As the owner of a self-storage business, I serve people who are undergoing life changes every day. Relocations, divorce, college, and military deployment are just a few reasons someone might benefit from self-storage. Whatever the case, they’re likely tired, stressed, and generally unsettled. The last thing they want to do is slog through a long, confusing sales experience.
These days, the lines are blurred between “our business” and “your problems” in all industries. But what many business owners don’t realize is how easily they can soothe someone’s worries with good customer service — even if they have nothing to do with your business transaction.
Here are a few ways you can strike the perfect balance between empathizing with your customers and building a successful company:
1. Emphasize Efficiency
I’m a frequent traveler and often judge my hotels based on the efficiency of their check-in process. After a long day on the road, I just want to dive into a clean bed for some sleep. When front-desk employees confirm my reservation, quickly scan my card, and proficiently answer my questions, I feel better immediately. When I have to rest my elbow on the counter and listen to the frantic clicking of the keyboard, I start to wonder whether they’re writing “War and Peace.”
Get the first few minutes of your customer experience down to a science so your employees can practically conduct business in their sleep. But don’t mistake efficiency for mere speed — if a rushed transaction could speak, it would scream, “Sloppy.” We recognize this customer pain point, so we streamline our rental process so customers can rent units online in minutes. The transaction is speedy so customers aren’t left waiting on us.
2. Lead With a Servant’s Heart
I often see signs that say, “No Smoking,” “No Personal Checks, “No Public Restrooms” — no, no, no. While boundaries are important, these signs create unnecessary barriers between customers and businesses. You can be empathetic during a transaction by making exceptions to policies or simply saying, “This is a difficult transition, but you can trust us to do our part.”
Empathy in business is about connecting with customers’ feelings. A mechanic provides a necessary oil change. An empathetic mechanic completes the service and acknowledges that a customer may feel annoyed while waiting. A competent exterminator arrives on time and completes the job as promised. An empathetic exterminator recognizes that the customer may feel frightened about bugs or chemicals and fully explains his process.
3. Hire for Attentiveness
Employees need to be able to “read” customers because most won’t explicitly ask for help. In fact, 91 percent of dissatisfied customers will simply move on to another provider, while only 4 percent will actually voice their concerns.
It’s easier to teach sales tactics than attentiveness. In a service-focused business, hire the interviewee who picks up a piece of trash in the parking lot over the one with more sales experience. Doing so will pay dividends in building customer rapport. For example, we have an attentive employee who recently helped a customer reconfigure his organization to move to a smaller storage unit. The employee knew our customer’s business was slow. But rather than lose his business altogether, we were able to give him a more flexible option during a changing economy.
4. Keep Things Clean
Cleanliness puts people at ease, particularly when trust is involved. People trust us to store their belongings. People trust restaurants to cook food that is safe to eat. Even at an economy hotel, customers trust that the sheets are washed and the bathroom is clean.
Of all the ways a business can alleviate stress, cleanliness is the easiest. Keeping things clean simply takes commitment. Employees should pick up trash from the parking lot, mop the customer bathrooms, and dust the display shelves in your lobby. Finally, keep your grass cut and your bushes trimmed to give your business good curb appeal.
5. Build Your Business on a Foundation of Respect
My dad grew up in a small town in Missouri, where his family owned the Randolph Hotel (formerly the Globe Hotel). He once told me that his mother only ever spanked him once — when he walked through the lobby one day without making eye contact and greeting guests. Afterward, his mother said, “When you’re representing our business, no matter what you’re thinking, you remember to be polite, smile, and shake hands with our customers — they are the people who are feeding us!”
That story has always stuck with me, and it’s why we make it a priority to respect our customers and provide an experience designed to alleviate stress. If you’re closing up the shop when a customer pulls into the parking lot, unlock the door and invite him in to take care of business. Treat the last-minute customer just like the first customer you greeted that day. Although it’s difficult, it’s important to handle potentially frustrating situations with generosity. Good business means treating people well, even if they’re showing up late to close their account.
Don’t look at customers as paychecks, or they will walk away. In an effort to find solutions for our customers’ stress, work to show that you truly care about the person. Focus on strategic services designed to build customer relationships. The rest is just business.