Call centers have become increasingly popular in self-storage. Not only are they able to handle heavy call volume, they’re often the most cost-effective, efficient way to supplement or replace facility employees. The challenge for many owners lies in believing call-center agents will handle calls as well as (or better than) onsite staff. While a call center likely won’t be better than your managers, it can be more available; and availability is critical in securing rentals.
Though answering a phone is a simple concept, it’s amazing how complex the systems are that allow a call center to be an efficient extension of your business. When considering the use of a call center, it’s important to know what features to seek. Here are three key elements to keep in mind: integration, automation and reporting.
When shopping around, one of the most important aspects to consider is whether the call center can integrate with your management software. This is important because it allows agents to see your unit pricing and availability in real time. If they can’t view this information, they’ll only be taking messages, which isn’t much better than voicemail. It’s good if they can process payments and better still if they can perform a full rental.
Phone calls are leads and should be treated like gold. The most effective time to solidify a sale is right when the customer is on the phone ready to buy. If the call center is required to forward a lead or reservation to the facility manager for follow-up, there’s a good chance it’ll be too late by the time the prospect is reached. A trained agent who can process a rental over the phone is an asset to your business.
Though self-storage tenants are increasingly comfortable with paying bills online or via autopay, some still prefer to call the facility to pay their bill. One call-center feature that can help minimize costs and increase convenience is an interactive voice response (IVR) payment system, which allows tenants to pay by phone.
The IVR system will need to integrate with your management software so it knows the tenant’s balance and can authenticate his account. The tenant can then pay using his phone keypad at any time of day, without having to speak to a person. Once the payment has processed, it’ll be reflected in the tenant’s account and any reports you run. This level of automation increases customer convenience and comfort without sacrificing functionality.
The reporting capabilities of a self-storage call center are significant. If you’re going to use a call center, find out which specific metrics it tracks. Here are some it might measure:
- Average caller wait time
- Abandoned call percentage
- Service level
- Number of rentals
- Number of payments
- Current tenant callers vs. new customers
- Spam calls
The No. 1 goal is for each call to be answered in a timely manner, so understanding your average caller wait time is key. It’s also important to know the types of calls your facility receives. There’s a perception that most calls to established storage facilities are new customers trying to rent, but data indicates that 70 percent to 80 percent are from existing tenants. Getting new business may be your top priority, but a close second should be taking care of current customers and keeping them happy. A good call center will provide key phone metrics specific to your facility, so you know when and where to focus marketing efforts and other resources.
Learning to Trust
Trusting a call center to help your business may be a little nerve-wracking at first. That’s completely understandable. Talk to industry peers to see how they like the service and which features have helped them the most.
You’ll likely discover that each call center offers something unique that sets it apart. Look for one that suits your business and the way you like to run things. Some centers will be flexible about what they can do for you, while others won’t offer as many options. Either way, a reputable partner should provide the technology and features to help you cut costs, increase efficiency and enhance the overall customer experience.
Christian Thurgood is director of the call-management department for Easy Storage Solutions, a provider of Web-based management software and other technology for small to mid-sized self-storage facilities. His team has helped thousands of business owners automate their facilities and increase profitability and efficiency. For more information, call 888.958.5967; visit www.storageunitsoftware.com/call-management-services.