Of data mining, common sense and courtesy

In this day and age of "data mining," companies constantly seek to discover more and more and more about customer buying habits, preferences, and profiles-as well as cataloging individual customer interactions, history, and the like.

A veritable explosion of surveys of every size and shape has occurred. By asking the right questions and enlisting answers from a sizeable number of respondents, companies can get a much better sense of what customers want, don't want, and how to keep them coming back.

This is all well and good. Knowing your buying audience well, in turn enabling addressing of needs and wants, is a prudent way to do business.

So is common sense-both in how you treat people and how you optimize the value of data mining. Here are places where many customer relationship management (CRM) protocols break down:

1. Data mining for collective policymaking to the exclusion of special individual circumstances. Much of the input collected is used to establish group preferences, likes and dislikes. From here, policies and protocols are established and refined. Unfortunately, given the vast number of customers and interactions that some companies have to accommodate, little leeway is built in for customer service reps to address special individual needs.

Takeaway for self-storage operators: Empower employees and other customer-facing departments (e.g., call center) to take individual circumstances into account versus just parroting the corporate party line. Tenants with timely payment track records may merit flexibility when encountering hardship that tardy payers haven't earned. Without leeway to address special circumstances given the profile of the individual involved, our people become hamstrung by policies-ultimately leading to disgruntlement, both from tenants and company reps unable to help or accommodate their needs.

2. Robotic behavior and mannerisms used to address these group preferences. This is exemplified by the "have a nice day" communication at the end of an unpleasant interaction. "Polling" has told companies that their customers wanted to be treated respectfully and nicely-hence, the polite expressions. Common sense dictates that most consumers don't want to be told to have a nice day right after they've had a completely unsatisfactory customer experience. Common sense would further dictate that more time and training be invested in showing these people how to do their jobs more competently, with less time allocated to phony, unsatisfactory salutations.

Takeaway for self-storage operators: Train people how to be helpful, authentic and sincere versus just giving them a customer service script. And, incentivize them for doing it well. In many ways, this is just a return to the "olden days," when the town grocer would extend special courtesies to particular customers-helping them through challenges where necessary. In return, customers felt loyalty. It's really that simple.

3. Going beyond the survey. While formal surveys offer apples-to-apples comparisons on various issues, informal queries also can yield valuable information. If done correctly, they can make the respondent feel that you truly value their opinion and input-in addition to information gleaned from surveys.

When a customer service rep engages me in a real conversation and asks questions with seemingly real concern and interest, it changes my perspective considerably. Typically, I'm left feeling positive about the interaction and the company-and that perhaps I've contributed something.

This is the impression you want to leave prospects and tenants alike-because it's sincere and can be helpful to improving company operations. It's a safe bet that, regardless of anything else, you will have helped establish rapport that will pay dividends for years to come.

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