The portable storage industry is about 25 years old and in its infancy containers were rented right out of the depots in its original colors. Today the containers are painted in neutral colors. They have the operators’ logo and phone numbers highly visible in strategic places. The container itself has been improved with lockboxes, raised handlebars, varnished floors, extra vents. etc in an effort to accommodate the portable storage customer. Needless to say the improvements are a function of increased competition. The competition has also made the portable storage operators to pay attention to how the customer is greeted, that the delivery trucks are clean and that the drivers wear uniforms as well as being customer friendly. So we have gone from an industry of just supplying containers to an industry of providing portable storage container together with service.
In the challenging economic climate we are currently experiencing, it is important to keep the service level high. Service is the tool with which a portable storage operator can most easily compete. The customers that need portable storage want an easy process. They want to talk to a knowledgeable sales person that understands the issues involved with delivering, placing and picking up a container. The customers want a smooth process with regards to credit application, payments as well as prompt and timely delivery. Containers are, after all, a commodity and customers will only rent containers when they really need extra storage. So to try to get more business by changing the price is a waste of revenue potential. Therefore when you look at how to trim costs and adjust to a tougher economic environment, don’t cut down on service.
One can even make a strong argument for why more resources should be allocated for service even when revenues are declining. Just as companies are dealing with plummeting sales and sinking employee morale, skittish customers want more attention, better quality and greater value for their money. Those same customers are also very well aware that their patronage is of growing importance to you as others decrease their spending. Or in simpler terms, anyone with money to spend today is expecting to be treated like a king.
If you have good sales people that have been delivering during normal times, don’t let them go because sales are down as a function of a weak economy. Instead, reduce your back office staff and have the sales people to do more tasks. They are the interface with the customer and if you let them go, they will not be there to pick up the new business that comes when the economy turns positive again. Even more important, you absolutely don’t want your good sales people to work for the competition in the future so make sure you keep them around.
Flex your work force
Increase customer service. You may wonder how that can be done when the economy is down, the office staff reduced and the sales people multi-tasking. One of the simplest ways to improve customer service is to increase the hours your business is open. With today’s technology it is easy to have phone calls routed to a number of places. You can arrange a schedule among your staff so that customers that call early, late or on the weekend are forwarded to someone from your company that is ready to take a call. The same thing can be done with internet monitoring. When you have an internet inquiry, don’t send an automated message. Send a personalized message and follow up with a call. Again, by arranging an on call schedule with your employees, all business opportunities that come during non-traditional office hours are immediately attended to. To make the service even better, extend your delivery hours to evenings and weekends. You may have to cross train some employees to make this happen, but you’ll find that to be an additional benefit for your business.
Take good care of the surviving staff
Layoffs and uncertainties in a company is some of the most demoralizing experiences one can have as an employee. Therefore, make sure that you take good care of those who remain with you after you have had cutbacks. Pay extra attention to the people on the front line; those with customer interaction. Customer, vendors, competitors and others that interface with your company will get their impressions from the front line people. If their spirits are good, the image of the company stays good. To cater to your employees in tough times is extremely important. They are there to help your business become better. If it can’t be done with money because business is down make sure you do it by taking interest in them and their personal situations. It isn’t only your company that is having a tough time when the economy is down, the employees and their families feel it too.
Invest in simple technology on the front line
Now may not be the time for you to invest in a state of the art communication system but making basic improvements that helps the front line is important. The customer probably doesn’t pay much attention to the recorded message he hears when he calls your automated phone system, but if it is something nice he’ll feel better than if it is just quiet. We often hear “elevator music” when put on hold and most phone systems allow you to program your own message at little to no cost. Spend a few dollars on a personalized message and you’ll find that it results in more positive customers.
Prioritize your customers
It is always important to take good care of one’s customers especially in tough times. However, you can, most likely not afford to give all customers preferential treatment when business is down. Therefore pay attention to those who are repeat customers and those who can shift more of their purchases to you. You don’t have to shower your customers with gifts, but simply letting them know that you appreciate their patronage with a personal phone call to the owner or a greeting card when it is least expected goes a long way.
So having said all of this, here is something for you to think about and try to implement in your business.
“When companies come up with simple, low-cost ways to trim expenses while improving service for their customers, they’re likely to win in good times and in bad.”