first is to test the quality of service provided by the call center. The second is to see how fast the store staff responds to the inquiry and ensure our procedures are followed.
The third shop is a “Web-lead shop.” The shopper places an inquiry on our website. Again, we use the call center for the initial follow-up. The call center is graded on response time (with immediate being the goal), and the same parameters apply as with the phone shop.
To create a uniform measurement, we have our mystery shoppers give out a tracking phone number. How often have you had a manager say he made a follow-up call but you couldn’t confirm it? This removes any doubt. We can log in and see if the call was made. We can even listen to the call.
Finally, in some instances, we do a video shop. This is where a shopper visits the site wearing a button camera so we can see as well as hear the interaction with the manager. These shops are extremely telling. They have a higher cost but can be enormously valuable, especially for remote stores that aren’t visited by a regional or district manager as often as we might like.
This plays a huge roll in the mystery-shop program. There’s an old saying: “One good mark doesn’t make a star.” By doing shops randomly but regularly, you can start seeing trends and, more important, react to them. The company we use has an in-depth reporting program that allows us to break down shops by category, question, region, etc. The dashboard is customizable so we can see what’s important to us.
Self-storage is an ever-evolving industry. We can’t always rely on old tactics and programs to keep up with the ever-changing landscape. Further, not every manager who works for us has the same skills or attributes. We need to take each team member and figure out how we can make him the best storage professional he can be. By using mystery shops, we can ensure we’re doing the best job at helping our customers and completing a successful transition from inquirer to tenant.
Purely Dollars and Sense
Think about how much you’re spending to make the phone ring, the front door open or the inbox ding. A good mystery-shop program might cost you an additional $700 to $900 per year. But isn’t it worthwhile to ensure employees are doing the job you require?
Having a mystery-shop program isn’t a quick fix. It takes time to build the shops to your standards, collect and analyze the data, and put plans into action. However, if you’re overall goal is growth—whether it’s occupancy, revenue or net operating income—then having a shopping program is a must.
Jim Mooney Jr. is vice president of operations for Devon Self Storage, which operates 47 facilities. Known as a modernizer of industry processes, he leverages his 15 years of experience to improve the performance of the Devon portfolio. He’s the lead contact for the company’s vendor relationships and has spearheaded several management takeovers for its management acquisitions. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and conferences. He’s also a member of the Maryland Self Storage Association Board of Directors. To reach him, call 717.767.2735; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.devonselfstorage.com.