“Forget a relationship. Make it a partnership and build an empire.” ~Unknown
Many business relationships are often superficial and short-lived. True partnerships, on the other hand, go deeper. They’re defined by the shared vision and investment of all parties.
Consider your self-storage operation, for example. If enhancing your customer experience and reducing missed sales opportunities is important to you, a call center may be the answer; but it’s essential to invest in the right partnership. A true collaboration with the right provider can make a dramatic positive impact on facility success.
Outsourcing is a common business tactic. By shifting tasks or processes to a third-party contractor, you can reduce costs, increase revenue, enhance the customer experience, reduce risk and improve efficiency. A call center can handle any number of functions for your storage operation such as:
- End-to-end execution of the customer-service process
- Full inbound/outbound call-handling
- Rollover or after-hours coverage to complement your onsite staff
- Voice messaging
- Multi-channel communication management such as chat, text and email
Some vendors also provide auxiliaries such as call-management software, automated payment tools or solutions to assist your internal call-center operations.
The benefits of a cooperative partnership with a self-storage call center have been widely explored. These solutions are flexible, with the ability to quickly scale services up and down to respond to shifting need without an upcharge or overtime pay. They also provide the technological advantages of a larger operation at greatly reduced costs—phone technology, omnichannel, integrated workforce management, etc. Quality agents are experienced professionals, extensively trained in sales and customer service.
Call-center services are also cost-effective. You generally don’t pay by the hour but based on call volume. You also slash recruitment and training expenses tied to frontline staff turnover, plus free up your manager to serve in-store customers and perform the myriad of onsite property duties. Finally, a call center can offer operational resilience. Because it likely has the resources and agility to shift quickly, your store can convert to a remote operation with little, if any, disruption to your call-based business.
Know Your Expectations
Self-storage operators who’ve successfully outsourced their calls to a third party know that choosing the right partner comes down to knowing the needs of your business. It’s essential to identify the role you want the call center to play in your overall business strategy. Consider short- and long-term goals, and determine if a third party would support or detract from your core business of renting units.
If you decide a call center is the right route, it’s important to understand your anticipations and enter the relationship with clear criteria. For example, do agents need industry-specific knowledge or training? Are native English speakers or bilingual agents pertinent to your audience? What performance metrics must they report on, and what are your expectations for those assessments?
How to Evaluate Providers
Before you engage a partner, learn as much as you can about the companies in the market and the features available. Consider these key factors:
- Type and scope of services
- Language services
- Communication skills
- Ability to supply timely data/results
- Track record of performance
- Cultural fit
There are many strategies you can use to evaluate a provider against this list. Here are a few approaches:
Secret shop the call center. Pay attention to agents’ tone and engagement, their knowledge of the industry and facility they represent, and ability to successfully guide you through the customer journey. You need to feel confident that they can address your customer needs day after day, consistently.
Conduct site visits during peak and off hours. Don’t be afraid to pop by on short notice. You don’t want a partner that performs well during the week but struggles to maintain service levels on the weekends. Particularly in self-storage, where the value of each call can be exponential, every call is important regardless of when it occurs. Look for consistency across the board.
Ask a variety of questions. Inquire into relevant topics like hiring practices, or ask scenario-specific questions such as, “How do you handle situations in which...”
Know the company’s volume limits. And the call volume/traffic you’ll send and when. Ensure it has a robust workforce-management process and software application to meet the elastic demand changes in real time.
Ask to see reports on key performance indicators (KPIs). A quality call center will offer and value transparency. Make sure it tracks the things that are important to you.
Get references and speak with other clients. You want a partner with a proven track record in the self-storage industry. Ask a range of questions that’ll help you evaluate the provider for reliability, quality, communication and cultural fit. Avoid providers that frequently experience agent shortages, long hold times, platform outages, etc.
Consider software and system compatibility. Do the provider’s services integrate with your existing property-management system? Does the company offer an open application programming interface to easily integrate with the services you want to use?
Evaluate complementary services or integrations. These might include automated payments, call-management software, access-control support, etc.
Throughout the evaluation process, take note of the company’s openness to your questions and alignment with your objectives. Look for a sense of partnership in all your interactions, as this is one of the biggest determinants of your success. Consider if it has the capacity to represent your brand and support how you might to want to uniquely engage with customers.
Finally, consider the company’s location. In our global economy, many owners are tempted by the promise of reduced costs to partner with a nearshore or offshore call center. While cost is important, the goal should be to create the best customer experience possible. Onshore call centers mitigate language or culture barriers, ease changes and ramp-up time, and ensure agents and customers can easily relate to one another. In the self-storage industry, the expected savings from a nearshore or offshore call center won’t offset the lack of control you’d experience.
Best Practices for Success
Don’t assume the call center is going to do exactly what you want. It’s important to set clear expectations at the outset as well as what responsibilities your organization will maintain. Spell it out in as much detail as you can, so there are no surprises on either end. Clearly identify how the company’s services fit into your overall business strategy, and communicate to staff in both organizations how their roles contribute to your objectives. Ask lots of questions. Challenge what may seem like standard practice to make sure you’re getting the right service.
Don’t be afraid to continually evaluate your partner, and make a switch if things aren’t working. Just be sure to address your concerns with your provider before you jump ship, as continuous and open communication is key to ensuring a successful partnership. If it still can’t meet your expectations, find a call center that can.
It’s also important to define your call flow. A good provider should be able to offer guidance on what works for self-storage. Identify if there’s specific verbiage you want to use and develop a consistent call flow with your team. Here’s some additional guidance:
Track. Measure. Adjust. Repeat. Make sure your call center tracks and regularly reports on KPIs that are important to your operation. Metrics to evaluate include call-volume trends, hold times, average speed to answer, conversion rates and reservation volume trends. Define what success looks like and determine which metrics will be focused on by both parties. Establish a cadence of engagement, feedback and escalation rules to reduce any delays.
Dig into your data. Consider correlations in your customer-acquisition funnel. For example, if call volume is low, review your inbound channels to see if any are having trouble feeding into the call center. Also, evaluate the quality of leads coming out of the call center. Are they becoming higher quality, or less prepared and less qualified? Try to understand why that’s happening so you can adjust or replicate success.
Consider call calibration. Regular calls with those who supervise the agents ensures that operators, managers, supervisors and quality-assurance teams can effectively evaluate agent performance and improve customer service. This ensures your service provider scores key behaviors for success. Listening to a sample of calls helps you evaluate non-quantifiable indicators of performance, such as agent tone and engagement, as well as adherence to call flow and progression of the customer journey.
Maintain an ongoing feedback and coaching loop. A good partner will communicate challenges it’s facing so you can collectively decide how issues should be addressed. Then your organization can move toward a consistent, thorough message and brand promise. It’s important to partner with a call center that’s able to quickly adjust to feedback, while seamlessly implementing new tools or strategies. Find one that’s open to your contributions and welcomes the level of involvement you want and are prepared to take. But be prepared to invest the time as well.
Your ability to find success with a third-party call center ultimately comes down to identifying the specific needs of your storage operation, in tandem with a thoughtful approach to researching and choosing your provider and dedication to an ongoing investment into the partnership. In self-storage, one thing is certain: It’s essential to answer calls quickly and consistently. If you don’t, another facility or its call center partner will!
This article was co-authored by OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of self-storage kiosks, call-center services and other technology, and Simply Self Storage (SSS), which operates more than 100 self-storage facilities in United States and Puerto Rico. The companies have a long-standing, collaborative partnership. For more information, visit www.opentechalliance.com and www.simplyss.com.
John Hirschfeld, senior district manager for SSS, has held a management role with the company for 14 years. Kerry Richard, senior vice president of operations for SSS, has more than 25 years of experience in self-storage executive leadership roles. Kimberly Robinson is the communications manager for OpenTech. She has more than 12 years of experience in communications and has worked in the self-storage industry for nearly two years.