As a self-storage business grows, it’s necessary to communicate with more customers than ever before. Of course, that’s a wonderful thing, but a conversation with a customer is much more than just words. Whether the communication takes place over the phone, through click to chat, texting, email or social media, the outcome can mean the difference between a thriving business and one that’s barely making it.
After many years of call center leadership, one truth that stands out for us is that businesses must always listen to customers and respond to their needs. Listening sounds like a simple concept, but there are many ways business owners can more effectively listen to and respond to customers. The ability to truly listen to customers is enhanced with ongoing agent training, improved technologies, testing to see what works, and plenty of good, old-fashioned preparation to make sure customers can reach the business when they’re ready.
At Extra Space Storage, we brought our call center completely in-house to one central location seven years ago. It was a smart move. Our conversion rates were about 18 percent when we started our National Sales Center in Salt Lake City, and now on a daily basis our conversion rates are about 55 percent. Those numbers tell only a small part of our story. We’re going to share seven important tips we learned during this exciting seven-year journey.
- Provide nonstop coaching and agent development.
Many call centers have very specific types of customers they’re communicating with daily, but with the self-storage industry, there’s no demographic. The need for storage is universal, so storage professionals work with everyone – young or old, homeowners or renters, movers or travelers, businesses owners or workers. Anyone is a potential customer, so storage operators have to be ready to help any demographic. From a training standpoint, that may sound challenging, but the key is to have a singular focus on being adaptable! Agents need to ask the right questions, listen, and adapt to the person they’re working with for each experience.
When our agents begin working with us, they complete three weeks of initial training, including working at a storage facility. However, the training never really ends. We do nonstop coaching at our national call center, and it pays off. When agents have the opportunity to develop their potential, they’ll take care of the customers, and the results will be phenomenal.
- Use the technologies customers prefer.
As new technologies become more popular, successful businesses must adapt. Companies that are one-dimensional in how they interact with their customers are going to fall behind. Currently, Extra Space Storage customers can make contact through phone, email, click to chat, or by walking into a storage facility. It’s obvious that the term “call center” is becoming dated! Customers want other ways to contact businesses besides through the phone. The words “contact center” more accurately describe what we’re doing – providing a means for our customers to contact us.
It pays to adopt new technologies, but it may take some time to adjust. Extra Space Storage started using click to chat just over two years ago, and the initial conversion rate was about nine percent. We started with 15 click-to-chat agents, and realized that was too many. We currently have around five agents who specialize in click to chat, and they excel at communicating in that format. We’ve reached a 35 percent conversion rate when click to chat is used. It also has the highest move-in rate of our communication channels!
Click to chat is a growing channel, and a great avenue for customers to reach businesses. However, click to chat is just one example of a successful way to reach customers. In the future, we’ll most likely start communicating with customers via social media and SMS texting. It’s all about giving the customers choices, and meeting them where they’re most comfortable.
- Focus on people, not numbers.
We have a passion for not only helping our agents, but also for helping our customers as they go through life changes and challenges that make them seek out storage. At our National Sales Center, we teach our agents listening skills, how to ask the right questions, and how to interact with customers beyond just answering questions. Our agents learn how to comfortably connect with customers in a way that’s memorable, yet always professional.
Yes, our technology has improved, but it’s really all about the people. What allowed us to grow so much in the last seven years is our focus on our agents and customers. When you take care of the people, the numbers can take care of themselves!
- Develop a simple user interface for agents.
Customers want to be helped as quickly as possible, but if an agent is bogged down with a complex user interface, everyone loses. With Salesforce, we developed our own user interface for our agents. It’s a simple point-and-click system that improves efficiency, and frees agents to focus on the customers.
With a customized user interface, we can more easily adopt new technologies. Here’s one example: When our customers call us from a dynamic phone number that’s assigned to them after viewing our website, our agents can see what web pages they’ve been viewing. That ability allows agents to better help the customer by knowing which properties the customer is considering.
- Forecast and prepare appropriately.
One of our goals is to answer 90 percent of our calls within 30 seconds, and keep our abandon rate (customers hanging up) under 3 percent. So far this year, we’re exceeding those goals. Our average speed of answer is five to 10 seconds.
We’ve done this through dynamic scheduling.
We forecast when calls will come in by the half hour, and we make sure our agents are scheduled appropriately. Businesses can use historical forecasting with workplace management software to accurately predict call volume on a particular day. The more history the software has to work with, the more accurately it can predict call volume.
- Test and change.
A call center is a great testing laboratory. Through contact with customers, it’s easy to measure the effects of using certain verbiage, prices or promos. All of our sales calls are routed to our one centralized location, and that’s a great advantage. When the results of testing indicate changes are needed to improve customer experiences, we can retrain agents and change our sales processes very quickly.
When we first began our call center, we had a limited sales process that was very agent-centric. It focused on checklists. Now, we’ve evolved and can adapt to the customer. We can mirror the customer in our tone and energy, and overcome objections. That’s all come through our testing, but we’re never content.
One of our goals is to more quickly identify the customer’s personality traits during the conversation. If agents know they’re talking with an analytical person, they can provide more figures to help the customer make a decision, but a spontaneous person is more likely to want to make a reservation as quickly as possible. It’s all about adapting to the customer, regardless of their personality type.
- Be memorable (in a good way).
The customer experience should be easy, convenient and as interactive as possible, but there’s more to consider. We don’t treat it as a call because it’s not simply a call (or chat or email). It’s an experience we can provide to a customer who’s in need of our services. It’s a sales experience that they remember.
Storage professionals can be there for customers during their life events. No matter what that life event is, if a business treats a customer with enthusiasm and energy, that business will stand out above the rest and provide an experience, or emotional attachment, that will be remembered.
And never stop to smell the roses.
We feel comfortable with our sales process after seven years, but we’re always striving for excellence. We never really rest that long to smell the roses, and neither should any business. With call centers, it’s important to push the limits from a technological standpoint, and a sales standpoint. Everyone benefits, including agents and customers.