In a recent meeting with a self-storage owner to discuss his marketing strategies, he made the following admission: When researching the ratio of calls to rentals at his facility, he’d made the painful discovery that it was not a lack of calls negatively impacting his occupancy, but the lack of employee training in sales and customer service.
This isn’t an unusual situation for self-storage operators, but one that’s rampant and needs to be fixed quickly. The average conversion rate of calls to sales in this industry is 35 percent. Many operators do a lot better, but some do considerably worse.
Don’t think this means you have the wrong employees in place, although that could be the case. You may just have good people who need simply training and guidance. Here are some ideas to help increase your conversion rate.
Answer the Phone
It isn’t always the employee who’s at fault; sometimes it’s the system. A recent Yellow Pages Metered Ad Study, conducted by market analysis and consulting firm CRM Associates, demonstrated that more than 25 percent of calls are answered after three rings, but more than half are answered by voicemail, not a live person. The study encompassed 34,205 call samples (more than 34,000 different ads throughout a number of industries).
Employees cannot be everywhere at once, and may not be able to immediately serve every customer. However, a vast majority of prospects who make a call have an immediate need. If they can’t get their questions answered at that time, they’ll call another facility—your competitor.
To prevent this, make sure the phone is answered promptly. Run the numbers to determine what you might be losing in new business compared to the cost of hiring an additional employee or hiring the services of a call center.
For example, let’s say you get 50 calls per month (600 calls per year) and your staff converts 35 percent. Your average unit is a 10-by-10, rented at $100 per month for an average of 13 months. At a 35 percent conversion rate, you should be closing 210 calls per year, for total revenue of $273,000. If you miss even 15 percent of those calls (90 calls), your revenue drops to $232,050. That’s a loss of $40,950 per year.
Ask Questions, Then Listen
When a prospective customer calls, the best way to engage and close the sale is to ask questions. The prospect’s first question will likely be about price. But rather than just giving him a number, find out his needs. Your rates may not be the lowest, but not every customer will make a decision based on price alone. Ask what he’s looking for, what he’s planning to store, and what’s important to him. Then you can begin to sell the value of your service.
For example, determine the importance of security, access hours, drive-up access, climate control, tenant insurance, etc., to the customer. Once you know what the prospect really wants in a storage facility, you can begin to sell your value. He may not even know what’s important to him until he hears the options. Prospects have a need for your service; what they will actually buy are solutions to their problems, delivered in a way that demonstrates you really care.
Front-line employees should always be pleasant and friendly to customers, current and prospective. It isn’t always easy. Some customers are difficult, or the employee might have a bad day. But even on the phone, a smile (or lack of one) can be detected. A voice can convey friendliness, helpfulness and respect, or sound sharp, uninterested or rushed.
Employees also need to understand that customers require time, some more than others. A good employee should give the customer quality time for the service of his storage needs. If that’s not immediately possible, the manager should get the customer’s name and phone number, let him know his call will be returned within a specific period, and then follow up within that time frame.
Providing service that exceeds expectations means treating all customers equally, regardless of whether they buy immediately. Get their names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses—as much contact information as you can for follow-up. Explain that you need this so you can let them know about news and specials. Then send a follow-up postcard thanking them for calling or visiting.
They may not have decided yet where to store, and that small way of reaching out could be the deciding factor. Even if they do not rent from you, your database for future marketing efforts increases.
Show Employee Appreciation
Employees are your internal customers. Treat them with the same respect you expect them to give customers and prospects. Let them know they’re doing a good job. If and when you begin a training program, be sure they know you’re doing it to help them improve and succeed. When they do well, show appreciation.
Just as you expect employees to know customers, find out your staff’s wants and needs. That way, your show of gratitude can be something that’s important to them, whether it’s a plaque or certificate, paid time off, or dinner at a nice restaurant. Every customer, whether internal or external, wants to know he’s valued.
Sue Weinman is vice president of Yellow Page services for Michaels Wilder Inc., an advertising agency specializing in Yellow Pages, Internet marketing and talent recruitment for the self-storage industry since 1989. For more information, visit www.michaelswilder.com.