Similar to a first date or a job interview, determining a
new customer’s needs requires plenty of questions. The questions you ask—and
the responses you receive—will help both you and the potential tenant decide if
your self-storage facility will be a good fit for his or her storage
requirements. Therefore, asking the right questions is a crucial part of your
sales pitch. Here are 11 key questions you should ask every customer to establish
trust and, hopefully, seal the deal.
1. What’s your name?
As simplistic as it seems, making sure you have your customer’s name is the
first step to the start of a beautiful relationship. “You want to personalize
the conversation and begin to build that rapport,” says Todd Amsdell, president
and CEO of Amsdell Companies in Cleveland, Ohio. “If they are calling you, get
their phone number at the same time in case you get disconnected.”
2. How did you hear about
Brigitte Storti, director of training and marketing for Storage Investment
Management, Inc., in Pine Bush, N.Y., says that every year her company spends
valuable budgeting dollars on marketing and promotions, so this question helps
the company determine where their customers are coming from. “We want to spend
our marketing dollars wisely,” she says, “so if we are not getting any returns,
we are not going to spend money there again.
3. What are you looking to
This is not an invasive question. You are simply trying to determine what type
of unit fits your customer’s needs the best. “For example, if the customer says
they are waiting on a closing for a house, you know they will have a good
amount of things to store, but the storage will only be temporary,” says
Storti. “If they are only storing holiday decorations, they will most likely
want a long-term unit.”
In particular, Jeff Greenberger, self-storage attorney and partner in Katz,
Greenberger & Norton, LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio, reminds managers to ask if
the customer will be storing a vehicle or anything that has a title. “Most
storage operators do not want to be implicated in any sort of an attempt to
hide a vehicle from an appropriate owner, so you want to make sure you are
dealing with the owner of the vehicle,” he says. “If you don’t ask up front you
may never be told. If something happens, for example, say there are vapors from
a stored vehicle that creates a potential hazard, the owner will look at you
and the police will look at you.”
4. Are you an active member of the military service?
“If this isn’t one of your first questions, you should be fired,” says
Greenberger. The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides a wide range
of protections for individuals entering, called to active duty in the military,
or deployed service members. It postpones or suspends certain civil
obligations, such as outstanding credit card debt, mortgage payments, pending
trials, taxes, and terminations of leases to enable service members to devote
full attention to duty and relieve stress on the family members of those
deployed service members.
“You’re required by
federal law to ask it,” Greenberger says. “You’re not just asking the service
member, but you’re asking for the spouse or husband or girlfriend too. You need
to know this information before you foreclose on a unit or get a court order
for that unit. You could face financial penalties and even jail time if you
don’t know it.”
5. How long do you plan on
In addition to making sure a unit is available, the answer to this question
will determine what specials and features that you will offer to the customer.
“If the customer wants the unit temporarily, say only for one month, you’re not
going to offer a one-month free special,” says Amsdell. “If they want the unit
for a year, talking about air conditioning makes sense; if they only want it
for three months in the middle of winter, it doesn’t.”
6. How soon do you need
the unit? Timing is everything.
For example, John Smith just moved to the area and needs a 10-by-20 unit in one
month to store all of the items that do not fit into his current residence.
Your units are all filled up, but, at this point, knowing the size of a unit he
thinks that he needs, what he is storing, and how soon he needs it, Storti says
that you can now recommend an alternative that is available and still suits his
7. Where are you in the
moving process? Every phone call is not
only an opportunity to sell, it’s also an opportunity to up-sell as well. “If
the customer hasn’t even packed yet, you can up-sell the facility and its
packing supplies like boxes and bubble wrap that you offer. Some centers even
have mattress bags and sofa and chair covers available to sell.”
8. Do you need a climate-controlled unit? When it comes to temperature- or climate-controlled units, Greenberger says that many lawsuits result from customers who should have answered this question with “yes” instead of “no”. “Customers have picked units that do not have temperature control and then claim it was supposed to have the controls,” he says. “The customers will say they were misled and thought it was temperature controlled.” He advises that customers should sign an agreement, checking that they understand the unit has, or doesn’t have, temperature controls.
9. Do you know where we
Again, it might sound like a simple question with a simple answer, but it’s
best to make sure since many towns have multiple storage facilities. “This is
especially important if your customer is new to the town and you want them to come
in and take a tour of the site, see different sized units, and get a better
feel of what they might need,” Storti says. She has had customers who have done
everything over the phone, but she still believes this question is vital to
getting the customer through the front door.
10. What is your social security number?
Identity theft is on the rise, and asking for a customer’s social security
number is an added level of protection. Customers are not obligated to provide
it, but, according to Greenberger, it doesn’t hurt to ask. “People never want
to give it and owners are afraid to take it, but you have to understand there’s
a potential for liability if you don’t have it,” he says. “Do what you need to
do to protect yourself every time; it’s a business necessity.”
11. Do you have insurance? Last, but not least, is making sure that the
consumer has insurance for the items they are storing. It’s another level of
protection for you and the customer. “You can’t leave insurance of the contents
to chance,” says Greenberger.
that when asking these questions
you may have to pull out the information from your customer if they don’t
readily offer it. “Keep in mind, too, that the questions to be asked will
change from facility to facility,” says Amsdell. “For example, one self-storage
center may include questions about climate-control units, while another center
focuses on outdoor RV and boat storage only. It’s helpful to know your customer
Above all, be sure to keep a friendly and professional demeanor
throughout the entire interaction. First impressions are everything, and
building relationships with your customers begins with your greeting as soon as
they call or come through the office door.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer based in Poughkeepsie, New York.