Although the telephone is one of the original self-storage management tools, it’s far from obsolete. As a matter of fact, according to the “SSA 2013 Self Storage Demand Study”, 43 percent of renters first made contact with their chosen facility via the telephone. That statistic was even greater for business customers and rural renters, with 45 percent and 54 percent, respectively. What’s more, 53 percent of tenants rented from the first facility they contacted.
These statistics should serve as
proof that “every call counts”. And no one believes that statement more than
Jim Ross, founder of 3 Mile Domination, a self-storage management company, and
author of “Self Storage Domination”. Ross, who devotes a large portion of his
time conducting mystery shops over the phone and helping managers improve their
telephone skills, says that self-storage managers need to up their game and understand exactly how much money is on the other side of that call.
Ross states that the lifetime
value of a customer should be the first thing every manager thinks about before
they answer a call. While that amount is different for each facility, the
formula for determining the lifetime value of a customer is the average price
per unit multiplied by the average length of stay. “Every time the phone rings,
that’s how much money is on the line,” says Ross, recommending that the figure
be printed and placed by the telephone to serve as a constant reminder.
Follow A Format Nevertheless, knowing the lifetime value of a customer isn’t helpful if
your managers have no defined phone script to guide them through calls. First
of all, if your facility isn’t using a standard greeting, it’s high time to put
one in place.
“The greeting sets the tone for
the entire call,” Ross says. He suggests using this basic greeting: “Thank you
for calling ABC Storage. This is Jim. How can I help you today?” Asking how you
can help the caller does two important things: It gets the conversation started
and assures the caller that you will indeed help him/her.
After the greeting, it’s time to
qualify the caller’s needs and determine what size unit would best fit those
needs. When the caller is looking for a storage space, be sure to avoid the
question Ross dreads to hear: What size do you need?
“Never ask them what size they
need,” warns Ross, who reminds managers that they are the storage
professionals. Moreover, it’s difficult for customers to know what size will be
best for their items if they have never used self-storage—a detail that Ross
notes most customers may not disclose without being prompted to do so.
“Help them choose the right
size,” he says. “Ask them what they are planning to store. That’s more engaging
than asking for a size.”
Once you have determined the most
suitable unit size for the customer, take a look at your inventory. While you
are checking to see if you have that size available, ask for the caller’s name
and storage history. This is also a good time to toot your own horn. “Talk
about the facility,” says Ross. “Be specific about the facility’s features and
benefits.” These details will help differentiate your facility from the
Ross believes that managers
should wait to reveal the rental price until after they’ve discussed the
facility’s features and services. “Don’t go right into pricing,” he says. “Price
may be a factor, but they may be calling the competition. It comes down to not
going right into pricing until you’ve built value with the features and
benefits first. It’s not just about the price for customers. It’s also about
them getting the best value, which can only come from building up your
facility’s features and services before you disclose the rental price.”
Last, but not least, is the
conclusion of the call. At this point, managers should be collecting the
caller’s contact information in order to send a confirmation. “Ask for an email
or phone number,” says Ross, “so you can send a confirmation with details about
In addition, this is an
appropriate time to make the reservation. Ross suggests making the following
statement: “It sounds like we have a perfect fit for you.” Next, ask if the caller
would like to reserve the unit over the phone or in person.
If, however, you do not have the
size the caller needs available or your facility is full, do not end the call
without offering another form of assistance. “Ask how soon they need storage,”
says Ross, who notes that the caller could be placed on a waiting list if
his/her need isn’t immediate or referred to a nearby facility. He adds that
self-storage managers, especially those with near-full occupancies, should be
creating alliances with the competition through referral programs.
“Taking control of the phone call
will blast everyone else out of the water when it comes to competition,” he
Telephone Tips The above format can definitely result in rentals, but self-storage
managers must have good telephone etiquette as well. For starters, Ross advises
managers to stand up for phone calls. “This boosts their energy level,” he
Ross also instructs managers to
smile before picking up the receiver. “It may sound corny, but it comes across
the phone,” he notes, adding that managers should sound happy to take the call—not
annoyed or preoccupied.
To avoid coming off as
distracted, Ross suggests that managers be prepared for calls. “Have your
script or talking points in front of you,” he says. “That keeps you focused to
make the call count.”
“You don’t want to sound like a
robot,” adds Ross, “but you want to be helpful and compelling.”
Moreover, managers should be as
clear and confident as possible. Try to take cues from the customer during the
call. If the caller asks you to repeat yourself, you may be talking too quiet
or fast to be understood.
Keep in mind that placing a call
on speaker phone is not a good idea due to potential background noise and
echoing. Furthermore, if it is necessary to place a call on hold, ask the
customer if it’s OK to do so—and wait for their response before proceeding.
When it comes to missed calls,
Ross prefers a call center to an answering machine. “Most customers don’t leave
messages,” he says, “and then you end up playing phone tag.”
To determine whether your
facility should hire a call center, Ross suggests using caller for a month to
track how many calls are being missed. Utilizing a call center would be
advantageous if the potential lifetime value of those customers (missed calls)
exceeds the call center fees.
Practice Makes Perfect Of course, the only surefire way to improve your telephone skills is to
practice. However, you may not know what needs improvement. For this reason,
Ross recommends recording yourself and listening to the recording. “Evaluate
yourself,” he says. “It’s very effective, and it’s the quickest way to correct
what you’re doing wrong.”
Role playing to practice the call
format in various scenarios is another beneficial form of training, especially
for new hires or managers who do not excel over the phone. The industry also
offers numerous training opportunities via webinars, certification courses,
online videos (such as 3 Mile Domination’s You Tube videos about self-storage
calls), publications, blogs, seminars, and sessions at association conferences.
He also reminds facility owners
and operators to mystery shop their managers at least once per month. “Don’t
focus on just one manager,” Ross adds. “Hit everyone. Listen to the calls
together and review the evaluations.” Then, after that’s said and done, polish
the script and work on the issues.
Ross mentions that there is one
question that he asks himself at the end of each mystery shop call: “Would I
rent from you?” His answer to that questions helps him explain his assessment.
However, regardless of the
result, Ross is quick to note, “There’s always room for improvement.”
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.