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What It Takes to Deliver 5-Star Customer Service in Self-Storage

It isn’t enough to provide good customer service anymore. Now, every business is expected to provide five-star service. What does that look like in the self-storage industry and how do you deliver it? Read this article and find out.

Douglas Stirling

January 19, 2023

5 Min Read
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Quick: Think about the single best customer-service interaction you’ve ever had in your life. Then think about a company that provides an outstanding customer experience every time you interact with it. Which was easier to recall? In both cases, you likely feel some loyalty to that brand, right?

The tremendous value and power of exceptional customer service is something luxury brands worldwide figured out long ago. The million-dollar question is how to recreate that secret sauce in the self-storage industry. How do we exceed expectations so our company is remembered and earns customer loyalty? Let’s find out, so you can provide five-star service every time.

First, Master the Basics

For just a moment, let’s revisit Customer Service 101. Are you smiling when speaking with a customer face to face or over the phone? Is your property clean and organized? Nothing is more off-putting than an office that’s dirty and cluttered. It’ll be viewed as a reflection of how you do business.

Are you attempting to build rapport with your self-storage prospects and tenants, or are your conversations filled with deafening silence? Relationship-building questions aren’t just a means of closing the sale. They’re critical for making your customer feel comfortable, which hopefully results in a new rental or extended length of stay.

Do you genuinely seek solutions for your customers? We don’t always deal with happy people. In fact, some of our conversations are downright difficult. These are make or break moments many companies tend to fumble. In self-storage, we sometimes get wrapped up in explaining a policy or procedure to a tenant instead of showing them that we’re working toward a fix for their problem. Your job is to demonstrate that you’re pulling on the same side of the rope.

Be the Expert

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, let’s dig deeper. To provide five-star service, it isn’t enough to be friendly or even efficient; you must also be knowledgeable in your self-storage position. If I’m your customer and my interaction with you took much longer than it should have because you couldn’t answer my questions, a big smile isn’t going to save the day.

Being the expert means responding in a timely manner to customer concerns and questions, and returning their calls, emails and texts as quickly as possible. It’s helping new renters choose the right unit size and explaining how your moving and packing materials will help them preserve their items.

If you’re an area or district manager, be the example for your team. The most effective leaders expect high standards of themselves before they demand it from others. Provide effective training. Observe employee interactions with customers and provide thoughtful feedback and guidance where needed. Update your training materials and protocols to introduce and enforce your commitment to five-star service.

Once you get this ball rolling, you must be consistent, or you’ll lose momentum. Aristotle said it best: “Quality is not an act; it is a habit.” Always exhibit and expect high standards.

Practice the Three Rs

When I took over as area manager several years ago, a concept that worked well for me was the three Rs: rentals, reviews and retention. This helped me reinforce with my team that providing outstanding customer service is a consistent commitment with tangible, trackable benefits.

Rentals. By raising our standards, we weaponize our customer service against our competitors to gain new rentals. This starts with the prospect’s first impression of our business. We show them that we appreciate their time by being knowledgeable and efficient. We prove that we want their business by being patient, courteous and helpful.

Reviews. Once your customer has chosen you for their storage needs, strike while the iron is hot ask for an online review. The benefits are plentiful and well-documented. Over the last five years, my company’s 18-property portfolio has received more than 11,000 reviews across multiple platforms. This result came from providing top-tier service and asking for a review at every move-in. Even if your company uses automated messages via email or text to request reviews, nothing gets a more sincere evaluation from a customer than going above and beyond for them during move-in and then asking them how you did.

Alternatively, you can ask for the review at move-out. That’s more of a long game; however, if it’s positive, it’s also carries more weight with readers.

Retention. This is the real test of the experience you’re providing for customers. Do they want to keep renting with you? The easier and more pleasant you are to do business with, the longer they’ll stay. Start tracking your average tenancy if you aren’t already. This is a measure of your ability to create that five-star service.

Live On in Their Mind

Years ago, our organization made a determined effort to make exemplary customer service our competitive advantage. It requires setting an expectation of excellence, training to that expectation and coaching for improvement.

What’s are the current expectations in your self-storage operation? What does five-star service look like at your facilities? It’s an important question to answer, now more than ever.

A big step in the right direction is to recognize that every interaction we have with our customers, wherever and however it occurs, is an opportunity. We can take advantage of it or push prospects to our competitors. And there are so many more chances to provide five-star service than just the rental process! We have monthly payments, account updates, cold water bottles on hot days, vacate notices and more. When you make the customer feel their time and presence are truly valued, it lives on in their mind—rent free!

Douglas Stirling is director of operations for San Diego Self Storage, which operates 18 locations in Southern California. During his 10 years in the self-storage industry, he’s held nearly every operational role. He started at the front desk renting units, then site manager to area manager of nine properties. He now oversees the success of the entire 1.5 million rentable square foot portfolio. Douglas is a Marine Corps veteran with extensive leadership experience and currently an MBA candidate working on his second graduate business degree. To reach him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Douglas Stirling

Area Manager, San Diego Self Storage

Douglas Stirling is an area manager for San Diego Self Storage, which operates 18 facilities in California. He came to self-storage after four years and three combat deployments in the United States Marine Corps. He uses his military leadership skills and education to manage more than $100 million in self-storage assets. To contact him, call 800.615.5016; visit www.sandiegoselfstorage.com.

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