Habit & Compulsion – keys to higher, sustained facility occupancies?

Greek philosopher Aristotle seemed to encapsulate drivers of human behaviour way back around 300BC, when he contended that “all human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion and desire.”

The self storage industry undoubtedly taps into a least two of the key drivers of human behaviour that Aristotle alluded to. Compulsion centres on irresistible, often irrational, impulses that drive behaviour. My sports memorabilia collection would suggest I am no stranger to this! Clinging to thoughts of self-confessed sporting prowess of yesteryear, I have diligently built up a varied collection of cricket, rugby and boxing memorabilia over the years that now clutters my garage floor. Thoughts of selling some of this expensive (and now redundant) collection aren’t on my mental ‘radar’ however, as I couldn’t bear to be unfaithful to the legends of ‘The Don,’ Muhammad Ali, Shane Warne or the All Blacks. In short, my emotions are driving my behaviour and I’m a prime candidate for self storage as a result!

I’m sure that none of us are strangers to habits – settled practices (both positive and frustrating) that are hard to give up. Habits help us complete tasks, with a minimum of fuss or active thought. By way of example, research undertaken to write this article described and extensive European study of 100 000 mobile phone signals that discovered phone users, despite variety in their travel, exhibited “inherently similar” and “reproducible behaviours.” It seems these similar reproducible behaviours (I’ll call them habits) are alive and well in the self storage industry.

SSAA Demand Study Feedback
Research undertaken by Urbis for the 2013 SSAA Demand Study highlighted that:

48.1% of private users and 69.1% of business users had occupied their current storage facility for a period in excess of twelve months.

The Study also details the positive flow on effect for a facility in its quest to achieve higher sustained levels of occupancy (and resultant profits), if a greater proportion of its customer base are “entrenched longer term customers.” In layman’s terms, they’ve formed the ‘habit’ of storing at your facility.

In determining whether your self storage facility owners, managers and staff are honing in on the compulsive and habit-forming behaviours of potential and existing customers to ensure that their ‘stay’ is a lengthy one, I question whether you are giving them reasons to break a habit they are subconsciously forming? In considering the service interactions I have had with a variety of companies recently (including multinationals) here are some of the reasons I would choose to discontinue a ‘habit-forming’ relationship with them.

Overly complex fault handling or feedback systems:
Dealing with a well-known telecommunications company, being passed through multiple different departments, repeat the technical issue I am experience to each new call centre operator and be on the phone for 45 minutes, prior to being told this issue is a nationwide one without an immediate fix. Sound familiar? Energy companies too?

Rigid ordering policies:
High end cafe, expensive retro fit out in uber trendy area. Breakfast egg options – fried, fried or fried. Any chance of scrambled? I’m happy to pay more! Sorry, menu options are set!!

Lack of awareness:
Aforementioned cafe and multiple other eateries, funky ‘hip and cool’ staff who wouldn’t look out-of-place on the cover of a fashion magazine. Hi! I’m over here! Any chance of distracting you from your (obviously) personal conversation so I can order more food or another drink?

Generic communications messages:
Letter from the local gym – I’m a regular client, including a weekly personal training session in the gym (OK, clearly I’m still a work in progress!). Generic two sentence letter suggests I should come down soon and “experience the benefits of lifting weights!” No apparent ‘WIIFM’ (What’s In It For Me).

I don’t have the space here to detail reasons I would choose to engage in a habit-forming relationship with a company. I venture to suggest reasons would form the complete antithesis of what I have described above. Felling compelled to always order my lunch at the same cafe (including crossing the street to walk on the other side of the road if I chose not to) whilst working in Melbourne CBD for 10 years, despite a plethora of nearby options, because staff knew my name, knew what I liked, engaged in conversation and made ordering easy for me clearly demonstrate behaviour heavily influenced by both habit and compulsion.

Aristotle coined them ages ago, academics and psychologists make a living writing about and treating their effects. What are you doing to ensure ‘compulsion’ and ‘habit’ are key drivers of your business success?

Dougal Hollis (SSAA CEO)

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