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Delivering a Disney-Style Customer Experience at Your Self-Storage Facility

The folks at Disney know a thing or two about creating an amazing customer experience, and self-storage operators can borrow some the brand’s ideas and apply them to their own business. Consider these three ways to elevate your business to the level of magical and memorable.

CJ Pomerantz

March 8, 2023

8 Min Read
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When walking around a Disney theme park, you’ll pick up on tiny but meaningful details as you move from Main Street U.S.A. to Adventureland to Galaxy’s Edge and beyond. For example, you might notice that employees never point at anything with a single finger but rather with a whole-hand gesture. Or how the walkways shift from blacktop to worn cobblestones to perfectly smooth ferrocrete depending on the area. Or that there’s a trashcan every 30 feet.

Why does one of the most successful companies on Earth take such a comprehensive approach to customer experience (CX)? Because it’s both necessary and demanding, even for a company like Disney!

When you offer a product like self-storage, it’s even more of a challenge. Not only does the average consumer not know what unit size they need, much less about unit features, but to them, all you’re really renting is several cubic feet of air. They don’t understand the value of climate-controlled units, quality door locks and other facility amenities. At the end of the day, they see you selling the most commoditized item on the planet: empty space! Even when you explain your features and benefits, customers see them as a marginal value-add at best.

How Disney Can Help

So, how does a self-storage operator differentiate their business to make a positive impression and win each and every rental? That’s where Disney comes in. What Walt Disney realized from the very beginning was that he wasn’t just selling rides, or parades, barbershop quartets or stage shows. He was selling entertainment. And entertainment is a commodity, just like empty space.

When you buy a ticket to Disneyland, you aren’t purchasing something tangible; you’re investing in the smile on your kid’s face as they meet their favorite princess or face down Darth Vader in a duel of the Force. You get the wind in your hair on Big Thunder Mountain, the thrill of sailing through a pirate battle, and the chill of riding through a ghoulish haunted mansion. What you take home is your memory of those experiences.

You don’t have to build the Disneyland of self-storage facilities to take advantage of the lessons Walt taught us. You just need to ensure that your customers’ experience with your business is top-notch. From the moment they find your facility in person or online, through the rental process and the lifetime of their tenancy, you want to guarantee that everything isn’t only easy for them but magical and memorable.

When what you’re selling is the same as your competitor—at least, in the eyes of the consumer—you need to make the CX your differentiator. And that’s something over which you have total control. All it takes is a shift in your mindset.

So, what can you do to improve your self-storage CX? Disney focuses on three key elements in delivering what they call “quality service.” They are cast (employees), setting (where you do business) and process. Let’s look at each and how you might apply them to your operation.

Cast

Go to any Disney property, and you’ll see lots of amazing things. One you won’t see, though, is pointing. It’s a policy taught to every cast member, from front-line maintenance all the way to the CEO. And the reason is simple: In some cultures, pointing is rude. Disney wants to deliver exceptional service to every person with whom they interact, and avoiding discourtesy is an easy way to start. So rather than point at things, cast members gesture with their whole hand. Small details add up to a big impression.

Facility employees can also be a difference-maker in self-storage. You can make sure your team greets every customer with a smile and a cheerful voice. Also, never make a visitor feel dumb for asking a question, even if it’s one for which you think the answer is obvious.

Are you the only staffed storage facility in your area? Great! That’s a chance for you to deliver excellent CX and build a relationship with customers every time they set foot on your property. Even for unattended sites, employees can provide an exceptional experience via phone, chat and email. In fact, these opportunities to interact with tenants are even more important since they happen less frequently.

Setting

Why did Walt make sure the paving in his parks is different in each land? How many people are really going to notice such a subtle change when they’re trying to keep up with eager children? Well, it turns out that even if you aren’t aware of it at the top of your mind, you still register it, and it lends to the sense that you’re leaving behind the mundane and going somewhere exciting and new.

In self-storage, there are few different settings in which customers interact with a facility:

Website. This should be attractive and guide visitors to the information they need easily and intuitively. It should allow them to make their reservation or rental simply and seamlessly. This is also your best chance—and maybe the only one—to educate them on the value of your features and benefits. Make sure your website includes content that tells people what makes your facility unique. What makes you different from competitors?

Management office. This should be clean and well-lit. All counters and furniture should be immaculate. You don’t have to constantly replace these fixtures, but you do have to take care of them and make sure they’re tidy. This isn’t simply a service station, it’s where business connections are made. Also, it should smell fresh!

The grounds and units. Your self-storage property should be clean, free of clutter and trash, and well-lit. A customer should never have to tell you there’s debris in a drive aisle or hallway. They should never open the door to a dusty, musty unit. Walking the facility a few times a day (and more often during busy times of the month) should be the standard practice. Remember, people need to feel they and their belongings are safe on site.

Process

Now, about those trashcans. Why are there so many of them? Well, at Disney, they practice what they call “guestology.” Basically, their cast members pay attention to everything that could affect how a guest interacts with the park. After lots of observation, they realized the average time a person would carry a piece of trash before dropping it on the ground was 27 steps, or a little more than 30 feet. Guess what the precise distance between trashcans is at Disney parks?

Your process is where you tie together employees and setting with your business practices and training to ensure you deliver a great CX every time. At Disneyland, this meant following people through the park and counting the steps between when they finished eating a hot dog and dropped the wrapping on the ground. In self-storage, it means diving into the data about your customers and figuring out how to meet them where they are.

For example, using tools like call tracking lets you see what time we’re getting calls from customers, from where they’re coming, and how they respond to sales scripts. Walking your facility to clean and do basic maintenance keeps you on top of what happens at the property. Do this at the same time on the same days and make it a habit. You can have the most beautiful facility with the friendliest employees, but without the processes that allow them to shine, it won’t matter.

These are simple things to manage, but they take attention to detail that your competitors might not be willing or able to sustain. By doing them well and consistently, you’ll give your self-storage customers a great experience.

Spread the Word

The last thing to mention is Disney parks’ most effective tool isn’t the ads you see on TV, or their movies or toys. It’s the people who visit their properties. The thing that most often pushes a person to book tickets and hotels is when a friend comes back from a trip and talks about how much fun they had.

In self-storage, perhaps no one will be talking about how exciting it was to load stuff into their unit, but they might talk about how easy you made the process. And the best way to make sure everyone knows that is to ask for reviews. Most customers won’t leave a review for a business unless the experience was exceptionally good or bad—unless you ask them. So, ask! No matter what happens, thank them for the opportunity to improve your processes.

Every business needs to give its customers a great CX if they want them to come back. But for a business selling a commodity like self-storage, it’s even more critical.

Author’s note: The above information about Disney business practices came from the book “Be Our Guest,” by The Disney Institute and Theodore Kinni.

CJ Pomerantz has been working in digital marketing for more than a decade, with clients in industries ranging from pets to powersports to real estate. He’s currently the product manager for Automatit, which provides digital-marketing services to the self-storage industry including website development, search engine optimization, paid search, call tracking and more. For more information, call 520.214.3628.

About the Author(s)

CJ Pomerantz

Product Manager, Automatit Inc.

CJ Pomerantz has been working in digital marketing for more than a decade, with clients in industries ranging from pets to powersports to real estate. He’s currently the product manager for Automatit, which provides digital marketing services to the self-storage industry including website development, search engine optimization, paid search, call tracking and more. For more information, call 520.214.3628.

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