From answering questions to making sales, the phone plays a key role in the self-storage industry.
Being communicative with customers is more important than ever, call center experts say.
“Consumers aren’t very patient these days, and don’t like to be on hold,” said Robert Chiti, president and CEO of OpenTech Alliance, Inc., a provider of kiosks and call center services to the self-storage industry.
Since many storage facilities have a web presence, potential tenants often search online and call around before making a decision.
“The competition is higher and [that] generates more phone calls,” Chiti said.
If you run a small storage facility, taking calls yourself, or having a manager answer the phone, might be a relatively straightforward process.
But if your operation grows, or business increases, it can get tough to take every call that comes in. A call center can help ensure calls are answered and customers are served on a timely basis.
Those answering the phone can provide help for both new and existing customers. Call center staff should be able to answer questions new customers have about where the facility is located, its hours of operations, prices, promotions, and the size of units. It may also process rentals, reservations and payments.
Signs you need a call center
“You know you need a call center if your manager has answered the cell phone while showing a new customer a unit,” said Tron Jordheim, business development manager at Store Here Self Storage. Jordheim previously directed the call center arm of StorageMart.
Trying to juggle the new customer and take the call can lead to a drop in service, and both the caller and new customer could end up disappointed.
The same is true if you have had one or more people waiting at the front desk while the manager talks on the phone.
If you have one phone in the office of your facility, but lock up the office when showing units, cleaning a unit, or going to the bank, calls could go unanswered for long stretches. If you close the store for a full day or half a day each week, calls could be missed as well.
Missed calls, missed opportunities
Another sign you need a call center: “Your staff answers phone calls after business hours on a cell phone,” said Jordheim.
Staff members might not be available, or may not be in an optimal setting to take calls.
If you have voicemail or an answering machine that picks up calls, you could be missing opportunities.
Usually when customers are asked to leave a message, they don’t leave one, according to Chiti from OpenTech. Potential clients will likely dial another facility, and rent from the place that answers the phone right away.
If you opt for a call center, you have a couple of options. You could create an in-house call center, or choose a third party call center to handle calls for your operation.
By setting up a call center in-house, you’ll have the advantage of selecting the staff to run it. Be prepared, however, to make a hefty investment. In addition to hiring and training staff, you’ll need the equipment and technology to handle a high volume of calls.
You’ll also have to factor in staff issues and future fluctuations. For instance, if rent is due for customers at the beginning of the month, you’ll likely have a high number of calls during the first few days of each month. That might be followed by a slow period, and a staff without much to do around the middle of the month.
Also, creating a high level of infrastructure can keep your facilities tied up at turning points. If you have a large number of properties for a number of years, and then decide to downsize, you could be left with a call center you no longer need. Starting an in-house operation only makes sense if you have a large number of facilities.
With a third party call center, you won’t be able to hire and monitor the staff within your own operation. You will, however, likely save on costs and reach more customer who call in. You’ll free up your own staff for other important tasks, such as serving those at the front desk, cleaning units, and overseeing the grounds.
When looking for a third party call center, “find one with storage specific experience that has the flexibility to work with your management software and your business hours,” said Jordheim.
Also ask about seeing performance statistics, and listening to call recordings.
“Interview the vendors to see how well they understand your needs,” Jordheim said.