The Self-Storage Call Center: Part of Competitive Management

This may come as no surprise, but the self-storage business is becoming more competitive every day. Latest figures show that the average self-storage market has eight facilities. This means that in any average market, seven other competitors are vying for your business. In this kind of atmosphere, smart owners are continually in search of new ways to ensure success.

Certainly one of the ways to keep ahead of your competition is to offer more and better services. One service gaining the attention of owners who are looking for an edge is a call center. Lets face it, if you do an excellent job of marketing your facility, you should expect the phone to ring, right? But suppose when it rings, theres no one there to answer but voicemail? Its not a good solution.

All of us know that tenants and prospects have little patience. If they dont get an answer from a live human being, the tenant will likely go away frustrated, and the prospect will go on to one of your competitors.

This is not a good situation if your advertising dollars are building awareness for your facility and prompting the phone to ring. If you cant get the customer through the door and get a rental agreement signed, your marketing dollars are being wasted.

With the advent of cell-phone technology, you may have doubts about the need for a call center. After all, wouldnt a good manager have a cell phone to answer any call, anytime? Sure, some managers use cell phones to make sure they have the ability to answer calls while onsite showing units. This is fine, but put yourself in the place of the manager or the prospect. Should any transaction be interrupted to take a call? And what about a prospect or tenant who calls the managers cell number only to get a busy signal?

Choosing a Call Center

As you will readily learn, the value of a call center is much more than an answering service. If you examine the value of a call center and see the wisdom of taking the next step, do your homework. Investigate. Like clothes and cars, call centers come in all shapes and sizes. You dont want just another answering service. Too often these are mistaken for call centers. Some offer an operator who is working for several unrelated businesses, and has no knowledge of the self-storage business. This person simply takes messages. These types of operations are not effective for turning calls into rental agreements.

Fortunately, many types of call centers exist and provide quality service. Of course, you need the basics: a representative who is live and understands the self-storage business. Its only natural that tenants and prospects want to speak to a breathing, friendly person when they call, not an answering machine.

The rep should be able to answer questions about rental rates, unit sizes and availabilities, special discounts, features and benefits and, most important, be able to close the deal. This way, you will be able to generate new rentals on a regular monthly basis. You may already know that it costs seven to 10 times more to capture a new customer than retain an existing one. The perfect solution is to do both.

A good call center will also provide an ongoing lead database. If a caller lets the rep know hes not ready to commit to a rental, but would like the manager to call back at a later date, this allows the manager to follow up until the prospect makes a decision.

Other Considerations

There are also web-based call centers that will set up a website for your facility, so you can pull up facility data online. This is extremely valuable for updating information in real time so there is no waiting period.

Then there are call centers that honor credit card transactions, a great convenience. Others offer such ancillary services as mystery shopping, which is a positive training tool to improve staff performance.

The point of all this is to understand the scope of call center services, then decide what you need. In a general sense, the advantages of an effective call center are numerous. Ask yourself this: Do you want your manager to be more efficient, follow up on delinquencies, and free to spend more time with customers or out in the neighborhood marketing your facilities to residential and commercial prospects? This is the proper way to look at a call centera valuable asset and enhancement to your facility.

Perhaps the greatest value of a good call-center service is it will boost profits. Too often, owners view this service as an expense, rather than an opportunity to enhance a facilitys profit margin. When it generates new rentals each month, the expense turns into a profit. Sure, a reliable center will charge a fee for its services, but the cost will be justified by the benefits provided. Another cost-saving advantage of a call center is having it available at all hours. This can cut your overhead by reducing employee hours on the job.

Todays ever-increasing competitive self-storage marketmanned by smarter, better informed owners willing to spend big bucksmeans succeeding in this environment gets tougher every day. As an owner, you need all the ammunition you can get, and a first-class call center can be a formidable weapon. 

Susan Head is vice president of sales and marketing for The S&W Group, which provides management and consulting services to self-storage owners, and Phone Advantage, a division of S&W Property Management, offering off-site rental service. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.sandgroup.com.

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