Not every self-storage business has the staff, time or tools to meet the expectations of today’s customer. On phone-based sales inquiries, callers expect an answer in 40 seconds or less—five rings max, according to a study conducted by my company. For a facility manager who’s busy with tenants, lock checks, facility maintenance and more, this may not always be possible. And if you don’t have anyone answering calls, you can miss out on more than a third of new renters, the study shows.
Sometimes it makes sense to look outside your team to get things done and give your staff and customers the support they need. If you’ve considered outsourcing your phone-based sales and support to a call center, read on to learn everything you need to know.
How It Works
Call centers employ teams of dedicated customer-service agents to handle inbound and even outbound calls on behalf of other businesses. They sometimes provide additional services designed to support multiple stages of the customer journey and enhance the tenant experience. In fact, a call center can handle any number of functions for your self-storage facility, providing rollover or after-hours coverage and muti-channel communication management. Just keep in mind that services can vary widely by vendor, so make sure you understand what a company offers before you commit.
Inbound services. Agents answer tenant calls and messages as they come in. They might handle a variety of tasks such as taking payments, making reservations or appointments, answering customer inquiries, and processing rentals and move-outs.
Outbound services. These address additional duties that are often time-consuming and tedious. They often involve the representative making a call (or several) to do things like collect delinquent rent, follow up on reservations and appointments, and conduct customer research.
Ancillary services. Many call centers offer add-on services to complement your base package and automate processes for even greater labor savings. These might include:
- Chat and text-based support
- Live video support via an onsite kiosk
- Automated, text-based payments and collections
- Voicemail and email
- Tenant gate-access support
- 24-hour coverage
- Full-service remote management
Benefits of Outsourcing
Hiring a call center allows you to easily add knowledge, skills and capacity to your team that you don’t have, will struggle to find, and will pay more to hire and develop. Your operation gets the benefit of bilingual, seasoned sales and service experts who are always on-hand. Plus, if your vendor serves the self-storage industry exclusively, they’ll have intimate knowledge of the business. As a bonus, they’ll allow you to scale your team up or down to meet the unique needs of each facility you operate, which increases staff capacity and coverage hours, and your ability to grow.
A call center can help you capture sales and provide superior service without a hefty price tag. It even reduces your labor costs, which quickly add up when you factor in recruitment, training, benefits and more. Because call centers support multiple portfolios and use workforce management to maximize employee efficiency, you get to access skilled labor at a reduced price.
Moreover, a call center allows you to wield the same infrastructure and technology as larger self-storage operators without the expense or time of developing or purchasing it yourself. These tools can help you manage multiple properties efficiently and increase visibility into your call performance.
In addition to expert, scalable, cost-effective staff support, your call center should offer things like call routing, chat services, quality assurance, call and conversion tracking, and insight into key performance indicators (KPIs). Perhaps most important, it should give you the ability to serve customers in real-time in the channel of their choice—phone, chat, text, etc.—so provide consistent, superior service. You’ll outshine the competition in your market!
Finding the Right Partner
Before you engage a self-storage call center, 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 offered
- Location and language services
- Communication skills
- Agent quality and expertise
- Ability to supply timely data and results
- Track record of performance
- Cultural fit
To evaluate a vendor against the above list, consider the following approaches:
- Secretly shop them. Pay attention to agent tone and engagement, their knowledge of the industry and facility they’re representing, and their ability to successfully guide you through the appropriate customer journey.
- Ask to see KPI reports. A quality partner will offer and value transparency. Make sure they track the things that are important to you. Key metrics to evaluate include hold times, average speed to answer, conversion rates, etc.
- Conduct site visits. Don’t be afraid to surprise the vendor during on- and off-peak hours. You don’t want a partner that performs well during the week but struggles to maintain service levels on the weekends. Look for consistency.
- Get references. Speak with other clients. You want a company with a proven track record. Ask questions to help you evaluate them for reliability, quality, communication and cultural fit.
- Ask about technology. The call center’s compatibility with your existing property-management software and other systems is important. Do their services integrate with the other programs and services you want to use?
- Know their volume limits. Ensure they have a robust workforce-management process and software application to meet the elastic demand changes in real-time.
Throughout the evaluation process, take note of the call center’s openness to your questions and alignment with your objectives. A sense of partnership is one of the biggest determinants of your success.
Pricing for call-center outsourcing varies based on the coverage you need and the services you choose. Consider the average calls your self-storage facility fields or check your phone bill to estimate volume. Using this information, determine whether you need a per-call or monthly plan, and find out if your selected vendor offers both.
Per-call plans can offer greater flexibility for properties that need minimal daily support. Otherwise, it’s generally more cost-effective to opt for a flat-rate, monthly plan. Also, decide if you want the call center to handle 100% of your calls, those your manager misses or ones that come in after hours. These needs may vary by property.
Other costs to consider are setup fees, ancillary services and transaction-based charges. For a premium, some call centers offer full-service agents to perform higher-level functions, in essence serving as remote managers for your property. Tasks such as processing move-ins and move-outs and reducing collections through outbound calls are vital to a self-storage operation and can save your team valuable time and money.
Access to upgraded infrastructure and technology is one of the primary advantages you gain when working with a self-storage call center, but there are a few things you need to bring to the table. First, make sure your partner’s software integrates with your facility-management software and understand any limitations between the two systems. The company’s technology should ideally update in real time to ensure your call-center team and onsite staff always work from the same information. This prevents any overlap and inefficiencies, and ensures your outsourced team works from current pricing and promotions.
Be prepared to educate your call-center team on any unique policies or procedures you want them to follow. It’s also important to define your call flow. A good third-party provider should be able to offer guidance on what works for the self-storage industry. Identify if there’s specific verbiage you want to use and develop a consistent call flow with your team.
Your Role for an Effective Partnership
Choosing the right partner is the most important element of outsourcing your self-storage sales and service calls. But your onsite team also has a critical role to play to ensure the partnership is a success. First and foremost, define your goals and make sure you and your vendor are aligned on their pursuit. Maintain a feedback and coaching loop, and communicate early and often when you see an issue arise. A good partner will proactively reveal any obstacles they face, so you can collaborate on how they should be addressed.
Be engaged throughout the onboarding process and the life of your partnership. Ask lots of questions and get to know your team. Call calibration is an important strategy. Regular calls ensure that owners, managers, supervisors and quality-assurance teams can effectively evaluate agent performance and improve customer service. Listen to a sample of calls, listening for agent tone and engagement, adherence to call flow, and progression of the customer journey.
Do your part—consistently. Often, the information you get from your call-center agents relies on the accuracy of data in the systems you control. Make sure your software reflects the most up-to-date information. Take time to learn what you can impact on your own and what features you can leverage to help agents best represent your facility.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a call center as a resource for new renters in your customer-acquisition strategy. They offer critical business support. When someone calls your self-storage facility, it’s vital that someone answers—and fast!
Kimberly Robinson is the creative content manager for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of technology products and services including kiosks, a call center and access-control solutions. Kimberly is responsible for the creation and dissemination of engaging content to create a superior brand experience. With more than 12 years in marketing and communications and two in the self-storage industry, she offers design, copywriting and content-marketing expertise. To reach her, call 602.749.9370.