What Would You Do? Navigating Tricky Service Situations in Self-Storage

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The following is part of an exciting 2013 content series titled "What Would You Do?" ISS asked managers and owners how they would react in difficult situations that can arise at any facility. We then asked experts to advise on their recommended course of action. To see all articles and slideshows in the series, enter code WWYD13 in the search box at insideselfstorage.com. The complete sequence will roll out over several weeks and be available in full by March 10, 2013.

While there are many elements behind the success of a self-storage facility, industry experts know a management team with customer-service savvy is what keeps a facility in top-notch status. Customer service is one of the easiest and most effective ways to one-up your competitors. It ensures tenants are happy with your facility and will have them talking about you, which will bring in more tenants. An advertisement may bring a customer through your door, but good customer service will keep him there.

When it comes to service, facility employees must be prepared to handle the most delicate situations on a moment's notice. An unprepared or poorly-equipped manager can send a potential rental to the competition, or escalate emotions in a conversation with an upset tenant instead of directing the conversation toward a resolution. When customer-service issues arise, do you have a plan of action? Is what you would do the same as what you should do?

Inside Self-Storage got the inside scoop from professionals in the field to learn how they would proceed in specific but common situations that could happen any time at any facility. They were asked "What would you do if ...?"

  • You simultaneously got a phone call and walk-in customer?
  • You didn’t have a unit size a customer needed?
  • A tenant filed a complaint against you, a co-worker or another customer?

The answers were provided by members of Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. We then asked professionals from self-storage management companies to tell us what operators should do in each case. Our well-known experts are Linnea Appleby, president of Lime Tree Management in Sarasota, Fla.; Anne Ballard, president of training, marketing and developmental services for Universal Storage Group in Smyrna, Ga.; and Kevin Bledsoe, district manager for Storage Asset Management in York, Pa.

What would you do if you simultaneously got a phone call and walk-in customer?

Gina Six Kudo (Gina6k), an SST moderator and general manager for Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., uses the often-quoted idiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” meaning the walk-in customer usually trumps the one on the phone. “Always take care of the person standing in front of you first,” she says. “It is something called common courtesy.”

SST member StrongTeam agrees, but also notes it’s usually OK to excuse yourself for a moment to answer the phone and take a number so you can return the call later. Just don’t forget to make the call, Kudo says.

Another tip, from an anonymous manager in Oklahoma, is to consider hiring a call center to handle rollovers when you’re busy or out of the office. “They are able to help the customer as well as I can, being able to both schedule truck rentals, assist with storage supply sales, and even rent my units using the exact same software I am using. They are the on-call employee, pun intended.”

What SHOULD you do?

Appleby: If a call center is in place, let the call go to them, and assist the walk-in customer. If not, acknowledge both and politely let one know you are assisting the other and will be with them shortly.

Ballard: Answer the phone and make a hand motion of acknowledgement to the walk-in, letting him know he’s been seen and you will be with him shortly. Maybe hand him something to read, motion toward the coffee bar or to have a seat, and you will be right with him as soon as possible.

Bledsoe: The walk-in customer would be our No. 1 priority in this instance, and we would allow the call to roll over to our call center for assistance.

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