Technology & Customer Service

The world’s communication techniques are rapidly evolving due to fast-moving technology and as such the way self storage facilities relate to customers is also changing.

In fact, the way self storage facilities engage with their local municipality, competitors and the online community at large is experiencing a major overhaul. As we find our fee in this ever-changing environment fuelled by technology that seems to change more quickly than it can be mastered, it is vital to accomplish a balance between good old customer service and the inevitable automated experience that accompanies this new technology. A savvy computer program will not bring a cup of tea to an elderly customer, and yet, to that particular customer the cup of tea is a gesture that will be remembered. While technology has its many merits, it is still our job to achieve harmony to create a favourable and memorable experience for our customers.

Keeping up with technology
While we are busy keeping up with technology, creating websites, using the cloud, updating Facebook profiles, publicising promotions – we need to be mindful that our customer service remains consistent with, and equivalent to the technology we are employing. Consistency is critical. For example, there is little point in sending out an email saying ‘come in and speak to our super friendly staff about our Super September promotion’ when in fact, customers who do come in are met with a decidedly unfriendly (and slightly surly) staff member, who unfortunately knows little to nothing of the Super September promotion…definitely not consistent.

Talk to the customer as if they are in the store with you, which is exactly what you would do in person. Websites where possible, should not replace the human element and should encourage feedback and two-way communication. Websites when created appropriately, can easily entice customers to store with you using brightly coloured pictures and meticulously landscaped gardens. Consequently it is important to back this up in person. When your potential customers make a site visit they will expect to see a clean environment, maintained storage units and a respectable reception office as depicted on your website. Basically whatever they have seen on your website is what they will expect to see when they make an unannounced visit.

Infinite possibilities for communication
Technology has definitely changed the manner in which we communicate with self storage customers, and in turn, how we provide customer service. In the past customers were called on a landline, sent a letter, or you waited until they dropped by the site in person to communication with them. In today’s setting you have more options to contact and communicate with your customer. They range from emails, texts, telephone calls, on-site visits, IM, your website, Facebook and a long list of other social media alternatives.

How many of these mediums are successful for self storage? Not all of them, that’s for sure. In your process to trial these and work out what’s best for you, you can get a bit creative. Have you had a customer who is not paying their bill? Try looking for them on Facebook. Do you have a customer who has moved away temporarily that you need to discuss something with? Why not arrange to Skype with them?

Do you want to make better use of your social media profile? Use it to announce promotions, moving tips, renovations or photos – then send an email to customers asking them to check out your site and follow you. Photos of employees going about their business, merchandise on your shelves, the family dog, the staff picnic – these are all things that give people an inside look and are a clever bridge to building rapport. People tend to do business with companies they feel comfortable with and creating an online relationship helps facilitate that relationship. Give some thought to which posts or websites have caught your attention and ask yourself why? Consider creating a competition online to see how many views you get and make a big deal about promotion of the winner and the prize. Above all, don’t be afraid to try something! If it doesn’t prove successful try something else until you find something that works for you.

In this instance, technology alone doesn’t do all the hard work, it’s just a tool for you to improve your customer service and your interaction with your customers.

Phone Sales 101

How much easier is it to sell to someone who seems to be on the same wavelength as you? Not only are these people easier customers to work with, but you often find that you genuinely like them. It’s like driving down the main street with nothing but green lights ahead! In real life however there are occasions where the person on the other end of the phone just doesn’t seem to respond to what you are saying.

When a customer calls and enquires about storage we have a limited amount of time to establish a relationship with the customer.

You are the expert in the Self Storage business. You are also the businesses representative to the customers you speak with. Each time a customer calls, it is important to begin by gathering info and establishing a relationship with YOUR customer. Customers don’t like to be “sold” they like to “buy”. You are building a relationship based on mutual respect. Think about the last time you were “sold” to. You probably felt high pressure or that you got taken advantage of. Nobody likes that feeling. So in order to do this effectively you need to ask YOUR customer high value questions that are necessary in effective phone selling.

USE QUESTIONS
If you are in sync with your customer you are questioning, learning and then becoming part of the purchase decision. This makes you a partner with YOUR customer. Customers will rely on you for information and you will be able to rely on them for sales you can close over the phone. When you understand the way questions can help your sales calls then each time you use one you will feel more secure in the outcome. Your goal is to get your customer singing off the same page as you. They need to see the value of storing with you. How do you do that? By using a specific process of qualifying that builds rapport, establishes your credibility and maximizes your opportunities for closing the sale.

QUESTIONS QUALIFY
Answer by first putting a smile in your voice so that you sound friendly. This is a very important point because it allows you to control the tone of the message and the call. “I’m happy to tell you what we have, but do you mind if I ask you a few quick questions first?” Emphasize the word couple or quick so they know it’s not a lengthy process.

When you ask YOUR customer questions your goal is to get their attention and in turn help them make a decision to rent. There are a number of reasons to ask good questions to YOUR customer.
• You establish your credibility as a storage expert.
• Uncover your customer’s real needs.
• Deepen your customer relationships.
• Lay out the foundation for how you are going to present your business as the solution.
• They help gather info about a customer’s situation.
• They establish trust.
• They also guide the customer’s thinking towards your service.

When you ask YOUR customer questions it helps establish credibility. The customer doesn’t know who you are and they are potentially trusting you with their belongings. By asking these questions we show our customers empathy and care for what they have. Asking these questions needs to be done early and correctly in the conversation. By asking these questions you help set yourself apart from other storage facilities they might have called. The secret to get the customer responding is to begin with easy broad nonthreatening questions to put them at ease.
• Can you tell me what items you plan on storing?
• When do you need to store?

Finally remember to never interrupt your customers after asking a question, even if there is silence on the phone. Respect YOUR customer’s communication style and resist the urge to either answer the question or prompt an answer.

LISTENING
Use the tongue trick to stay quiet. Just gently place your tongue behind your front teeth. Let it serve you as a reminder to be quiet until the customer is finished speaking.

Often we get in the habit of “feature dump” where we know we need to say 5 things and come hell or high water we are going to say these 5 things. When we answer the phone we represent the businesses products and service. Sometimes we get so excited we feel like we have to throw out every neat feature and include a cherry on top! Customers today are over this unwelcome barrage of verbiage. A presentation in which we listen and respond with the feature and benefit that is important to the customer will go a long way toward getting the person to buy.
• While you are listening you should ask yourself some questions
• Is this customer receptive?
• Is this customer too busy to talk?
• Does this customer sound stressed?
• Is this customer multitasking?
If you have a customer who you know is actively doing something else or are too busy to talk, you need to take the cues and shorten what you have to say. If you have a customer who is actively participating in the conversation and you are forming the” partnership” respond to those cues.

THE LISTENING CHALLENGE
I feel one of our challenges is that we don’t fully listen to the customer. Below are some possible reasons why:
• We have never been formally taught how to listen
• We have short attention spans
• We multitask while on the phone
• We begin to steamroll
• We regurgitate the product info
• We are so intent with our next bullet point we disregard the customers reaction
Our job on the phone is to listen to the customer. When we listen, we build better relationships, know more about the customer’s needs and close more sales.

Customers respond to stories that give them past history or emphasize success. Try remembering stories that emphasize a customer who has had this same situation. Let them know that we have successfully helped people in their situation. What you want to let the customer know is “you are smart like our other customers, so you will want to use our storage in just the same way.”

The CLOSE
You will not have the customer with you at the close unless you have them during your entire call. As long as you are talking away, rattling off a list, you are not guiding the sales conversation and taking control of the call. You may in fact be delivering a solo performance to an audience that has already checked out. Unless you keep YOUR customer involved by asking questions throughout the call you won’t know what to zero in on.

The lack of two way involvement makes the close for so many of us a shot in the dark, an unsupported guess, with all the stress and uncertainty that guessing creates. The customer isn’t going to interrupt your and say “excuse me I’d like to rent now….will you please shut up!”

ASK FOR THE BUSINESS
We always need to ask for the sale. If we have taken the time to create this partnership with the customer and not ask for the sale, then why did we even answer the phone?
• It sounds like we have the storage solution for you. Would you like to put a deposit down on that?
• Based on what you told me it looks like we have a great match…can we start…
• “To secure a XXX we will need a deposit of xxx will that work for you?”
Make sure at the end that you sincerely thank YOUR customer for their business. Let them know that they are of value and they matter to you as people…make it personal.

By Rick Beal
Rick Beal is part owner of Cubes Self Storage. He’s involved in the company’s leadership, marketing, planning and training. Rick resides in Salt Lake City Utah and is a board member of the Utah Self Storage Association. He’s motto is “storage is a business of inches not miles.”
Cubes Self Storage – Salt Lake City, USA.
rickb@cubesselfstorage.com

The Importance of Follow Up

Following up leads (sales enquiries) is one of those self storage tasks that often gets left to the bottom of the ‘to-do list’. It takes time and some of your staff may not feel comfortable calling back out of the blue – but it’s also one of the most important aspects of the sales process; now-so more than ever.

In today’s fast-paced online world, people expect answers quickly – if not immediately. If we look at the average* storer, they generally…

– start making enquiries 1 month prior to requiring storage (35%)
– find their storage facility online (51%)
– do so using a Google search (75%)
– contact facilities of interest by telephone (51%)
– expect to see unit availability and pricing online (75%)

See more at: http://storman.com/blog/the-importance-of-follow-up/?src=ssaablog

By Andy Pudmenzky (Customer Experience & Marketing Manager, StorMan Software)

9 New Ways to Engage Your Customers via SMS (Tipsheet)

As previously discussed, SMS is quickly becoming the next must-have tool in your arsenal for keeping in touch with your customers… but with communications going out to different customers, on different days, for different things – how can you get a handle on customer communications?
StorMan’s automation engine, called Daily Processing, knows exactly what needs to get sent to whom, and when. By harnessing this power, we can increase customer engagement using SMS with little extra effort… in fact, zero extra effort, once it’s been setup.

Let’s take a look at some of the times that we can send an SMS to our customers…

Over 90% of people read a text message within the first three minutes of receiving it – proving that SMS is a great tool for engaging with your customers. (MobileSQUARED survey)

 
Next stop automation station
Keep your brand front-of-mind by engaging with your customers for important business communications such as when the customer is late, to welcome them upon arrival – or even when their credit card on file is due to expire.

Here are some examples that you could setup to send automatically when particular triggers are met…

    • Move In / Arrival: StorMan lets you schedule an SMS X days before, or after, a move in. You could use this communication to welcome a new customer to your marina of self storage facility, you could provide last-minute information a day or so before they are due to arrive, or remind them of a particular document that they might need to bring with them – just to name a few!
    • During the course of their stay: Ensure you have correct contact details by messaging the customer 6 months into their stay to check that their contact details are still up to date.
    • Move Out / Departure: Why not that the customer for their business upon move-out / departure? It might also be worth sending a link to a quick 5-question survey to ask what the customer liked, what you could have done better & whether they’d recommend your business to a friend. After all, if you don’t ask – you won’t know. Exit surveys are a fantastic way to gauge customer feedback and get customers to do the selling for you.
    • Credit Card Expiry: If you process customer credit cards in StorMan, then you’ll have a record of the credit card expiry date in StorMan. Unless you update it before it expires, the payment will decline – so this is an important step to ensure you have the latest details on file at all times. Sending an SMS X days prior to the credit card expiry date is a great way to reminder customers to keep their payment details up to date. But don’t send your SMS too early; most credit card providers don’t send out new cards until about 7 – 10 business days before the expiry.
    • When an invoice falls due: This communication works wonders! Customers often forget about invoices (particularly if you send them too far in advance of the due-by date), lose them – or their spam filters accidentally junk them. By sending them an SMS a day or two before the due date, you can really tighten up that arrears process and lock that payment reminder firmly into the customer’s mind.
    • Late payment: This one works wonders, too! If your customer forgets to pay their invoice, why not send them a friendly reminder via SMS? Remind them of their impending lockout, or of an impending late fee. You’ll be surprised how quickly most customers pay after receiving this reminder SMS. Sending this message is a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things when it comes to chasing arrears. Of course, the power & intelligence behind StorMan’s automation engine means that only customers who are late will ever receive this text message.

To keep reading and download this free tip sheet, and view an example of SMS download code that you can ‘copy’ straight into StorMan, go to http://ssn.storman.com/pages/newsblogs/9-new-ways-to-engage-your-customers-via-sms/?src=ssaablog.

By Andy (Customer Experience & Marketing Manager, StorMan Software)

Are you using SMS effectively?

As the world moves towards an ever-increasing reliance on electronic communication methods, SMS is quickly becoming the next must-have tool in your arsenal for keeping in touch with your customers. With your customers likely receiving hundreds of emails a day, it’s very easy for rental reminders and other important communication from your business to get lost.

Over 91% of adults keep their phones within arm’s reach. (Source: Morgan Stanley)

To make matters worse, many customers now elect for electronic-only communication, so subsequent reminders regarding an overdue payment may also get lost and there is no longer a fall-back solution such as a printed letter (although StorMan can easily be setup to do this if you like – but it would go against the “electronic-only” preference of our customers).

Keep your business front-of-mind

By backing-up an important business communication by SMS, it ensures your business remains front-of-mind for your customers. SMS is also a forced engagement tool, meaning that your customer doesn’t necessarily know who it’s from until they open it. It forces the customer to read what you send them, so it’s a fantastic tool for getting important information out to your customers.

Additionally, StorMan no longer limits the number of characters you can send in an SMS – opening the door to a more detailed communication if required.

Make an impact from multiple angles

SMS is a great way to compliment customer communications, by coming in at multiple angles. For example, you could configure StorMan to send an SMS about an upcoming rental invoice, and then send the invoice by email the next day (or the reverse; use the SMS to follow-up the invoice from the previous day).

According to a MobileSQUARED survey, over 90% of people read a text message within the first three minutes of receiving it.

The same idea can apply to customers that are in arrears. They may have missed an invoice email, but they’re bound to see (and read) the SMS. How many people do you know that look at their phone as soon as they hear an incoming text message?

The “nag factor” can work quite well in this regard – and I’ve often heard StorMan users say that their phone will often ring after the batch SMS’s are sent from StorMan, with customers wanting to pay the invoice over-the-phone – so it definitely works!

Less roadblocks

When comparing electronic communication methods, SMS has far fewer roadblocks than email. There are no email spam filters or email blacklists to content with, no virus issues & no mail server delays – and the recipient can’t block the message as spam. They’re simple and they work… plus, as I’ve said earlier, they’re a great forced engagement tool.

On average, people look at their phone 150 times a day
On average, people look at their phone 150 times a day. Source: MoGREET Survey

When used in moderation, SMS is a fantastic companion tool to email communication and can be used to draw attention to important email communications that may have been missed.

Full-circle solution

A further benefit of SMS is the incorporated Delivery Receipt. This is an email which proves the SMS was delivered to the customer’s mailbox and is included with every SMS you send from within StorMan. Furthermore, it’s automatically attached to the customer’s file and is admissible in court.

If you’re not yet using SMS with your copy of StorMan, why not sign-up for StorMan SMS today?

Regards,
Andy (Customer Experience & Marketing Manager, StorMan Software)

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