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How to Wait on Customers

Having the Right Attitude and Viewpoint

All of us have experienced situations in a business, where we have felt that we were more of an interruption to a work day as compared to being the reason for the work day. The comments that are made by employees in these situations, can make the difference between that business trying to survive and a business thriving.

Have you ever experienced this? The situation occurs when a customer walks into the business, five minutes before closing, to shop, or needs to ask a question about a product or service that they previously purchased. The comment between two employees is something along the line of, "It figures. We're ready to go home and these people come in wanting something."

While the store owner or manager would agree with these two employees in that they would prefer the customer to shop earlier, the customer could go to one of the mass merchants that is likely to have extended hours.

In many businesses, owners would let the comments of these two employees go without any reply. But, if they made more of an effort to remind their employees that customers could choose to do business elsewhere, then they would perhaps have need for fewer employees.

In our many years of owning a small business, we had a tradition of having a one hour meeting with our employees every other week. During these meetings we discussed upcoming sales events, worked to increase our product knowledge, practiced sales techniques, distributed bonuses, reviewed our job descriptions, store policies and procedures, and attempted to resolve problems.

Our bonus program provided rewards for things that our employees did to cause our business to achieve goals. Bonuses were given based upon sales, truck rentals, maintaining the appearance of the business, as well as performing other various tasks.

Many of these items mentioned had written directions that were a part of our employee handbook. During one of our meetings, one of our employees discovered that we had never created directions for waiting on a customer. For the most important job in our business, we felt that we needed more time educating our team members on how to perform this task. We then created a nine point directive for customer service. Hence, the class session was entitled, "Ways to help all of us make more money for each of us." Our nine step program was:

1. Don't stand behind the counter waiting for the customer. Many businesses have a reception area for customers, complete with accessory items, posters illustrating the sizes of spaces available for rent, a map of the layout of the facility, and information about the other services, such as truck rentals that are offered. Often near the back wall there is the counter with stools on both sides of the counter. Perhaps you have a computer point of sale on the counter as well as a cash register.

Having a counter is a convenience for your business. Unfortunately, that counter, and the person sitting on the stool behind it, looks exactly like every other storage location. To the point, 84% of people in this country state they are unable to distinguish one business from another. To solve this problem in your business, try getting out from behind the counter before the customer walks in.

Then, greet the customer with an open conversation. ("Hello. How are you?" or "What are you looking to store today?")

2. Invite them to tell you about their storage needs; the size and weight of their belongings, and the date that they are wanting to move. The information they share with you will allow you to understand what is the most important factor causing them to visit and consider your location.

For example if they are needing the space immediately, it is likely that price is less of an issue with this customer. The same goes for customers having belongings that are of substantial size and/or weight. Having a space that is easily accessible from a vehicle could be a determining factor in closing the sale.

3. Ask them if their current space is meeting all of their needs. This question becomes an extension of the conversation you have just begun. The important aspect is to set yourself apart from all of the other storage rental places you compete with.

Envision your customer taking an afternoon to shop around looking for a storage facility. They have likely created a list of questions they want to ask so that they can take the information home and make a decision about where to do business.

Instead of the customer visiting you and beginning the interview process, decide to take over this scenario by being the unique person that is asking the customer questions instead of their asking you the questions. The reason for this reversal is that the average person can speak at a rate of 150 words per minute. That same average person can hear at a rate of 500 words per minute.

This means that the person listening will have a tendency to mentally wander. If the customer is listening to you doing the explaining, their mind may be wandering when you are telling them an important feature of your facility.

If you are instead, the one asking the questions, the customer is doing the majority of the talking. And with that extra time that you have in your mind, you can be considering their answers to determine what to next tell the customer so as to close a profitable sale.

Also envision that when the conversation concludes, your being able to show the customer the ideal space for their needs. You will have a customer that is impressed with your having the knowledge and understanding of what they want and need.

4. From the questions that you have been asking this new customer, determine what size of space they need, and the benefits of the location you are suggesting. Make your suggestion to them and allow a pause for their questions.

5. Ask for the sale. That's right. Ask the customer for their business. There is nothing wrong with asking a customer to spend their money with you.

One format that works well is to say, "Is there anything that is stopping you from renting the space from us today?" Experience has shown that the customer may give a token reason for not signing your rental contract.

A response designed to cut through this is, "If I could solve that problem, is there anything else that would stop you from giving us your business today?"

Most likely, you are going to hear the customer's real reason for not signing your rental contract today and you can then take the necessary steps to solve that objection and close the sale.

6. Go for the add on sale. If you rent trucks, help the customer to decide what size of truck they will need for the move. Anticipating the off peak hours of your truck rentals, you can create a package deal to close the sale.

Once you have the signed contract, help the customer to make the move as easy as possible for them. Having boxes, storage bags, padlocks, strapping and package tape, as well as labels will save your customer a trip to the local home center. Making these items easily available to your customer allows you to make some extra profit although you will not be able to charge whatever you want; your prices will have to be reasonably close to the prices charged by those home centers.

7. Thank the customer for their business. If you stop to look through the yellow pages of your local phone directory, you will see how many choices of rental storage places your customer actually had. And fortunately for you, they chose your storage facility as where they would spend their money each month.

For some reasons, customers often tell us thanks for the great customer service that you have just given them. In fact, it is the person working at the facility who needs to sincerely be saying something to the effect of, "While you had lots of choices of where to store your belongings, you chose the place where I work and I greatly appreciate it because this is what pays my salary."

And what if you are one of those few that are fortunate enough to not have competition? Then the advice is that you need to have a similar message so that customers are not saying that you need some competition to make you humble.

8. Never assume that this customer is renting only one space for whatever time frame your rental contract specifies. This new customer has friends and neighbors. And very likely, these friends and neighbors have homes of similar size, and with similar storage needs.

You can get additional business by understanding more about these customers. Are they likely to need a larger space in the new year after having gained new possessions at Christmas? What about those customers that will be spring cleaning their garage? Are there any kids that will be coming home from college for the summer with a bunch of dorm room stuff?

Knowing the answers to these questions could provide you with the necessary information to rent some space on an annual basis as well as some seasonal space.

9. Follow up. Even though we have already told the customer thank you, there is nothing like a follow up. Calling them or sending a post card can work wonders to cement a long term relationship. 31361 may be someone's zip code, but can also be the formula for a great follow up technique.

Three days after renting the space, give the customer a call to ask how their move in went for them. Then at one month, follow up with a postcard thanking them for their business. And at intervals of 3 months, 6 months, and one year, follow up again with the customer. Why?

They are probably not surprised with the phone call at 3 days. And the post card at one month is not that unique. But when a business makes a point to recontact the customer at three months, six months and again at one year, you are working to build a relationship.

With the customer's rental contract renewal coming at the one year mark, you are developing a customer that feels compelled to do business with their friend. And you are their friend in the storage facility business.

Many businesses are looking for customers. The best are probably pulling into your parking lot right now.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179