Customer service is a topic that has filled books, lecture halls and training manuals since the dawn of retail. While the concept is fairly simple, it’s taken on an almost Herculean life of its own.
What customer-service formula should you follow for your self-storage business? Whose cute acronym will make your operation the most successful? I like to keep my business as simple as possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say “stupid-simple,” as in the KISS theory: “Keep it simple, stupid.” Here are four tricks for keeping your service model stupid-simple.
Stupid-Simple Trick 1: Infusive Service
Self-storage is unique. We’re trusted with customers’ most valued possessions, but we only see most of these people for about 15 minutes, during the rental process. Then they move out a year later, and we see them for a few minutes again. The whole exchange can seem cold and unfriendly.
Since we don’t see our customers often, I like to use “infusive service.” Infusive means inspiring or influencing. Your goal is help customers see the awesomeness of your facility. Have you ever had a tenant compliment you on the cleanliness of your property? That’s a result of infusive service. From a passive act, you’ve inspired your customer.
Infusive service is essential in self-storage. While you might only see your customers two or three times during their stay, they might visit their unit dozens of times, so everything little thing you do can have a huge impact.
How do you increase infusive service? Look at everything the customer touches—figuratively and literally—and ask how you can improve that experience. Word your signage so you communicate your messaging in an entertaining way. E-mail tenants a few times before assessing a late fee. Pipe music into your loading areas. Spend $4 every Saturday and give away cold bottles of water. By doing little things over time and paying attention to details, you’ll build a store brand that will inspire customers. This infusive service is the essence of operating a finely tuned facility.
Stupid-Simple Trick 2: Interaction
The second trick deals with direct customer interaction. It’s typically what we imagine customer service to be.
When I took a college statistics class I learned two things: One, I hated college statistics; and two, the bell curve is widely applicable to the world. Imagine we had a bell curve to represent the self-storage customer base. On one side of the bell, you have the customers who love us no matter what we do. We could dump rats into their units and they would say, “Well, I was thinking about getting some pets.” On the other side of the curve are the people for which we can’t do anything right. They want a reduction in rent because their 10-by-10 unit is really 9 feet, 11 inches on a side. Guess what? These are also the people who are most likely to leave a bad online review. Yikes!
Your sweet spot is the people in the middle of the curve. Fortunately, this is also your majority. These are the customers who need the most attention. When they feel special and appreciated, they’ll post positive reviews, refer your property to others and be loyal tenants.
Stupid-Simple Trick 3: The Right Staff
The third trick for providing the ultimate customer service is to put the right employees in place. In my short storage career, I’ve seen the change in industry professionalism. I tend to hire a more energetic employee, even if he’s inexperienced, while other operators might prefer a more sedate but seasoned crew. There’s no wrong way, but hire for personality and attitude.
At times, hiring is difficult and there may be occasions when you’re under the gun. Nevertheless, take as much time as you need to find the right people. Teaching someone how to use the computer and operate the store is the easy part. Teaching them how to deal with customers is the hard part. If you want someone to treat your customers right, hire someone who’s friendly!
Stupid-Simple Trick 4: Guiding Principles
The fourth stupid-simple customer-service trick is to teach your employees guiding principles and give them the power to self-manage. Every company needs “rules,” but I cringe at that term. It stifles creativity and encourages people to look at things in only one way.
The worst work culture you can create is one governed by fear, where employees are afraid to fix a customer-service situation because of an angry boss. Empower your staff to solve problems as they arise. Here’s an example.
One day I was working the desk when a customer entered the store. He wanted a late fee waived because his wife had been getting the e-mails. As it was our policy to charge the fee, I informed him it was his responsibility to keep his e-mail address up-to-date, and I wasn’t going to waive the fee. He then told me his wife was sick and hadn’t told him the rent was due. Still, I said the fee would stand. He decided it was a matter of principle to get this fee waived, and even threatened to move out. Then, after 10 minutes of arguing, I had a realization. This wasn’t who I was and not how I wanted to do business. I stopped and sincerely apologized to the customer. I waived the $15, and two-plus years later, he’s still paying $400 per month for his unit.
Guiding principles are in place to help you make good decisions. Once in a while, it makes sense to break the rules to provide the best service you can.
Dealing with customers is rewarding and exhausting. However, we’re in the business of helping people in need. At times, they need you to be on your A-game. I urge you to post the following customer-service quote from Mahatma Gandhi somewhere so you can see it on a regular basis. It’s one of my favorites:
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
Rick Beal is the district manager and part owner of Cubes Self Storage in Salt Lake City. His goal is to help a historically slow-changing industry embrace new, innovative ideas. His professional motto is “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” He can be reached at email@example.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick.