By Jim Chiswell
Do you send a welcome/thank-you letter to all of your new customers? Its a simple task, one that can be automatically handled by most self-storage management software programs. If you dont, keep in mind the underlying purpose of this letter is not just to thank your customer for renting with you; it can also help determine if he has given you a valid mailing address.
If you send a thank-you letter within a week of renting a unit and it is returned as undeliverable, you have a problem. Obviously, the customers address is either listed incorrectly in your database or is truly invalid. In either case, immediate action must be taken by your management staff to determine and correct the error.
Should you encounter a wrong address, you must first assume it is your fault and not the customers. The data could have been inaccurately entered into the computer. The misspelling of the street address or the transposition of a single digit in the ZIP code could have resulted in the return of your letter. Remember, in most communities, the letter carrier is not doing any sorting by hand. If the sorting machine does not recognize the ZIP code, the mail will be returned.
First, check the copy you made of the customers governmentissued photo ID. Of course, you can only do that if 1) you insisted on seeing a valid form of ID and 2) you have a good copy machine. (And please dont say you cant afford a copier for the office, especially when three-in-one (printer/scanner/copier) ink-jet printers sell for as little as $100 to $125.) You should have enlarged the image so it is easy to read. Its much simpler to check the information on the ID when the image is 200 percent larger than the original.
If the information from the customers ID does not assist you in correcting the error, try calling the tenant directly. You can also try reaching other contacts listed in his file. These days, it is not uncommon to have an e-mail address or cell-phone number. If all attempts fail, you may have an underhanded renter on your hands. Taking time with each customer at the time of rental, asking questions, and gathering information accurately and completely will help you avoid this situation. Attempting to mail a thank-you letter will alert you to potential problems early in the game.
On the Bright Side
OK, enough about the dark side behind sending thank-you letters. Even though an early warning to a problem is of benefit to us, we should not forget the value of an opportunity to tell customers we appreciate their business. Letters give you the chance to communicate a variety of messages to tenants:
- Use letters to remind customers of your referral program. If you dont have a referral program, you should, as it can generate new business.
- Let tenants know that if they want to rent additional units, they can do so without having to repay administrative fees. You can also offer them some other type of incentive.
- Remind tenants of gate and office hours and their payment schedule.
- Provide a contact number tenants can call in the event of problems. If you work from a different location than the one where the customer rents, include your address and phone number.
- Finally, dont forget to ask for positive, constructive ideas to make customers rental experience better.
Customers initial perceptions of a self-storage facility can be positive, and a personalized letter can reinforce those good feelings. I did say personalizeddo not open a letter with Dear New Tenant. And dont use a business envelope with one of those clear windows that shows the address off the letter. An envelope addressed by hand will receive much more attention, especially if it has a stamp instead of a meter mark.
There is no rule that says the letter can only be one page; so get the most out of the postage you are using. And dont forget your referral or business- card inserts. Consider making the thank-you letter a part of your marketing budget, one that gets top priority from your entire management team.
Run, Charlie, Run!
If you have not heard, a self-storage owner is running for Congress. Charlie Broomfield is running in the 6th District to unseat incumbent Sam Graves. Charlie has been a rallying force for selfstorage in Missouri and across the nation for many years. His insights and powers of persuasion have helped to strengthen the industry.
No stranger to public service, Charlie served in the Missouri House of Representatives, initially elected in 1964 and re-elected in 1966, 1968 and 1970. He was later elected Western Judge/Commissioner on the Clay County Court of Missouri. Winning re-election seven times, he served a total of 14 years in this position.
It is not every day we have a chance to support one of our own for national office. Now each of us has a chance to have an industry friend in Congress; and I encourage you to join owners across the country in providing financial support to Charlies campaign. Whether for $25, $100 or the federal campaign individual limit of $2,000, donations can be made by making a check payable to Broomfield for Congress Committee and mailing it to P.O. Box 681068, Riverside, MO 64168. You can contribute online and learn more about Charlies campaign at www.broomfieldforcongress.com.Your support is needed and appreciated. Good luck, Charlie!
Dont Waste Opportunity
During a recent visit to a self-storage store in Charleston, S.C., I observed something that surprised even me after 19 years in this business. I overheard the facilitys manager, Teri Tunender, answer the phone with a very professional, sincere greeting. It was soon obvious she was talking to a person who had dialed the wrong number. Instead of telling him he had dialed incorrectly and hanging up, Teri got out her Yellow Pages and attempted to find the correct number. But this wasnt what amazed me.
After having found the number, she started to solicit the caller for a self-storage unit. She just took a moment to tell him where the facility is located, that it offers a variety of unit sizes, and that she would welcome the opportunity to assist him in determining the size he might need. I have never witnessed a manager try to sell storage to a caller who had dialed a wrong number. Great going, Teri!
In truth, I should not have been surprised, because Teri fully understands the concepts of customer service. She knows that successfully focusing on those concepts will continue to bring in new rentals. Dont miss unexpected opportunities to promote your business, better serve customers and increase occupancywhether it be a simple welcome letter or a phone call made in error.
Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self- Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS expos and national and state association meetings. He recently introduced the LockCheckTM inventory data-collection system to the self-storage industry (www.lockcheck.com). He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.