By Pamela Alton
The holidays have passed, and we are in a new year. As always after the holidays, people tend to be in a less friendly mood. Why? One of the reasons is because those charge-card bills are now coming due, owners usually choose to raise rents on Jan. 1, and money seems to be tight for a lot of people.
This is the time of year that you, the manager, must double your efforts in collections. You must also field those nasty calls about rent increases or late fees. At times, you may find yourself feeling like a punching bag. Try to remember that these people are not mad at you personally, but just need to vent a little steam. Try to be compassionate and listen to their complaints, yet remain firm in your efforts to collect the rent and late fees owed to your company.
If a tenant calls in screaming and yelling at you, and you feel your temperature rising, your face getting hot and that you are about to explode, take a deep breath and ask if you can place them on hold. Clear your thoughts and calmly come back on the line and try to resolve the situation. If the tenant is there in your office making a scene--and they usually do when another tenant is in the office--ask them to remain calm and tell them you will just take a minute and deal with the other tenant first so you can give them your undivided attention. After the other tenant has left, deal calmly with the irate tenant.
If you find you cannot control the situation, you might want to say to the tenant, "Please calm down and keep in mind, your $25, $50 or $100 a month only gives you the right to rent space at this facility. It does not give you the right to verbally abuse me. If you don't calm down, you will have to leave this office or I will call the police." You will probably not have to take any situation that far, but if you find yourself in a situation you can't handle, it's not unreasonable to contact authorities.
When it comes to fielding those rental increase calls, remember: Money is usually tight this time of year. Most rental increases are for $2 to $20 dollars, depending on the current rental rate and size of the unit. Keep in mind the cost it takes to rent a truck and the hassle of moving items from one facility to another. Most tenants may threaten to vacate, but in reality, most of them won't.
Try to be compassionate when dealing with rental increases. You probably shop the other facilities in the area on a regular basis and should know their rental rates. You might want to say something like, "We are all within a few dollars of each other; however, if you feel you can find a facility as clean, convient, with the same hours, etc., then you do owe it to yourself to go elsewhere. We would hate to lose you as a tenant, but we would certainly understand." Statements such as these let the tenant know you understand his concerns. You may lose some tenants, but that is a fact of life in the storage game. They move in--they move out.
As for the owner reading this article, try to remember that your manager is the person on the front line. He must deal with tenants on a day-to-day basis, and most managers know their tenants very well. They know who is the dead beat, who is the one who complains all the time, and who pays the rent on time and is a pleasure to deal with. Trust your management's judgment when dealing with tenants.
I might not always agree with the managers under my supervision, but we never disagree in front of a tenant. I try to back my managers 100 percent, and we'll discuss the situation and how to handle it better next time later. There is nothing more demoralizing than being a manager, getting yelled at by a tenant, and taking a stand, only to have your owner back up the tenant and overrule your authority. Remember owners: It's easier to find tenants than good managers. If you don't trust the judgment of your management staff, then you should consider letting them find a position more suited to them while you find a staff member more suited to your management philosophy.
Managers, do the best job you can at handling those irate tenants. Try to remember not to take it personally. Stay calm, and don't explode at the tenant--that will not solve the situation, and in most cases only makes it worse. Most of the time, an irate tenant only needs someone to listen to his complaints, so try to be helpful and understanding. You'll be the winner in the end.
On a more personal note, I would like to thank all of the managers and owners who have called, written, or stopped by our tradeshow booth over the past several years to share their appreciation for this column. I have been privileged to write for Inside Self-Storage and look forward to writing more articles over the year. If there is a particular subject you would like me to address, please don't hesitate to contact me and let me know. I hope 2000 is the best year ever in the self-storage industry.
At times, you may find yourself feeling like a punching bag.
Try to remember that these people are not mad at you personally, but just need to vent a little steam.
Most of the time, an irate tenant only needs someone to listen to his complaints, so try to be helpful and understanding. You'll be the winner in the end.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini-Management also offers full-service and "operations-only" facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call (800) 646-4648.