By Irv Shapiro
New developments in voice-based marketing automation can alleviate many of the self-storage market's current challenges, enabling facility operators to be more efficient while growing revenue.
For the uninitiated, voice-based marketing automation ties the most powerful elements of voice communications and Internet technologyincluding call tracking, forwarding, automation and recording as well as customer notifications and online lead generationinto a single solution that builds better customer relationships. Good voice-based marketing automation is like a Swiss Army Knife in that it offers a number of powerful tools when you need to solve real-world business problems.
Moreover, a good solution can be configured based on a specific operations business rules and organizational goals. It works in tandem with a self-storage facilitys website, marketing, customer service and collection cycles, yet it's flexible enough to accommodate changes as the business expands.
The alternative to voice-based marketing automation is a hodgepodge of disjointed phone, software and website components, which rarely streamlines the operations processes. Operators who feel like theyre spending too much and delivering too little are probably good candidates for voice-based technology. Here are a few ways it can address common challenges faced by business owners and managers.
Challenge No. 1: Driving New Business
Most self-storage facilities desire more customers but have a lower marketing budget than in the past. With a limited amount to spend on online advertising, Yellow Page ads, search-engine optimization and print materials, how can operators allocate their marketing resources to maximize new rentals?
Voice-based marketing automation provides up-to-the-minute intelligence on your marketing return. For example, an operator can place unique toll-free and local phone numbers on print and online ads, Web pages and marketing collateral; then every call he receives from these numbers is tracked and reported in real time. This gives insight into exactly where sales leads are coming from, making it easier to assign marketing dollars to the most effective channels.
Tracking phone calls also enables operators to provide customized messages to callers. For instance, if a call originates from an ad about an upcoming auction, an operator can automatically direct the caller to an auction line, providing him with more details and routing him to the most appropriate contact. In this way, voice-based marketing automation focuses best-selling efforts on the best prospects. At the same time, it lets the system take care of tasks that would otherwise distract owners and managers from obtaining new customers.
In April 2011, Uncle Bobs Self Storage determined it needed a more efficient process for managing the surge of inbound calls it was receiving as a result of TV reality shows focused on storage auctions. The more than 3,000 monthly inquiries about upcoming events put a drain on the companys resources. Calls fielded by its customer-care center were routed to the appropriate storage facility. If these callers wanted to learn about upcoming auctions at other locations, the only solution was to hang up and dial again. It was an inefficient, time-consuming process for operators and callers.
To accommodate the call volume and better route inquiries, Uncle Bobs hired a voice-based marketing company to set up an information hotline using a unique toll-free number and store locater. After being prompted to enter their ZIP code, callers automatically received details about all upcoming storage auctions at multiple facilities within a 25-mile radius of their specified location.
To streamline the process, the company provided an affordable solution with a customizable user interface, said Chris Laczi, advertising director for Uncle Bobs Self Storage. The technology behind it is remarkable, enabling us to convert data, dates and times about the auctions into a text-to-speech format a caller can hear. As soon as we update information, the hotline reflects it. Weve been able to reduce the calls by providing a resource callers may use on a recurring basis, any time, day or night.
Call recording and reporting also enables self-storage operators to identify the volume of calls, the specific prompts callers press for more information, and other call-tracking information. Maintaining a streamlined process for a direct phone line is just as important. Its a reality that self-storage operators are away from the main phone for a portion of the day, out among storage units, talking with customers, or even simply out for lunch.
Since consumers typically choose to work with the storage company that answers the phone, missing one call can mean losing a potential customer. Voice-based marketing automation ensures phone calls are automatically forwarded to the appropriate sales associate, a call center, or even the operators cell-phone number. That way, operators will never miss another call.
Challenge No. 2: Keeping Customers on Task
No-shows and late-payers are a growing challenge for most self-storage businesses. At the same time, limited staffing resources means it's not easy to call customers and remind them about their storage or truck-rental appointments. On the collections front, it takes time and effort to remind customers about late payments.
In this case, voice-based marketing automation comes to the rescue by automating reminder calls and bill collection. These calls can also be used to interact with customers, prompting them to confirm or reschedule based on their availability.
This automation offers three benefits for a storage business. First, time-consuming tasks are automatically handled. As a result, facilities can operate with fewer staff members, avoid wasting time on no-shows, and free up time for more important activities. Second, operators can increase profit by minimizing write-offs on late-paying customers. Finally, since all calls are recorded in a dashboard, operators can verify all customer inquiries were handled appropriately.
Challenge No. 3: Making the Most of Web Presence
Many storage-industry websites are unwisely judged based on how many online lead-generation forms are completed, as many are incapable of tracking visitors who subsequently pick up the phone and make a call. Thats a mistake because close rates for those phone conversations are usually much higher than leads submitted electronically.
Voice-based marketing automation addresses the problem by breaking down the walls that separate websites from phone calls. It integrates everything into a solution that makes sense, drives leads and gives clarity on results.
It starts by tracking phone calls, dynamically displaying phone numbers on a website so self-storage operators can tell where a call originated. In addition, operators can turn clickers into callers by instantaneously initiating a phone call with a prospect when a website form is submitted. They can even receive a whisper message about the prospect prior to taking a call, which can help secure the best possible sale. This whisper gives the operator information about where the call originateda Yellow Pages ad, TV, newspaper, Web, etc.
Alternatively, website visitors who call can be qualified through voice response, equipping operators with additional information prior to taking the call. With a good voice-based marketing-automation solution in hand, operators find that their website will quickly deliver results that matter.
Challenge No. 4: Having a True Understanding of Location Performance
Mystery shoppers are widely used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of individual self-storage facilities. However, mystery shoppers rarely provide valuable feedback on facility performance because managers usually know theyre being shopped.
By automatically implementing voice recording for all calls, self-storage owners can listen to a range of manager and prospect conversations. This avoids having to judge the locations performance based on one staged call from a mystery shopper. While voice recording isnt anything new to the industry, its often underutilized. This is a good way to understand true performance of a facility and eliminate costs associated with mystery shoppers.
The Next Step
Self-storage operators feeling the pain of the above challenges will find it worthwhile to learn about voice-based marketing automation. What used to be affordable only to Fortune 500 corporations is now accessible to small- and mid-sized companies.
While market dynamics can be tough to predict, one thing is certain: There has never been a better time to invest in this new technology. It can help streamline activities that often fall on the self-storage operator, such as answering the phone, collecting past-due rent, and determining how to allocate ad dollars across various mediums. Operators can instead focus their time and energy on increasing occupancy and taking care of current customers.
Irv Shapiro is CEO of Ifbyphone, where he is responsible for overall business strategy and corporate leadership. Ifbyphone works with self-storage operators to implement voice-based marketing automation. For more information, call 877.497.1040; visit www.publicifbyphone.com .