ISS BLOG - Self-Storage Operators Need to Remember the ‘Customer’ Component in the Customer Experience

As a self-storage operator, you’re likely very busy every day. You’re juggling dozens of tasks and every one is critical to the success of your business. Yet, one of the most prominent aspects of this can sometimes be forgotten—your customer. A recent experience at a retail store was an eye opener on how this can happen. Read this tale and pick up some pointers on how to provide the ultimate customer experience to your tenants and prospects.

Amy Campbell, Senior Editor

February 16, 2024

5 Min Read

Last Sunday, I needed to return a piece of equipment that I had rented to a home-improvement store. While there, I also planned to pick up a few banker’s boxes. It was 7 a.m. and I had a full day ahead of me, so I headed out with the intention to quickly complete these tasks. I arrived at the store at 7:08, precisely eight minutes after it opened. Although there were employees in the store, including a friendly cashier I passed on my way in, there was no one stationed at the equipment-rental area. So … I waited. Five minutes passed, then I headed back to the cashier and asked her to call someone. An employee arrived shortly to let me know that “he’s on his way.” Well, “he” finally showed up just before 7:30. The nearly 22-minute wait for something that should’ve taken minutes set off my black mood. On to the next task!

I headed to the back (back, back) of the store for those boxes. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found. I trekked back to the front and asked the person in customer service to send an employee to help me track them down. I knew the store had 14 of them because that’s what the website showed. I then went back to waiting … and waiting. After 10 minutes, I called the store and reminded her that I was in the back and expecting assistance. To my surprise, her response was “We don’t have anyone working in that department right now.” My retort was something like, “How is that my problem? Call a manager.”

After more time passed, I was done with this disappointing errand. As I began to walk away, a store manager arrived along with an employee. I vented my frustration about waiting for nearly 20 minutes for assistance. Rather than the usual, “We’re sorry. How can we help you,” he decided to reiterate “We don’t have anyone working in this department right now.” They obviously missed the session on what not to say to a customer. It was as if I was bothering them rather than a paying customer looking to make a purchase from their store.

To their credit, they did find the elusive boxes, which were tucked two shelves up behind another box type, and it involved using one of those huge ladders that always seem to be in the way. The manager’s attitude changed a bit after catching wind of my frustration and he did apologize.

In the end, what should’ve been a 15-minute in and out stop took more than an hour. I should’ve been prepared, though. My family has a running joke about this store brand and how you can never find an employee when you need one. Still, the encounter threw off my day and mood, but at least it provided good fodder for this week’s blog! So, here’s my advice to ensure you spare your self-storage tenants from having a similar experience.

Be there. Sounds simple, right? If your store opens at 8 a.m., be in your office and ready to go at 8 a.m. If you need to be on the property, your self-storage tenants and prospects need a way to reach you. Many operators use the traditional clock sign with the “I’ll be back” message. But you should also add a phone number and have it forwarded to your cell phone. On that note, owners, your site should have a dedicated cell phone managers can carry when they’re away from the office. Although many property managers are willing to use their personal cell phones, a dedicated number for the business is better for everyone.

Be stocked. If you say you have a product or service, make sure you actually have it! If you advertise that your facility sells an array of box sizes, don’t just have small ones on hand. Stay on top of your inventory so your retail store is always flush with product.

Be accountable. All too often, people make excuses rather than take ownership of their errors. Look, we all make mistakes. We’re human! If you’re in the wrong, admit it and fix it. Two of the three employees I spoke with that day never uttered the words, “I’m sorry,” including the guy who was more than 20 minutes late to work! While you might not think it, these words have real power. Often, your self-storage tenant just wants to be heard. When you spout lines like, “It’s company policy,” even when it’s true, it won’t pacify them. Rather, listen and then find a solution. You’re in the business of customer service, which means serving the customer.

Be staffed. Yes, staffing is a huge problem in all industries, including self-storage. My own team is down a person right now and it has created a burden on all of us. If your company needs more employees, don’t put it off. The labor market isn’t likely to improve any time soon. You might also take a look at your scheduling and determine how you can better cover the shifts. Perhaps you can automate some tasks or cross-train employees for better coverage. You might even look into hiring a call center to handle overflow calls.

I don’t have to remind you that the quest to lure and keep self-storage customers is competitive these days. Many markets are seeing an influx in development, and investors are snatching up older sites that have been neglected for years and turning them into money-making machines. The competition is very real for nearly every self-storage operator. The glory days of 100% occupancy that your facility experienced during the pandemic (and the trickle into last year) are no longer a guarantee.

Moreover, self-storage isn’t new, and your customer is becoming more demanding and savvier about where they choose to store. They’re not going to call you five times until you finally answer. They’re going to skip your website if it doesn’t have the info they need. They’re not going to wait outside your rental office until you return. They’ll simply move on because they can. Don’t let that happen. Maintain your site and work hard to provide the best customer experience you can. This will foster a loyal tenant base that’s proud to sing your praises.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Senior Editor, Inside Self Storage

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