When an industry is in growth mode, the emphasis is on increasing capacity, margins and market share. But when demand fades, the emphasis must turn to creating more efficient management processes and tools. This is where we are in the self-storage industry right now. Every owner is looking for ways to manage his business more efficiently, effectively and creatively without sacrificing quality.
This changing game means your managers are no longer just writing leases, taking payments, answering phone calls and sweeping out units. They need to be able to use all sorts of new management tools, including software, which is now more intricate and in-depth.
Many companies use lead-management systems to track and follow up on lead activity. Some use call centers and call-auditing services for ad tracking and call quality. Others have internal systems for tracking expenses and revenue. Still others are using Web-based lead-generation tools that need daily massaging. All these tools require being able to use software and Web tools to manage, understand and report on interactions.
This is just the beginning. In the years to come there will be more management tools arriving on the scene. Some will interact with each other seamlessly. Others will require standalone platforms. All will help store managers run a more efficient shop. The caveat is people will have to learn to use them.
How do you train managers to use new tools so they find success? First, you have to employ people who want to learn new things and adopt new and useful ways of doing them. Plus, you should hire people who want to work at making the business successful.
Before you invest time and money in training, ask yourself if your team meets these standards. Then ask each team member if he thinks he can meet them. Be prepared to replace a few people who are either unwilling or unable to answer an unqualified “yes” to this question.
Trainers should understand how to use the new tools effectively before teaching staff. You cannot just deliver a new management tool, give the employee a quick run-through and expect anything good to happen.
The next step is to identify each staff member’s individual learning style. People tend to fall into one of four main styles of learning: hear, see, do and read. People who learn from hearing only need to be told what to do before they understand the activity. People who learn from seeing and watching can observe an activity and duplicate it. People who learn from doing need to practice something a few times before they can repeat it. Readers can view a set of instructions and then do the activity.
When training, be sure to approach the activity from all four areas, but emphasize those in which your staff is dominant. People who are weak at hearing but strong on doing can be told 50 times how to use a new tool. But until you walk them through the process and let them try it a few times on their own, they won’t understand or retain what you’re trying to teach.
Also, explain the “why” and “how” of the new management tool. Employees are used to being assigned busy work, or having superiors who sometimes create processes and tasks that make no sense and create no value.
Often, an employee’s first reaction to a new tool can be skepticism. You need to sell the employee on why this tool is helpful, profitable and will improve business. Then you need to show how it will make his life easier, better and more productive. Buy-in is absolutely essential. If employees are not sold on the how and the why, your implementation will fail.
Design a Training Program
When introducing a new tool, you need a training program, something that will guide you and your staff through the process. Many service providers have tutorials, webinars and user guides that will make it easy for you to create the training program. But not all vendors will have training programs, so you made need to create one of your own.
For example, let’s say you want to train your staff on a new lead-tracking tool that resides on your facility’s website. Explain how and why this will better track leads, create superior reports to evaluate sales activity, and make the manager’s life easier. Have a set of instructions the employee can read and keep for reference.
Next, visit the website and work through several leads while the employee watches you go through the steps. Talk your way through the process. Then let the employee try a few practice leads. Talk him through it the first few times, and then let him do it independently. He might make some errors. Correct the mistakes only if he cannot yet self-correct.
Repetition is another essential part of training, so you may need to replicate the training exercise many times before it becomes automatic.
The Value of Role-Playing
Role-playing is another important part of any employee-training system. This should not be confused with practice, where you rehearse and repeat an activity on your own until you master it. Role-playing is when you recreate the situation with a training helper. One of you can pose as the customer, the other as the manager.
For example, let’s say you’re implementing a new move-in process to cut down on the time spent on the lease and better capture customer-tracking information. The owner can pose as a customer while the manager walks through the leasing process. He can practice doing the procedure until he knows it inside and out.
Role-playing will uncover all kinds of uncomfortable moments, hiccups in the process and unanticipated questions. It will help you resolve any issues before interacting with a real customer. The last thing you want is for a new process or tool to cause discomfort for customer—or embarrassment for the manager. When a manager sees a customer squirming because a new process is still clunky and sloppy, he will become shy of it, lose belief in it and avoid doing it. Teach, practice and role-play thoroughly when implementing any new tools.
Choosing Management Tools
Choose management tools that are effective and reliable and do what you say they’re going to do. You can tell if your training is correct by how your staff reports problems with the tool.
If they tell you it’s junk, doesn’t work right or causes more trouble than it’s worth, you’ve likely failed in your training and created an avoidance reaction. If, on the other hand, they to you with specific problems such as “When you click the button that says ‘box sales,’ the system opens up a screen with error message No. 12389,” you know they understand the tool and how to use it. In that case, they’re simply reacting to specific problems or bugs in the system.
No management tool is perfect. There will be a few glitches and hiccups. There will be elements that don’t match perfectly with your method of doing business. You’ll have to adapt to things you cannot change; but your vendor will generally be open to adjusting things that can be changed. Plus, you may find new ways of doing things that will work well for your facility.
Above all, work closely with your vendor to get the training and knowledge you need so you can pass it on to employees. Your best success when adopting new tools will come when you create a solid training program, understand your employees’ learning style and gain employee buy-in. Practice and role-playing will ensure implementation, and your results will meet and exceed expectations.
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart Call Center, an offsite sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training and Internet lead-generation services. For more information, call 866.682.8272; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.phone-smart.info.