Jim Ross, founder of 3 Mile Domination

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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 competition.

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 the rental.”

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 adds.

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 says.

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.

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