Many self-storage operators wonder if it makes sense to outsource incoming phone calls to a call center. To borrow a phrase from my favorite math teacher, the answer is always the same: “It depends.” Specifically, it depends on your understanding of the benefits and whether it’s worth the investment.
Call-center outsourcing is a business approach that ensures a third party is available to answer some, most or all your incoming customer calls. If you’re skeptical that you should focus on phone calls in the Age of the Internet, consider that 34 percent of all first contacts to self-storage facilities occur via the phone, according to the 2017 Self-Storage Demand Study published by the national Self Storage Association. The same study indicated that nearly 60 percent of all customers rent from the first facility they’re able to reach. With that in mind, can you risk missing any calls?
The 10,000-Hour Rule
Granted, it can be scary to place your trust in a third party. It’s natural to be skeptical that call-center agents won’t be as proficient as your team or you’ll be left wondering if they’re doing a great job. To alleviate these anxieties, make sure any partner you’re considering has established key performance indicators (KPIs) to increase rentals and occupancy while creating a better customer experience. A quality partner should make it easy for customers to rent from your facility.
In his book, “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell introduced the “10,000-hour rule,” which suggests that people reach expert status in a given function by completing 10,000 hours of that activity or occupation. This can correlate to the number of times a self-storage professional conducts a sales presentation. A typical call-center agent will handle 75 to 113 sales calls per day, equaling nearly 30,000 sales calls/presentations per year. Assuming your property manager has eight walk-in and phone opportunities per day, it would take him about 30 years to complete as many sales presentations as a typical full-time, call-center storage counselor!
Call-center services are wide and varied. Here’s a rundown of key service terms and what they mean.
- Interactive voice response (IVR): A technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through voice and DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) tones input via a keypad; can be integrated with your facility-management software
- Text-collection services: Uses text messaging to communicate with and collect rent from past-due tenants; can be integrated with your facility-management software
- All calls: Call center answers all inbound calls
- Rollover calls: Call center answers calls that aren’t answered by facility staff within a defined number of seconds or rings
- Sales calls only: Call center answers only inbound sales calls, determined by IVR selection or database verification of the customer as new or existing
- Live chat: Live, interactive support for website visitors
- Social media support: Call center uses platforms like Facebook and Twitter to offer customer support
- SMS: Short message service, commonly referred as text support
- Do-it-yourself platform: Operator supplies labor, call center supplies software tools
- Web leads: Outbound calls to Web forms
Let’s examine some of the key benefits call centers can bring to your self-storage business.
Operational flexibility. When an organization outsources its calls, it adds predictable elasticity to its inbound and, in many cases, outbound call capacity. This is extremely important for self-storage operations. Call volume shifts as much as 50 percent by day and up to 200 percent by 15-minute intervals. Having access to a large, flexible workforce to handle call volume is extremely important, particularly May through September.
Enhanced customer experience. Having the right number of storage consultants available to answer calls within an acceptable wait time enhances the customer experience. “Customer patience” is the amount of time a prospect or tenant will wait on the phone for an answer before he hangs up out of frustration. Research shows that patience is 20 seconds or less if the customer is attempting to make a purchase or reservation, 30 seconds or less if it’s a service call and 45 seconds or less if it’s a call to make a payment.
Greater staff productivity. The most enticing benefit of a call center is that you never miss a sales call from a potential tenant, but equally important, it gives your property managers time to focus on selling your facility’s features and benefits to walk-in customers. Let your facility manager be the “onsite closer” in addition to completing day-to-day operational duties like site walk-throughs, lock checks, site tours and other administrative tasks.
Cost-effectiveness. If you’re a numbers person, you know the importance of consistently and effectively controlling your standard operating expenses to improve net operating income. Additional rental income can make a huge difference in property valuation. To gauge return on investment for call-center outsourcing, ask yourself how much 10 to 20 additional rentals per month would add to your site’s total value.
Access to advanced technology. The internal costs associated with creating, maintaining and adding integrated telephony platforms with multi/omnichannel capabilities are extremely expensive. Purchasing a fully integrated call-center solution can easily cost six to seven figures for just the one-time hardware and software fees, not including labor or software licenses. Outsourcing gives you access to the technology at a much lower cost. To achieve the best integration with your business, ensure that your call-center provider has a direct application programming interface (API) with your facility-management software.
Selecting a Partner
When it comes to hiring a call center, do your due diligence. Don’t be shy about asking for and calling references. Review the vendor’s current-year KPI data on service-level performance by call type. Review its workforce management and forecasting approach and tools. Most importantly, tour the call center, listen to calls and meet the management team to get a good sense of the work culture. Technological advancements make it more important than ever to find a partner that can integrate with your management software while also offering a culture and focus capable of creating a low-friction customer experience for your tenants and prospects.
Dan Scaman is vice president of strategic planning and analysis for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of self-storage kiosks, call-center services and other technology. He has 30 years of experience operating large call centers, including 20 for Fortune 500 companies as a senior operations leader managing multiple U.S. call and distribution centers. For more information, call 800.481.7459; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.opentechalliance.com.