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March 1, 2007

4 Min Read

Every storage owner and manager has the same goalto keep units rented. Self-storage isnt a service industry in the same way as plumbing or carpet cleaning, but how we service storage customers has a direct correlation to unit rentals.

Customer service is the new marketing, announced New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson in his web blog. Simply defined, marketing is identifying the needs of the customer, and meeting them. Marketing, customer service and product (the storage facility itself ) overlap to support and promote sales.

Consider the two types of customer service. The first is how customers are treated in person and on the phone. The second is less personal yet critical: Knowing what your customers want and need, and providing it to them as best you can.


Lets look at customer service from the employee-level, because this strongly influences how you can better meet tenants needs.

Telephone Contact: Is the phone answered in a timely manner, within four rings? Is someone there to answer the phone during office hours? Is a voicemail message available after-hours? The majority of new customers come from Yellow Pages and their first contact is most often by phone. Yellow Page customers have an immediate need, which is why they turn to the directory in the first place. If the phone is not picked up by a human during normal business hours, the customer will go to the next ad and call your competitor.

Attitude: Are employees always pleasant and friendly to customers, in person and on the phone? Have they been trained to go the extra mile? For example, if a customer or prospect calls with a time-consuming question and someone is simultaneously at the desk, what would your employees do? Would they rush? Ignore one person to take care of the other? Or would they know how to prioritize in a way that makes both customers feel equally important?

Also ask yourself whether your employees would make a courtesy call to a good customer as a reminder that payment is due tomorrow and a late fee is imminent.

Listening to Customers: The only way to really know what customers want is to listen to them. Do your employees keep a log of questions and comments about what customers want, like and dislike?

If several customers mention they want extended access hours, and its noted in the log, then you've got a heads-up on how to provide better customer service. After all, if current tenants have an unfilled need, it stands to reason that prospective customers will desire the same.

Heres another example: If employees see that the majority of new customers are using rented trucks for move-in, you may want to consider providing a free truck to one-up your competition with a desirable service.

Ask the Customer: If you really want to know what customers think about your facility and service, ask them. Do you give people the opportunity to provide comments or suggestions? Keep a short survey of questions to ensure youre giving customers what they wantand so you know what needs to be changed.

You might also consider hiring an independent party to call customers and ask them questions crafted to reveal how well youre doing. Or periodically mail out a brief survey and reward respondents for their time with a small gift or discount on next-months rental. Always include the question, What can we do better?

Its an Ongoing Program: Top-notch customer service is a never-ending marketing approach. Things change, times change, needs change, and no business ownerplumber, carpet cleaner or storage operatorcan stand still.

We all know why customers rent storage units; most important is knowing why they are renting from you. If theyre not storing with you, its even more important to understand why. Knowledge is power, and knowing what customers want on an ongoing basis will keep those units rented.

Front-line employees are in a position to provide the information you need. Make sure marketing is a critical component of your employee training. A constant reminder of the relationship between marketing and customer service will lead to the end goal: sales. 

Sue Weinman, senior account executive, represents the Yellow Pages Division of The Michaels/Wilder Group, an advertising agency that specializes in Yellow Pages, Internet and recruitment advertising. Based in Phoenix, the award-winning firm works with hundreds of self-storage owners and managers. For more information, call 800.423.6468; visit www.michaelswilder.com

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