Good customer service is important for the success of any business, but in the current economic climate, it’s even more critical. In the struggle to differentiate yourself from competition, it’s easy to get caught up in price wars, discounts and specials because these are tangible things we can point to easily.
But it’s been proven that price is fourth or fifth on the list of reasons why people rent at a particular self-storage facility. Location, convenience and trust are consistently the top three reasons people choose one facility or another.
Why, then, do we focus so much on price? Because it’s the great American conversation-starter. What do we ask when we know nothing about a product? “How much is it?” The question of price is usually not the important one, but it’s generally the one that gets the conversation started. From here, consumers begin to evaluate the product. They determine how price leads to the answer to their real question, which is “Will this be the solution I’m looking for?”
This is where the job of great customer service begins. When a potential tenant asks the price, he’s indicating initial interest. It’s your job to explore his situation further and give details to help him understand the value of your product and the reasoning behind the cost. Remember, self-storage is an extension of a person’s home or business. The prospect needs to like and trust you.
There are several things you must “be” to help the consumer decide you are the solution he is seeking: appropriate, knowledgeable, interested, genuine, nice ... and ready to close the sale.
Don’t assume your prospects know anything about self-storage. Or that they don’t. The question “Have you used self-storage before?” will define where the conversation should begin. This is an important step to creating rapport and trust. If you have the same sales pitch for everyone, you’re losing more business than you know.
You’ll lose the attention of an experienced storage user when you launch into a diatribe about electronic gates and cameras. He knows this already, so you’re wasting his time. Get to what’s important to him.
However, someone who hasn’t used storage before will appreciate this information. The last facility he called may not have asked this question or explained the features that could sway his decision. Be appropriate to each situation. It may be all the same to you, but to each prospect, it’s unique.
Asking if the customer has used storage before also helps you determine what industry lingo needs to be explained. A previous user will probably understand things like “prorate,” “anniversary billing” and “climate control, whereas a new user may not. If you speak to him like he should understand, it will make him feel foolish and uninformed, which will negatively affect any rapport you’re trying to create. Remember that each new prospect is an individual. Treat him as such.
Being knowledgeable means understanding your product and services well enough to recommend the right things for each prospect. We tend to confuse “selling” with “telling.” If you feel like the caller is holding the phone away from his ear as you ramble on about everything you know about self-storage, you’re probably right and have lost the sale.
If you haven’t engaged the caller in a two-way conversation, it’s unlikely that you’ve created enough connection with him. Yes, you might score well on your phone shops, but your business will suffer. The caller is only interested in finding a solution to his problem, and as soon as you lose focus, you lose the business. Tell him what he needs to know to sell him what he wants.
To be successful, you must be interested in the things that drive the business. That means you must be interested in what drives the customers. Why do they need storage? How did they hear about you? What is happening in their life right now for which your product can be a solution? How quickly do they need this solution? What are they storing? How long will they need storage? These aren’t nosy questions, but absolutely necessary to determine the best solution for customers’ needs. It makes good sense to get answers to these questions.
Wouldn’t you be concerned and uncomfortable if your hair stylist didn’t ask how you wanted your hair done and just started cutting? Or your doctor gave a diagnosis without the right information? Or your server just brought out food without asking what you want? It’s not nosy, it’s your job! This is your chance to build rapport, make acquaintances and a potential long-term, good customer.
Note: If you have not asked for the prospect’s name and callback information, you have not succeeded in being interested.
It’s pretty easy to tell when someone is genuinely interested or just doing their “job.” How often have you walked into a retail store only to hear the sales clerk greet you with a tired, bored, sing-song, “Hello, how are you?” You know the clerk is only doing it because he must and doesn’t really care how you are. Don’t be that person. People will store at a facility where they feel comfortable and trust the staff. Be yourself. Be real.
Self-storage is a sales, retail, people job. Being nice to people is key. Not some of the people some of the time, but all of the people all of the time, regardless of the circumstances in their life or yours. If nice is not your normal state of mind when you wake up in the morning, maybe you should consider a different career.
Be Ready to Close the Sale
Don’t wait for the prospect to just say yes; ask for his business. When you feel you’ve done a good job of being appropriate, knowledgeable, interested, genuine and nice, ask for the sale. Let him know you’re interested in doing business with him. He needs space, you sell space; it’s the perfect fit. Have confidence and expect a “yes.”
If you don’t get one, don’t take it personally, just retrace your steps and find out what part of the solution you’re missing. Ask what else the prospect needs to know, do, etc., to make a decision, and then try to provide that missing piece. Then ask for the sale again. Set an appointment, take a reservation or complete the deal. Any step forward in the sales process is a successful close.
Be the Solution
Remember, price is just the conversation-starter, the small talk you politely make until the real and meaningful conversation begins. Start with the end in mind. Be the right answer to the consumer’s real question ... “Will this be the solution I am looking for?”
When you can manage to be all of the things listed above, it’s only natural that you’ll become the solution that gets the business. Will you get it all of the time? No. Will you get more than you’re getting now? Probably. If you truly operate with the end goal of being the solution for each customer, you’ll see your success skyrocket.
Linnea Appleby is president of Sarasota, Fla.-based PDQ Management Solutions Inc., which specializes in the self-storage facility management and offers complimentary services such as operational consulting, new facility startup, property audits and the “Income Finder Service.” Appleby is a regular contributor to industry trade publications and a frequent speaker at tradeshows and events. She is also a past president of the Florida Self Storage Association. To contact her, call 941.377.3451; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.pdqmanagementsolutions.com.