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How to Fine-Tune Your Self-Storage Staff and Performance Through Mystery Shopping

Sales performance and customer service are critical in self-storage, but how do you know your staff is delivering a high-quality experience to prospects and tenants? Discover how mystery shopping can help fine-tune your operation and why it makes sense to outsource this important task.

There are many things a self-storage owner can do to improve his operation, but one of the most important influencers in revenue generation is staff performance. If you aren’t regularly and critically evaluating the sales and customer-service abilities of your team, your property likely isn’t realizing its full income potential.

In my 36 years of training facility employees, I’ve found that maintaining and measuring trained behavior makes a significant difference to the bottom line. You need to assess your team’s skills and provide constructive feedback to help them improve.

A mystery-shopping program is an excellent monitoring tool. Let’s look at what it entails, how it can help fine-tune your operation and why it makes sense to outsource.

Key Benefits and Goals

One of the greatest benefits of a mystery-shopping program is it creates staff accountability. When you tell employees that they’ll be anonymously shopped each month on the phone and in person, it keeps them on their toes. One of my managers once told me that every time she heard the office phone ring, she thought to herself, “This could be the shopper!”

Another major benefit is it can help fill gaps on the staffing side of your operation. For example, small self-storage operators who don’t have the management depth to regularly educate employees can employ a mystery-shopping service to act as its training arm.

The mystery-shopping process begins by setting objectives. It ends with rewarding good behavior and implementing changes to correct the bad. Team participation and awareness is vital. Staff need to know they’re being shopped, the criteria in which they’ll be evaluated and the company’s expected standards. However, shopping results should be used for more than just creating an appraisal of individual employee performance; they can provide diagnostic information on service delivery, which is useful to any operation.

Choosing a Provider

Before we get into program guidelines, let’s talk about execution. As a self-storage owner, you can conduct your own mystery shops, but providers that specialize in this area offer a variety of independent, unbiased evaluation services that can enable you to track and trend your team’s sales and service skills. This allows supervisors to immediately offer praise or take steps toward improvement.

When outsourcing to a provider, you want your mystery-shopping program to reflect your personal business goals and the results you’d like to achieve. Your partner should work with you to achieve those aims. For example, you should be allowed to customize your evaluation form to reinforce training objectives and desired staff behavior.

Ensure that any company you consider is knowledgeable about the self-storage business, will help design the shopping program and can make recommendations for implementation. Not all providers use the same procedures, but there are some best practices that should be observed. For example, you’ll get more accurate and insightful results if the company uses different callers each month to complete the evaluation and a professional trainer to assess the recorded sales presentations.

Finally, to get the most out of the program, you need to have your staff shopped regularly and frequently. You must also act on the shoppers’ findings, following up with any necessary discussion and guidance with your team.

Setting Standards

It’s important to tell employees about your new mystery-shop program in advance and get their input on the evaluation form shoppers will use. For your efforts to be effective, they need to know what’s expected of them. Promote the positive aspects of the program, particularly how it can benefit the team, company and your customers.

Performance standards allow employees to understand job expectations and strive to meet or (hopefully) exceed them. When establishing your mystery-shop program, work with your provider to develop and monitor these standards, including specific criteria. For example, you might require the following:

  • Each employee should score at least 70 percent on a telephone mystery shop.
  • During each sales call, the employee should mention the facility’s features and benefits, such as free use of a move-in truck, any active specials and the benefits of individual door alarms.
  • Each sales call should close with the employee asking the caller for the sale and inviting him to visit the store.
  • Each employee should close at least 90 percent of all customers who walk into the office to inquire about rental.
  • During the rental process, the employee should offer packing and moving supplies to each customer.

Knowing these benchmarks will help your self-storage managers and other staff understand expectations and reach a higher level of sales and service.

Creating the Evaluation

Your mystery shoppers will provide a summary of how they perceived your employees’ salesmanship and customer service. Your evaluation form should ask them objective and subjective questions to gauge performance. Objective questions are quantifiable, for example:

  • Did the employee stand up to greet you when you walked in the door?
  • Did he ask qualifying questions to determine your storage needs?
  • Did he mention several facility features and relate them to benefits?
  • Did he mention the facility’s office and access hours?
  • Did the employee invite you to visit the facility and reserve a unit?

Subjective questions should be designed to elicit more opinion. They include things like:

  • Do you feel the employee took control of the sales presentation?
  • In your estimation, did the employee make an effort to sell the store’s features and benefits?
  • Was the call or visit handled professionally?
  • Was there a sense of urgency for you (the customer) to visit the store?
  • Was the call or visit organized and efficient?
  • Did the employee attempt to build rapport with you?

An employee might score well on the objective questions, but if he sounds bored and scripted, he won’t score well on the subjective inquiries. To achieve a high score, staff need to perform well all around.

After each shop, share the results with your team and immediate supervisors. Yes, your staff need to know they’re being shopped! I’ve had some owners say they don’t dare tell employees out of fear some might quit before they could be fired. That’s counterproductive. You want to give people an opportunity to improve!

Consider this analogy: You’re just learning to play golf. You’re handed a club and a ball and told to get the ball as close to the flag as possible, with the goal of getting it into the little cup. To accomplish the goal and become proficient, you’d need more instruction than that! Even if you played golf every day, you might not get much better without assistance. However, if you had a coach to help you improve your swing and stance, judge distance, factor the wind, etc., you’d probably get better. So will your employees if they receive regular feedback designed to maintain or improve their skills.

Leverage Results

In self-storage, every move-in has value. Owners need to keep their team focused on maximizing each phone call and onsite sales opportunity. When an employee does well or you notice an improvement, give praise. The whole idea behind mystery shopping is to catch people doing things correctly and reinforce company values and procedures. The goal should be to recognize a job well done and discover areas in need of improvement.

Rewarding good behavior and technique helps your staff focus on the most important aspect of their job—renting units. Consider rewarding all employees who score 90 or above on their shopping evaluation with a Certificate of Sales Achievement. Some owners even provide performance incentives such as monthly cash rewards, gift certificates, comp days, cruises, etc.

Mystery shopping will allow you to reward employees, provide valuable feedback and focus on desired behavior. Ultimately, you and your staff will benefit from the results.

Carol Mixon-Krendl is the owner of SkilCheck Services Inc., which provides self-storage auditing, mystery shopping, development and operations consultation, and sales training. She’s owned and managed more than 35 storage locations in the West and is a frequent speaker at industry tradeshows. She’s also written more than 100 articles for various publications and has served on state and national self-storage association boards. For more information, call 800.374.7545; e-mail info@skilcheck.com; visit www.skilcheck.com.

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