Tron Jordheim, PhoneSmart Hawaii Un-Conference leader and COO of the PhoneSmart Off-Site Sales Force.
I travel a lot to see our PhoneSmart clients and to attend trade shows, events and conferences. Even with web conferencing, video chat and the ease of text and email, people still like to get together in person to network, learn and socialize. As a matter of fact, we even created our own PhoneSmart event, our PhoneSmart Hawaii un-Conference, as a way to connect with more clients and friends in the industry.
I was traveling to a self storage association event recently and went to pick up my Hertz rental car from the Hertz center. As you walk in the door to the rental center you pass a row of self service kiosks, where you can check yourself in and get your car assignment. Whoever designed the rental center clearly took the time to position the kiosks so people would walk by them first. The kiosks looked inviting and gave the appearance of being easy to use.
I like using self service for some things. When I fly on American Airlines, I usually check myself in. I fly with them so much that I know all the routines and all the ins and outs. The self check-in process is easy. When I fly on an airline I use less often, I usually go to the counter and talk to a real person, just to make sure I have everything covered.
I have discovered the RedBox for DVD rentals in my local grocery store. It is a great service. My family and I decide we want to see a movie that has only been out a short time. I go online and order the movie in about a minute. It takes about 30 seconds to use the RedBox to pick up the DVD while I am grocery shopping. We enjoy the movie. I drop it off in the morning when I stop to get my morning coffee. Easy to do.
But self service is not the best for everything.
Let’s go back to my experience at the Hertz rental car location. I usually don’t rent from Hertz, so I thought I’d go to the counter and talk to the rep, just to make sure I got everything straight and got the vehicle I wanted. There was quite a line at the counter and there were several reps helping other customers. But I noticed something interesting. No one was using the self service kiosks.
I watched what was happening for a while. The reps behind the counters were all friendly and were chatting a little with each customer they helped. I watched some more. There must have been five or six people behind me, another three or four in front of me and the line was not moving very quickly. Finally one guy stepped out of line and went to the kiosk. He put his credit card or his driver’s license through the swiper. I couldn’t tell which he was using from my angle. He started using the screen. A few minutes passed and he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, turned around and got back in line.
Something in his transaction could not be handled by the kiosk. Something he needed could not be accomplished at the kiosk.
Why is it then that I and a zillion other people love using the RedBox Kiosk to rent a DVD movie, but no one renting a car that day at Hertz wanted to use the self service kiosk?
The lesson is that there are transactions that lend themselves well to self service and others that do not. Low value, uncomplicated, often repeated transactions lend themselves well to self service. This is why ATM machines and online banking do so well for the banking industry. If all the customer needs is to check an account balance, withdraw a little cash, or move funds from one account to another there is no reason to see the teller. There is no value to the customer or the business to have a personal interaction for such a simple transaction.
New purchases or infrequent transactions are not well suited for self service. Renting a storage unit is not a low value, uncomplicated, often repeated transaction. There is tremendous value to both the customer and the business by having that rental be a personal transaction. Most storage customers have never rented storage before. If they have, it may have been several years ago. New customers have questions and concerns. Dealing with these questions and concerns personally educates new customers and assures new customers about their decisions to store. This process increases the likelihood of a successful storage experience, increases the likelihood of a longer stay, and helps to generate referral and repeat business.
There is a tremendous value to new customers created when they deal with someone personally who is friendly and helpful. Most people are storing during a stressful time in their lives. They are often storing things that are near and dear to them. Studies and surveys continue to show that people like to do business with people who they like and who they feel pay proper attention to them.
There also a tremendous value to the business by having a good personal interaction with new customers. If a storage rental was worth two dollars, if would probably not be worth the time, effort and expense of creating a personal transaction. But a storage rental might easily be worth $500 or $1,000 in revenue. And as you know, the asset value of your storage property is based on a multiplier of revenue. Therefore one new rental could easily create an additional $10,000 in asset value. I would hope that you’d agree with me that a $10,000 transaction should not be left to chance. It should be handled personally and handled well.
Some storage operators think they can save payroll dollars by using a kiosk and by trying to drive new rental transactions to their websites. Yes there are people who prefer to do their research and make their buying decisions on line. And there will be some people who will use a kiosk to rent a unit. But this math does not make sense. If a new rental is worth $10,000 in asset value, an employee does not have to rent very many units to pay for their salary. I guarantee you that an employee who knows how to talk to people will outsell a kiosk or a website a hundred to one.
The attempt to make self storage a self service purchase is very short sighted and may end up costing some people their businesses. If your nearest competitor is trying to do all its new business online and with a kiosk, and you are trying to train, coach and motivate your real people to do a better job at sales and customer service, your business will beat the competitor in every measurement category you can think of. Your friendly, helpful store employee, coupled with PhoneSmart’s friendly, helpful call center reps working as back-up will out perform your automated competitor had over fist.
Why? Because people like to do business with people who are friendly and helpful. People like talking to people who know how to talk to them. So your wiser investment would be to help your staff become great at talking to people. How do you do it?
- The realization. Realize that your most important job is talking to people. Yes all the other aspects are important. But nothing is more important than talking to people. It doesn’t matter what you are talking about…just talk to people. A customer coming in to complain is as good as a customer coming in to pay you a compliment. Talking about the weather with a customer is as good as talking about how to pack dishes do they won’t break. You should seek out conversations. When you take a payment at the counter, start a conversation. When you see a customer on the property, start a conversation. When you are talking to someone on the phone about a new rental, don’t just give information or ask for the reservation, start a conversation.
- Listen well. A conversation only works when you listen well. Listen for your customer’s concerns. Listen for your customer’s experiences. Listen for their pain. Listen for their joy. Try to intentionally spend 70% of your conversation listening. Then talk about what you heard.
- Ask good questions. You get people talking so you can listen to them by asking good questions. Who, what, when, where, and why are all very good friends. Use them often to find out more about what your customer is talking about. Use them to find out your customer’s feelings and state of mind.
- Relate their experiences to you own. If you experienced something similar or knew someone who felt the same way, share that. It helps make the conversation more meaningful and genuine. Remember this conversation is not about you. It is about your customer. It is about how you understand where the customer is coming from and how that customer feels. Remember to listen 70% of the time.
- If you have a solution relating to storage, offer it. Sometimes buying some boxes, learning how to pack better or renting a second unit will go a long way to help people get better organized, take something stressful off of their to-do lists, or just gain a little peace of mind. When you hear something in the conversation and it seems natural to offer a solution, then offer it. But be real. Buying a box will not solve every problem.
To recap, realize that talking to people is the most important part of your job. Listen carefully to what people are saying and how they are saying it. Ask some good questions to get people talking and to find out more about what they are saying. Relate their experiences to your own, so they know you understand them. When it flows naturally into the conversation, offer them a solution you provide to help them make their lives easier and better.
So the point of this whole story is to convince you that your time and money are best spent helping your people get great at talking to people. PhoneSmart is glad to help you with that. Our call center reps will do a great job talking to your callers and helping you rent more units. Our training and coaching staff will do a great job helping your people sound great and feel great when talking to your customers and your rental inquiries. You can find out more about our services at www.phone-smart.info .
If you want to talk to some really great and interesting people from the storage industry, join us June 7-11, 2011 at the PhoneSmart Hawaii Un-Conference on the beautiful Big Island. I guarantee you that people there will want to talk to you and hear about your experiences too. More information is at www.phonesmart-hawaii-unconference.com.
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