Call centers are more important than ever in the self-storage industry, for several reasons. First, in spite of the fact that people like to use websites for research and shopping, they still want to talk to a real person when theyre buying something with which theyre unfamiliar. The more people live their lives online and the better facility operators get at marketing themselves there, the more phone calls storage businesses will generate.
Second, data capture is becoming increasingly important. Call centers generate a lot of data. You want that information to know the effectiveness of your advertising channels, the proficiency of your telephone sales reps, and your conversion rates of leads and reservations.
Lastly, call centers offer more services to callers. Theyre growing past handling only sales inquiries and becoming more involved in customer service, account management and competitive intelligence gathering.
Both the call-center and the self-storage business have changed a lot since 2000. Technology has developed in many ways, and consumers have changed their habits many times. Whats it going to be like at the intersection of the call-center and self-storage worlds in 2013? The following insight will help you make the most of that partnership.
Consider Your Goals
To make the most of your call-center relationship, you need to know what you want from the partnership. How will it fit into your current systems and business practices? Which strategic goals and tactical roles will it serve? Whos going to oversee the relationship, and how involved are they going to get?
If youve been working with a third-party call center, review your 2013 goals with your contacts. Make sure those goals align with the mission and directions youve given them. Take a step back and examine what areas that may need re-examining or revising.
Understand How You're Different
Running a call center is nothing like operating a self-storage facility. To give you some idea what its like, imagine every one of your storage units is a living, breathing, feeling person you needed to train, manage and motivate. Operating a storage facility is about asset management. Running a call center is about people management.
For another perspective, imagine each one of your doors runs on a different computer and each light bulb is wired to a different main circuit. Thats kind of what its like having a computer and phone set at every desk, and bundles of phone and data lines to power them. Self-storage is about building maintenance. Call centers are about technology and communications maintenance.
Those of you who use a call-center service dont get to experience any of this firsthand. Operators who have their own call center or have tried to cobble one together have some appreciation of the comparisons.
Understand the Challenges
The people part of running a call center is always challenging. Reps work in very tight spaces and are peppered with calls all day long. Sometime the callers are mean. Lockout and late-fee days are difficult because there will be unhappy customers. There will be times when the phone volume wont stop and the reps barely get a breather. Your idea of what should be said and how calls should be handled doesnt always match what the call-center reps envision and can certainly conflict with how callers like to be treated. Managing these competing pressures is often more art than science.
That being said, the people side of the equation is not so difficult if the call center hires the right candidates for the job, gives them proper training and support, makes things fun once in a while, and shows appreciation for their accomplishments. Ask your call center how it recruits, hires and trains staff. It should have some very deliberate methods you might find interesting.
The technology part of running a call center is also demanding. There are different approaches and many layers working together. Technologies are more complicated and interdependent. Just understanding the flow chart of how the voice, data and call recordings interface with the servers, nodes and circuits takes patient study.
The best approach is often a strategic one. How does the call center serve your particular sales and service strategies? How can you help simplify and improve the call centers ability to serve them? If the call center can grow and support its people while keeping its technology from becoming a 12-headed monster, you as the client should see some great results.
The technology side can be less challenging if the call center invests in proper scale and function, develops good relationships with its vendors and service people, and creates contingencies for the typical problems. The one constant in the hardware and software game is stuff breaks. The call center should be prepared for that.
Ninety-nine percent of call-center failures are completely invisible to you and your customers if the call center builds its technology platforms with potential hiccups in mind, investing properly so its systems allow for occasional disruptions. Ask your call center representative to talk to you about contingencies and redundancies. You might be surprised at the lengths people will go to ensure the flow of normal business.
Get the Stats
Again, call centers generate a lot of data. Ask your call-center rep how the business uses the statistics it generates for planning and to evaluate performance. Find out what information is actually available to you, and then determine how you can best use it to make better operating decisions. You may only be using a portion of whats accessible and have an opportunity to learn more about your business by looking at a wider range of information.
However, you have to be careful that you dont bury yourself in data or draw too many hasty conclusions. Even where youre capturing reliable stats, know that many things can influence them that arent apparent at first glance. There are also some activities and effects that simply cannot be measured.
When partnering with a third-party call center, know what youre getting into and make some deliberate, strategic decisions. Talk to your call-center representative and learn more about what the company does in general and what it will do for you specifically. This should put you in a good position to make the most of your call-center relationship in 2013.
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an off-site sales force serving self-storage owners for more than 10 years. For more information, visit www.phone-smart.info .