Starting Out Strong: Five Magic Questions You Must Ask
by M. Anne Ballard
Originally published by Mini Storage Messenger, January 12, 2021
I’m talking about our telephone and walk-in greeting process and the questions and command of the situation that determine how things will proceed. Your initial greeting has to be more than just a smile and pleasantries while seated behind your desk.
Since our customers can gather voluminous amounts of data about self-storage online before walking through our doors or calling us, it is important not to just spout out information, i.e., quote a price and hope they will sign up. Being nice is not enough.
Your attitude and professionalism need to be there when you pick up the phone and when they walk in your door. Have you heard or seen what you sound like, look like, and the way you conduct yourself? The greeting sets forth how you will handle and care for your new and existing customers. Do others perceive you as confident, knowledgeable, and a real problem solver? Or would they say you are more like an order taker or caretaker and not much more? You need to be as well prepared as the 70-plus percent of our customers who have rented self-storage before and understand all the basics of self-storage renting.
You must have at the ready the questions you need to ask to unearth which type of customer you have and how they need to use self-storage. Commercial or residential, student, military, or senior living? Lots of activity and deliveries or limited access and use, credit card auto debit, military addendum, referral source, needs truck rental or free move-in with your truck? These are just the starting places to unearth the basics so that when you have a complete picture you can use your expertise and analysis to recommend the correct size (and location on your site) that will perfectly fit the situation. You will need to know what amenities or features you and your store possess that your competition does not and complete knowledge about your competition, your product and services, and your own strengths and weaknesses.
We begin with five magic questions and then add other questions as information presents itself. Those questions include:
- Have you ever rented self-storage before?
- What will you be storing?
- When do you need to be moved in?
- How long do you think you’ll need storage? The reason we ask this question up front is so that at closing if we ever do have to offer to match a competitor to get the lease, we can limit our exposure to discounts by only matching the length of time they thought they would need it and thereafter it becomes the regular rent automatically, i.e., “If I could match that price for the two months you think you’ll need it, after that time the price would be our regular price, would you rent with me today?”)
- About how much do you think your things are worth? We ask this question when they are on site and we are showing them their unit to ascertain how much insurance coverage will be needed.
Remember these guidelines:
Each piece of information gathered is a gift.
• Leads to the next action or question
• Can your smile be heard? You don’t want to sound like a grumpy or distracted person; focus on them and smile.
• Are you confident? As a professional storage counselor, you know:
o All the questions
o All the answers
• Are you in charge of the call and leading them to answers?
• Use questions to get control of the conversation. Open-ended questions let them talk, while closed questions require only a yes or no answer. Like a gas pedal or brakes, use questions to guide your car!
Have a presentation script to go by that keeps you moving forward in the process, whether on the phone or assisting a walk in, but allows for notes and comments that you can refer to when making your recommendation.
Stand And Greet
Preparation is essential. To that end, why not meet them at the front door? With a clipboard or tablet in hand, welcome them as you would guests to your home by introducing yourself, getting their name, and using it during the presentation. If it is 100 degrees outside, present them with an ice-cold water bottle that hopefully has your name on it and lead them to the front desk. “Let’s get you settled and see how we can improve your life today.” From here, begin asking questions and making notes. Once you have ascertained what unit size and add-on services are needed, stand and take them to see the unit and location you have chosen for them, stopping by to see your model unit indicating all the various sizes you have available and highlighting all your features and amenities by showing how they will benefit this specific customer, not just everyone in general.
When you get back to the office, seat them, start the paperwork or move-in process, and present them with all the other programs that will apply to them (free move-in truck; automatic payment enrollment form, which is presented as your “no late fee guarantee; and perhaps even your authorization key release for your package delivery acceptance program, allowing you to give the key out for each of their deliveries so the driver can place the items in their unit and return and sign in/out for the key noting date and time so they don’t have to be there each time to accept deliveries).
If they just came by to purchase boxes or moving supplies, you are already standing near your sales area and can begin by asking, the sixth question: “What will you be packing?” This is the perfect question to improve box sales and lead consumers to the right merchandise. While on the showroom floor together, point out your Bundle Pricing Program, allowing for discounts on larger quantities, and your Box Buyback Program, which is peace of mind for someone worrying about buying too much. With this program, as long as they return any unused items in brand new condition and bring in their receipt, we will buy them back. It rarely happens. Our box sales now average over $25 per move-in and half of this is profit! We always load boxes and merchandise into our customers vehicle, even the guys, as it is part of our service to them.
Before they leave, remind them you are open seven days a week and here when they need additional supplies. Always ask if they need storage, truck rentals, or other services you offer. If they have never seen your facility, offer to show them around and demonstrate all you have to offer. Leave them with some of your referral cards where you pay a fee generally between $25 to $50 for anyone they send to your facility who rents a storage room.
Consumers today do not want you to be their friend (although that often happens with great managers). They don’t want a buddy or informer; they no longer value information as there is an infinite amount of information out there for free with one Google search. What they value and want is a trusted advisor, an expert who has done the analysis, interpretation, and gives them the best advice. They want us to know what questions to ask, then recommend and guide them to the perfect situation for their unique scenario.
Although we may rent that 10-by-20 to hundreds of people, they each have a unique way they need to use it, reason for storing, and specific benefits they are seeking.
Become An Expert
Remember, we never ask them, “What size do you need?” Only after questioning and information gathering can you recommend what will work best for them. If you do this correctly from the minute they enter your office, leasing and referrals will increase. And with this increase comes growth to income through improved street rates based on higher demand. Best of all, you have generated a one-of-a-kind customer experience for them that demonstrates your total focus on meeting and exceeding their expectations.
Here is the list of must ask questions in order:
- Have you ever rented self-storage before?
- What will you be storing (To qualify the use)?
- When do you need to be moved in (To create urgency for visit)?
- How long do you think you’ll need storage (To limit discounting)?
- About how much do you think your things are worth (To sell the right insurance)?
While on the phone, make sure you comment: “Don’t pack until you see me; I have the best box showroom (To sell boxes and supplies).”
It’s worth repeating: Never ask “What size do you need?” Customers often don’t understand capacity until you show them.
To fine-tune your presentation, a sample of the telephone and walk-in script that you can customize is available in the January 2021 print and digital edition o f Mini-Storage Messenger.
M. Anne Ballard is the President - Training, Marketing and Development Services at Universal Storage Group. Anne frequently speaks at industry events and is known worldwide as The Hat Lady.