If you’re a self-storage owner who hasn’t yet used a call center, you may be wondering whether you need one. Even if you know you need one, you may be wondering why you’d pay for one. There are short and long answers to these questions.
The short answer is, if you have a self-storage business, you need a call center. You’ll have to think about the best way to structure it for your specific needs, but you should have one. Potential renters and current customers use the phone. You can’t handle all the calls yourself, and neither can your staff, so you really have no choice. All of the industry’s top operators use a call center of some kind, even if they use differing business models or setups. Why would you do otherwise? These are the most successful companies in the business!
Now for the long answer, which will help you better understand why a call center is necessary and how it enhances your self-storage operation. Let’s start by looking at what a provider should be able to do for you.
Choosing a Partner
Although there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all setup, here are seven key items a call center should be able to accomplish on your company’s behalf:
- Reduce the number of missed rental inquiries
- Support your online sales efforts with live sales people
- Increase the conversion rate of leads to rentals
- Establish a process for phone payments
- Establish a protocol for customer-service issues and questions
- Achieve better sales and customer-service proficiency
- Create a better understanding of your business and customers and how the two interact
When choosing a provider, you first must decide if you want the call center to take all of your calls, just your rental inquires, just phone payments, or any after-hours or rollover calls. Next, interview the vendors who provide call-center services and related software. You might want to manage the software yourself and just have the agents managed by a vendor, or you might want the vendor to manage it all. There are many ways to customize your relationship with a call center, so ask about best practices for self-storage operations of your size or owners with similar needs.
A self-storage customer has an average lifetime value of somewhere between $500 and $2,500, depending on your market, customer base, rental rates and so on. Let’s assume for a moment that each new customer is worth $500 to your business. What would you spend to get one, two or three extra new customers per month? Would you pay $200 to make $500? Would you pay $500 to make $1,500?
If I could give you $200 and you would give me back $500, I’d borrow as much money as I could and give you as many $200 checks as I could write. If I could give you $500 and you’d give me $1,500, I’d want to do this all day long every day of the month.
I use the $200 to $500 range because depending on your call volume and other factors, this is generally about what it costs to hire a third-party call center. Call centers are really about return on investment. There are many other great reasons they help your business, but this is the absolute bottom line. If I haven’t convinced you yet, let me keep trying.
Today’s consumers expect a level of customer service that can only be accomplished by making sure your phones are answered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in most markets. You can’t afford to have your own staff working these hours. When you use a call center, you can have coverage for these hours at a tiny fraction of the cost of internal employees because you’re sharing the sales reps with other call-center clients.
Today’s shoppers want to make a purchase decision “now.” When the thought strikes and they decide to buy something, they really want to make a purchase. If you’re not available for them to buy from you, they’ll buy from someone else or get distracted by a desire to purchase something different. Once that occurs, the money originally earmarked for you is gone. Why on earth would you be unavailable to a potential customer when he wants to rent a unit from you?
Your existing tenants also expect a level of customer care that can only be delivered if you answer the phone when they call. If you can’t answer the phone, they feel insulted and frustrated. They tend to stop doing business with those who insult and frustrate them. The fact is it’s much less expensive to keep a current tenant happy and ensure he stays another few months than it is to replace him with a new customer. Why would you think it’s OK to drive away current customers?
Finally, most self-storage operators can’t handle their call volume properly, even at smaller or slower sites with full-time staff, because demand comes in waves. You have to set up your system to handle the biggest waves of call volume when they come. Your current situation probably forces you to miss important phone calls during peak volume times. If a new customer is worth $500 to you, why would you want to miss even one call?
The simple fact is you need a call center. Talk to the vendors in the industry about their services. Ask other operators how they structured their call-center arrangements. Then go make it happen. In the time you took to read this, you probably lost $500 from a missed phone call.
Tron Jordheim is business-development manager for the Store Here Self Storage third-party management platform. He’s consulted for many self-storage companies and spoken at industry events in Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to joining Store Here, he spent 15 years as director of the PhoneSmart call center and chief marketing officer of StorageMart. For more information, visit www.storehere.com.