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Advice for Self-Storage Operators on Establishing and Operating Your Own In-House Contact Center

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The use of call centers has become common in the self-storage industry, and many facility operators opt to outsource these services. However, there are distinct advantages to establishing your own in-house “contact center.” Here’s why and how to set one up.

When it comes to call centers and self-storage, I believe it’s best to take the road less traveled. At my company, that means managing the operation in-house. We refer to our platform as a “contact center” because even if agents will primarily be taking phone calls, they can complete a variety of tasks via other forms of communication such as online chat, text and email.

While outsourced call centers can be an amazing resource, especially during off-peak hours, holidays, employee shortages and times of overflow, they’re still less likely to field an inquiry as well as your own facility employees. The primary advantage to creating your own contact center is you can staff it with highly trained, specialized agents armed with specific knowledge about your business model, mission, culture and facilities.

Once you start looking at the costs, you’ll likely be surprised to learn that operating your own contact center can often run the same or less per interaction than a contract with an outsourced provider. A call center for hire is certainly better than none at all, but it’s helpful to know that you can go it alone.

What follows is advice based on how we set up and run our own in-house contact center. Regardless of how you intend to use your platform, I believe you’ll find these suggestions helpful in your endeavors.

Getting Started

If you want solid coverage and results from your self-storage contact center, you’ll probably need to bring in more employees as well as someone to oversee the enterprise. Don’t think you can just have your existing managers run it by saddling them with additional tasks. To succeed, you’ll need to hire someone who understands modern contact centers and teach them the ropes of self-storage, not the other way around.

The basic formula is to hire the correct people, train them properly, treat them right, motivate them well, get them to believe in your product and trust them to do the job. If you find the right manager, they should be able to fine-tune your operation so you can achieve your goals. When hiring, ask for specifics. Regardless of title, anyone with experience in call, sales, contact, business-support or customer-care centers should have hard evidence from previous positions that they can show or quote to you during an interview. If they have only generic answers, they likely aren’t the right person for the job.

If you run your self-storage contact center like a typical call center, you’ll wind up with typical results—notably high attrition, low morale and mediocrity. However, if you run it like an office team in which each worker is their own manager, your center will be more efficient and yield better outcomes. It may be tempting to use a cookie-cutter template because it’s the easiest approach, but it won’t be the best solution.

Why not operate your contact center to maximize productivity and proficiency? Build a talented team with a strong leader who has clear objectives. Use collaborative coaching, KPI (key performance indicator) transparency and continual training.

Based on data from multiple self-storage operators that run their own centers, to maintain a respectable service level, you’ll need one agent for every eight to 10 stores. Depending on the duties you assign and coverage you wish to achieve, the staffing could be higher or lower. Remember that you don’t want to overload your agents. Though you want to eliminate downtime, filling every second of their day could lead to missed inquiries, and that’s more important than anything else they do! You want them to be immediately available to customers.

Measuring Success

In self-storage, traditional contact-center metrics such as average handle time, after-call work and schedule adherence simply aren’t as important as closing sales. In large-scale centers, it’s important to see the overall ebb and flow of communication so the operator can forecast for staffing, track marketing campaigns, identify sales trends and many other things; but on a small scale, draconian micro-management just isn’t necessary.

Focus on what you want your self-storage contact center to accomplish. Pick realistic goals and use the best metrics to gauge the success of your agents. A good starting point is to focus on conversion rate, quality control, abandoned rate, average speed to answer and first-call resolution. Some software systems don’t provide reporting on everything you may want to see, so you may need to work within the parameters of what you’ve got.

Cultivating a Strong Team

In a world where self-storage facilities have become increasingly indistinguishable from each other, the primary differentiating factor between you and the competition is your people. This is why you should strive to have the best staff, offer top-notch service and care about the customer. If you hire right, promote your team’s strengths and treat them well, contact-center success is all but guaranteed.

If you have happy contact-center employees, they’ll largely manage themselves. On a small team, anyone who doesn’t perform well will stand out. For example, new leads and existing customers will know immediately when your agents pick up the phone or answer an online chat with a smile vs. not.

There’s always a difference in service between an employee who feels truly valued vs. someone who doesn’t. Be as flexible as you can with your staff. Offer fair pay and incentives. Get their buy-in on what you’re doing and make them a valued part of your company, so they don’t view the position as a short-term gig.

Taking a Sales Approach

Refrain from limiting your contact-center agents to a rigid sales script. Instead, an outline is a wonderful place to start. Communication should be consistent and accurate, but requiring agents to follow a script verbatim is an antiquated approach. Play to your team members’ individual strengths and assign them appropriate tasks that fit their skillsets.

Being agile and adaptable are great traits of a small contact center, so if something doesn’t appear to be working, continue to make adjustments. Every company’s solution will and should be different and may even need to be handled uniquely by market. Only after research and analysis can you determine what approach is best for your specific self-storage operation.

Embracing Your Profit Center

The hallmarks of an outstanding self-storage contact center are having competent, top-notch employees who are able to handle customer-focused interactions consistently and accurately using a well-determined, conversational outline with an office-style mentality. If you can create this type of environment, you’ll close more leads and your team and staff will be happy. Not only that, the in-house resource others told you would be a cost center will be a profit center!

Best of all, this type of platform can change with the times, adapt roles and continue operating if you choose to eliminate staff from physical store locations in favor of remote management. When set up correctly and well-managed, your contact center can quickly become the most valuable part of your self-storage operation.

Adam Gray is the sales center manager for Guardian Storage, which operates more than 30 self-storage facilities throughout Colorado and Pennsylvania. With a passion for sales and customer service, he has more than two decades of contact-center experience. To reach him, email [email protected].

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