Storage CX: The Customer Experience

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The Next Competitive Battlefield

The self-storage customer experience is changing. You may even be wondering why it’s called customer experience and what all the hullabaloo is about. The term customer service is different from the experience the customer has when using self-storage. The customer experience referrers to the interactions that your customer has with your company from the website to renting and using your storage property. Customer experience refers to the interactions the user has with the company’s website, mobile app, rental process, and all touchpoints a customer has when storing their goods. Customer service refers to the interaction your employees have with the customer. Basically, we are in the memories business, and our job is to design positive impressions and memories. And, keep in mind that the task of moving is on the top 10 most stressful things a person can experience. The question becomes, can we make even small changes to create and improve the moving and storage process for our customers? 

Digital Experience Challenge
The digital age has made so many tasks easier, but it has added another layer of complexity to get customers and make it as seamless and easy as possible. Undoubtedly, small-scale local self-storage operators will have a difficult time competing with large operations on the web. A good example of an extraordinary web presence and great customer touchpoint is found at www.StorQuest.com. StorQuest, led by Bill Hobin, is a forerunner in customer experience in the self-storage industry. They have produced amazing, professionally produced videos highlighting actual “StorQuest Partners”. For example, there’s champion surfer Kelly Slater showing off his surfboard and his use of the very clean and organized storage space. They also highlight YouTuber Jordan Kahana’s use of his StorQuest storage space to help declutter his house and free up his life for outdoor fun. StorQuest is committed to creating a lasting customer service experience for their “storage partners”. And their substantial financial commitment to making their brand “customer driven” is paying off! 

Unfortunately, not all storage operators can spend the money necessary to have a great customer experience online. At a minimum, the customers expect your website to be easy to use, informative, and mobile friendly. When your website is amazing, that creates a higher level of the customer’s expectation of good service. Customers expect replicated expectation of excellence once the customer moves through the process of contacting your employees at the store or your call center, and finally to the brick-and-mortar location to store their goods.                                                                                                                                    

The irony of customer experience is that your end customer has a better view of your entire experience than your company as they are exposed to the beginning-to-end experience, not just parts of it. Storage owners should involve internal teams to improve the entire rental process. Keep in mind, in customer experience terms, your company is only as good as your weakest link. If you have an amazing website but no one answers the phone when the customer calls your storage property, then the passing of the baton to the site manager failed. This could be remedied by using a call center. However, the call center needs to be stellar at selling or passing the lead to the site too. You can’t leave the delivery of your critical customer touchpoints to chance. That is why StorQuest has its own call center housed in their main office. This means that you must understand what matters to customers. And, no, it is not simply the price of your storage space. Actively design and connect with your customers. Understand what matters to them. Train your employees to deliver great service and connect with the customer. This means active development and management of their customer experience. Companies are investing a mere 10 percent of their advertising budget to get the delivery of and experience that matches the customer’s expectation.

Employees – Customer Experience Agenda
Being in the self-storage business since 1984, I have seen a lot of changes and innovations in our storage product. What hasn’t changed is the fact that employees can make or break a store’s success. It is imperative that the people serving your customers actually like people. Happy employees stay longer, work harder, and attract people like them to join your company. As a service business, most of our success comes from the employees. Many well-designed, expensive to build storage properties have suffered slow rentals at the hands of complacent and dull employees. When hiring, find employees with the gift of gab and desire to please others. In a customer centric environment or approach to handling customers, the employee knows that they exist to keep customers happy and satisfied. A customer intelligent company that works on the customer experience will be both more efficient in terms of its operations and more effective at translating the money spent on marketing the customer experience agenda into the bottom line of profitability.

Training For The Customer Experience Agenda
Education, even in large customer experience driven companies, has had difficulty making the leap from simple sales and customer service training to the more encompassing customer experience agenda. The commitment from the storage owner(s) to the person training employees must have a guide and support for the trainer’s role in teaching the customer experience model.

Customer Intelligent
This term essentially means that you structure and manage your business in a way that optimizes all the information about your customer and effectively balance the commercial needs with the customer expectations, creating a real win-win position for everyone. Unfortunately, most storage owners know very little about their customers. Some storage operators ask for customer information on a “New Tenant Questionnaire” when the customer is initially renting. They commonly ask questions such as, “How far do you live from the property?”, “How did you hear about us?”, “Why did you chose us?”, etc. This data collection is typically worthless, because nothing is done with it.

With a customer centered business model, you need to know more about your customer. Large storage operators are collecting data on their customer base. Customer analytics is a process by which data from customer behavior is used to help make key business decisions via market segmentation and predictive analytics. This information is used by businesses for direct marketing, site selection, and customer relationship management. There are currently programs in self-storage that can assist you in determining which customers can withstand a rate increase and how much of a rent increase that customer can pay. As an industry, we need more data about our customers. However, that type of data can be very expensive.

Customer Value Proposition (CVP)
This is your customer engagement model considering the three components of price, product, and service; you can substitute customer experience for service. The CVP is the company’s promise and experienced by the customer. The CVP can’t just be a “slogan” that isn’t delivered or difficult for the customer to experience, otherwise it is meaningless. The challenge in self-storage is to have the customer’s experience in storage be valuable and easy. Customer experience is not about finding the utopia in self-storage, though some of our customers want to live in our spaces. Remember, the customer experience activities must make commercial sense and should be directly connected to the bottom line of your business.

Customer Journey Mapping Tool
Implementing a customer experience at your company can be visualized and structured in a way to understand and capture the customer’s wants, needs, and expectations by creating a customer journey map. The mapping helps you find critical areas where a customer moves from one stage to another and break up the ownership of a customer experience and who is responsible for the task. For example:

  • Making customers aware of your business – marketing department, website designer, property management company, or the owner.
  • Acquiring the customer stage – site employee and/or call center
  • Renting sage – the site employee
  • Moving in and daily storing experience – site employees
  • Move-out – site employees

When you map out the jobs and duties it enables you to see some gaps between the customer’s expectation and the customer experience reality. Each of the stages can have inconsistencies or problematic errors that need to be addresses and resolved.

If you want to be more customer intelligent, you need to make better use of information. This will include information about the customer’s needs, values, expectations, measures, and emotions. A good analogy used to describe customer experience is a film production. There are many parts behind the scenes from lighting, cinematography, makeup, and scripts that all contribute to a successful outcome. These are unseen; the audience is not thinking about them, only enjoying the performance. Yet you would not expect an actor to work without a script, props, direction, and a clear understanding of the story. The customer experience is designed the same way. It relies on many back-office supporters, but it is ultimately about the delivery of a great storage experience to the customer. There is freedom for some ad lib lines within a framework where the emphasis is on the ability to consistently deliver your positive messages to the customer at key points of the customer experience.

Collin Duncan is a Senior Director in Financial Planning and Analysis with Extra Space Storage. Prior to Extra Space he worked for nearly a decade in market analysis and planning roles with Delta Air Lines and Utah Transit specializing in demographics, psychographics, and market segmentation. 

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