It’s apparent that some of the business changes self-storage operators made during the pandemic are likely here to stay. In fact, by embracing things like automation, contactless rentals, reduced staff, remote access and other solutions, owners can likely save money moving forward. But where does that leave facility staff? Those employees who remain in the trenches would likely say they could use a little help.
While you’re standing at this crossroads, now’s the time to think about outsourcing certain facility functions. Call centers have been providing professional assistance to self-storage operations for years. Now, thanks to technology, they do so much more than just answer the phone! Think of them as a business and customer support center. Let’s explore what they can do for you and how to choose the right partner.
At the most basic level, call centers still function essentially the same as they always have, with staff who can handle the phone calls your self-storage managers miss, or all calls if you no longer have an onsite team. These representatives can walk prospective customers through the rental process, highlight your products and services, and address standard support calls from current tenants for things like balance inquiries, gate-code issues, etc. A good call center knows it priorities are to rent units and keep customers happy.
But now there’s more. You can also expect your support center to provide automated functions, such as 24/7 pay-by-phone options that allow tenants to make payments and check account balances whenever it’s convenient. In fact, owners are often surprised to learn how much time their staff spend on these simple tasks each month. For example, a 500-unit facility can expect 300-plus phone calls regarding rental payments each month. If you estimate three minutes per call, that’s about 15 hours of talk time!
Automation also allows customer calls to be routed any way you like. If a person wants to speak to a live agent or needs a rental truck, why not send them to the right person to handle that particular task? If an emergency occurs at 2 a.m., send them to your on-call security team.
Once you’ve covered the basics, a modern call center should be able to add features that help you grow your business and improve the customer experience. For example, why not add a mobile app, so that in addition to checking an account balances or making a payment, tenants can find their gate code, unit number, or even a picture or list of the items stored in their unit, all right from the palm of their hand? Here are a few other add-ons to consider:
Online reviews. Are you actively asking for and managing customer reviews? A support center can aid in this effort, asking for a review anytime a representative has a positive interaction with one of your prospects or tenants.
Promotions. A good call center will support your efforts to bring new customers in the door, making suggestions for fresh promotions that really resonate with prospects.
Reporting. Your call center can supply detailed reports to help you make decisions based on real data. For example, it can tell you the number of viable sales calls received, which is an indication of how well your marketing is performing. It can also tell you how many of those callers rented or reserved a unit or were sent to facility staff as a lead. You can even see if someone followed up in a timely manner. Ultimately, you can know how many prospects were actually converted to tenants.
Choosing a Partner
If you’re inclined to outsource and invest in a call center, here are some considerations to help you find a suitable partner. First, look for a vendor that specializes in self-storage and is able to integrate with your facility-management software. It should have the infrastructure to support where you are now and the ability to grow with you as needs change.
Talk to the provider’s operations team as well as the sales staff. Share your unique business story and learn how the company’s plans to support it. The transition should be easy, without you being forced into cookie-cutter solutions that don’t apply to your operation.
Once you’re comfortable with a provider, you’ll decide on a service plan. Don’t worry if you don’t know for sure how many calls you need answered. The right company will be able to help you figure that out. It should be flexible and work with you to ensure you settle comfortably into the program that best meets your needs.
It can also be ideal to choose a partner that already works closely with your other industry vendors, blending seamlessly with providers such as your website developer, property-management company, security supplier, etc. They should all work together to automate critical functions and make your business a success.
Once you’ve decided on a call-support center, your part is easy. Simply tell the vendor everything you can about your facility and operation. Those are the details that’ll allow it to confidently answer questions and assist customers.
Finally, don’t be afraid to raise your hand if you don’t understand how something works or why one of your calls was handled in a certain way. Your support partner should want to know your concerns and ensure the service works well for you. Now, more than ever, self-storage operators should feel comfortable asking for help rather than trying to do everything themselves!
Shannon Charbonneau is director of client relations for XPS Solutions, a Richardson, Texas-based call center that specializes in self-storage. Shannon has been with the company since 2011 and worked with a diverse clientele, from first-time owners to large operators with hundreds of locations. She uses what she learns from customers to help shape the services offered by XPS product developers, software engineers, call-center staff and quality management. For more information, call 877.977.8721. You can also follow Shannon on LinkedIn.