If youve never used a call center to help your self-storage property rent space, then you may have some misconceptions about what a call center can be. If you have used or are currently using a call center, whether in-house or outsourced, you probably still have some false impressions of the service. Ill attempt to cover the most common misunderstandings from my unique perspective as a call-center operator. I may be a bit biased, but I'll do my best to provide a realistic overview.
Misconception 1: Call Center Turnover Is High
Some self-storage operators think call-center agents are a band of free-spirited, counter-culture anarchists who float from job to job. While its true that call-center work can be very convenient for students or part-timers who work other jobs, its also true that these positions sometimes occur early in a persons career, making it seem like theres more turnover at these centers than one might like.
The fact is most call-center employees are long-term professional agents who specialize in sales or customer service. They make a career of this type of work and have long tenures when they find a good environment that suits their skill set.
Many call centers also have a set of performance standards and adherence policies that make it unlikely that underperformers will stay. This can also contribute to a turnover rate. Most call centers have a core group of long-term, experienced agents supplemented by students and part-timers. This mix is ideal for managing seasonal call-volume variations and the fluctuations of client-account requirements. So, really, call-center turnover is not high.
Misconception 2: Call Centers Make a Lot of Money
This is a very big misconception. The competitive nature of bidding on contracts and the tight access to capital for non-real estate-related businesses, coupled with the high costs of labor and technology, means margins are slim in the call-center world. A typical call center may not experience any more than a 20 percent margin.
For storage operators who are often generating bottom-line profit when a store is 50 percent occupied, a 20 percent margin must look like a lot of trouble for not much return. Theres a misconception that technology makes call centers more efficient and cheaper to run. In fact, the opposite is true. Its costly to buy and very costly to maintain. Most call centers have several different platforms that must work together nicely. Its very expensive to make all this integration look easy and make everything work to a satisfactory level.
When you get your invoice from your call-center provider, know that it needs to be about 20 percent larger for you to feel the least bit envious about the net operating income.
Misconception 3: Call-Center Agents Dont Know Anything About My Locale
One positive affect of technology is the ability for call-center agents to feel local even when they're not. Using website information, mapping and photo technologies, an agent can have almost as much information about a location as someone whos standing right in front of the storage facility. A lack of local knowledge is no more than a minor disadvantage. Before an efficient Internet, this may have been an issue. Now, an agents location poses no real difficulties and is almost never a deal-killer with a customer.
Some people think all call-center agents are in the India or the Philippines. Thats not the case. Even if it were true, training and technology advances have erased much of the cross-border difficulties one might have experienced several years ago. I regularly speak with outstanding call-center agents who are off-shore.
Misconception 4: Call-Center Agents Dont Care About My Store
This is a strange misconception because agents salaries are paid by you, and you only pay the call center when your phone calls are handled well. The truth is call-center agents often care more about your stores and your customers than you do.
Its not unusual for us to track down a manager or owner to help an after-hours caller because he ran into a problem. Often, the manager or owner doesn't want to be bothered, but we track him down anyway because a customer is upset or in need. Give us a little credit on this one. We know who butters our bread.
Misconception 5: Call Centers Are Only Good for New Rentals
Wrong. Yes, call centers are great for capturing rentals, but theyre also great for giving your current customers a good experience and helping you manage tenant interactions. Dont just look at the rental activity when evaluating the return on your call-center investment.
Misconception 6: Call Center Agents Cant Sell as Well as My In-Store Staff
Maybe, maybe not. How much time do you spend training, coaching, monitoring, evaluating, re-training, motivating and correcting your staff on sales prowess? Call centers spend a lot of time on these activities because they're core to the success of the operation and to the retention of staff and clients.
Misconception 7: Call Centers Cant Use My Software
Most call centers are capable of a certain level of integration depending on the software version youre using. Most also have easy work-arounds in case you use a software thats not in an integration package, so no worries here.
If youre considering how a call center fits into your program or if youre trying to develop a closer relationship with the one youre currently using, these seven misconceptions need not cloud your thinking. As our world becomes smaller and more interconnected, youll eventually need someone for your prospects and customers to talk to at all hours of the day, any time they call.
In spite of the rise of the Internet and the wave of mobile-device use, people still like to talk to real people about their issues and questions. How you deal with this reality is up to you. Dont let these myths stop you from considering the call-center alternative.
Tron Jordheim is the chief marketing officer of StorageMart and director of PhoneSmart. He has consulted for many self-storage companies and spoken at industry events in Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to joining StorageMart, he managed one of Culligans top U.S. bottled-water franchises. For more information, visit www.phone-smart.net .