Delivering Customer Service

November 1, 2000

8 Min Read
Delivering Customer Service

Delivering Customer Service

Using design and operating guidelines to 'make good' on yourpromises

By Jim Kane

To Whom It May Concern:
Please be advised that unit #3088 is now clean and unoccupied.

Forthe record, I would like to state I am disappointed in your facilities. Upon myinitial visit to your business, when I was shown a model unit, I was informed ofa safety and security feature--that being entry to the elevator that was grantedonly through an access code. This feature, which was used as a selling point,never worked. Also, the elevator doors close much too quickly considering theyare used for the loading and unloading of large quantities of furniture or otheritems.

I understand you are remodeling to upgrade your property; but from the time Ileased a unit, until today when I vacated, I was continuously inconvenienced bythe construction.

I am disappointed that your company promises services, such as convenienceand elevator security, which are not provided to the consumer. I am furtherdisappointed that the consumer receives no compensation for your ineptness.

Amy, Your Customer

You have just read an actual letter I received in the past week. I wasuncomfortable reading it, since I pride myself on the attention (I believed) wepay to the delivery of customer service. As you can see, we haven't providedvalue for this customer's money. Have we failed all of our customers? How can weturn this customer's experience into a positive one? Could we have prevented theinconveniences she experienced? These sorts of questions can be addressedthrough the way we design, operate and present our self-storage product.

What Is Good Customer Service to You?

My objective is to provide the best product and service to all of ourcustomers, all of the time. How do you, as a customer, determine whether you arereceiving quality service? Each of us defines quality service based upon ourvalues, needs and, perhaps, moods on the day we are buying or using a product orservice. What do customers need and value?

  • The matching of their needs to a specific product.

  • Availability of the product best fitting their needs.

  • All the conveniences provided in the use of a product.

  • Fair, friendly, helpful people or systems to help with the selection and purchase of a product or service.

  • The purchase process should be simple, fast and organized for the consumer.

  • Customers need confidence in the outcome of their purchase. The product and service must meet their stated and unstated needs.

  • Problems encountered must be fixed so the consumer sees the value in their purchase.

  • Your price must reflect the value you deliver from beginning to end of the customer's experience.

Whom Do You Count on to Provide Customer Service?

I count on everyone and everything I come into contact with at the place Ibuy a product to provide for my needs. I want an inviting environment, whichshould be clean, safe and organized. I simply want to be comfortable whilespending my money. If I need to use the bathroom, I want it clean and stocked.If I need to park my car, I'd like the spaces to be wide enough and close enoughto where I must transact my business. I want to feel safe as I drive to thelocation and conduct my business. When I walk into a facility, I want to feelthese people can honor their commitments to me.

I walked into a truck-rental business with friends last weekend and found theemployees arguing with another customer. They were then rude to us when it wasour turn. The place was dirty, smelly and poorly organized, and my expectationwas that this truck-rental experience would be terrible--and it was. Customerservice is not just the way your staff treats your customers or how you resolveproblems. Quality customer service must be designed into your product, servicesand procedures. Customers will notice if it is not.

Provide Customer Service in Your Storage Business

The above letter demonstrated that we failed to provide the customer thevalue she expected in several areas of her experience. First, there was thebroken elevator-security system, then the elevator closing time and the ongoinginconvenience of construction. The customer then pointed out that we failed toadjust our prices to reflect the diminished value she experienced or perceivedin our product.

There is a difference in some customers' experiences and perceptions ofvalue. We've received very few complaints in our three years of operation. Thissuggests to me that customers do think our product consistently providesvalue--or they have not taken the time to let us know differently. Remember,though, that every customer is entitled to his opinion whether we as businessowners agree with his conclusions. We must try to meet every customer's highestexpectations.

Customer service is both designed into a product and delivered throughquality operations. The complaints in our customer's letter can be summarized inthe following categories: From an operating standpoint, the issue is thesecurity system and how we managed the construction of the building adjacent toour existing storage operations. From a development standpoint is the type ofelevator and door system we use. Finally, our opportunity to deliver value backto this angry customer occurs in how we choose to resolve the problems she'saddressed.

Operating Features Provide Customer Service

All contact with the customer must emphasize his needs above those of thecompany. If you provide for the former, the latter will be met. When using orwriting a telephone script, ask questions that show your interest in meetingcustomer needs before listing the fees and limitations associated with yourproduct (i.e., hours of operation). Even if they store elsewhere, you will havedelivered value to them by listening and offering solutions.

Procedures and related paperwork must be simple, professional andwell-organized so the customer doesn't feel burdened. I use a tool thatsummarizes the key points (foreclosure, written notifications, rents and fees)in my lease. Most customers want to move quickly through the lease presentation,and this allows us to cover the legal issues if they insist on abbreviating theexplanation of lease terms.

Do you make it easy for customers to vacate? Can they fax their vacatenotice? Do you require a specific form? Remember, you are looking for certaininformation so you can properly update your records. If they want to send it intheir own format, accept it. They shouldn't have to deliver it in person,either. A fax is a legal document and, in some cases, so are e-mails. Make iteasy for your customers to work with you. Recognize that they may not followyour standard procedures. Be flexible and responsive.

Some customers want to do the rental paperwork for one location at anotherlocation. At first I resisted on this point, but I lost sales due to strictadherence to this procedure. Now they can complete the paperwork wherever it isconvenient, and I will transport it to the proper storage center.

Do you take the American Express card? Many businesses don't because theydon't like the fees charged to the business. Perhaps the customer will pay aslight fee to compensate you for taking the card. I've found nearly one-third ofmy customers want to use AMEX for its mileage program. Their fees are the sameas those charged by VISA when you incorporate all the bank charges. I'velistened to my customers, and now allow them to pay the way that's mostconvenient for them.

Develop and teach your employees guidelines--not policies--to follow. Allowthem the flexibility to change some procedures to meet different customer needs.Teach your employees the power in saying "yes" vs. "no" tocustomer requests. Create a compensation system to reward them for responsibledecisions that deliver customer service. Define quality, and reward itsconsistent delivery.

Development Features that Provide Customer Service

My customer found our elevator doors were closing too quickly. My type ofelevator requires that the doors close, and the rate can only be modifiedslightly. Next time, I will look for a different system. The process of loadingand unloading goods is paramount to making a customer's move easy. Execute thefollowing and you will be providing good customer service:

  • Provide staging areas to unload vehicles prior to moving belongings into a hallway or elevator.

  • Be sure these areas are protected from the elements.

  • Driveways must be a minimum of 25 feet wide.

  • Carts, dollies and hand trucks must be available at all times for customer use. Don't restrict them to office hours.

  • Hallways must be at least 5 feet wide.

  • Storage unit doors should be as wide and high as possible.

  • Lighting must be placed to minimize dark areas in units or outside.

  • Restrooms and vending machines must be available during access hours.

I recently helped a friend move into my storage center. I learned that ouraccess doors to the elevator lobby were a foot shorter than the elevator doorsand hallway height. This requires customers to tip their belongings to the sideto go through the first set of doors. This condition is a hassle for thecustomer and a simple oversight in development. Next time, a different designwill provide better a product for our customers.

Communicating With Customers

How you communicate with customers creates value for your business. Invoices,late letters, telephone calls, e-mails and signs should all be professional.This should also hold true for all internal communication, such as memos betweendepartments. A professional look signals to your customers they are dealing witha quality operation dedicated to providing them value for their storage dollar.

When I communicated with my angry customer, I listened, empathized andapologized, offering a partial refund for the inconveniences she experienced.I'm sure it will mean referrals in the future. Think like a customer, not theowner, when you develop and operate your facility. You'll then be making choicesthat make you money and maximize the value of your services. Ultimately, thiswill maximize your income and the related value of your business.

Jim Kane is the owner of Meridian Storage in Atlanta. His career began asa CPA in Seattle, where Shurgard became a client of his accounting firm.Eventually, he went to work for the company as its Eastern Region operations.For the past nine years, he has operated and developed storage facilities forhis own company in addition to serving as consultant to numerous other ownersacross the country.

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