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Teri Lanza

Teri Lanza
Editorial Director
tlanza@vpico.com

Self-Storage Customers and Their Moving Information Targets

By Teri Lanza Comments
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Ah, the digital age. Isn’t it glorious? We have technology that allows us to do so much, yet the convenience and freedom afforded by this innovation comes at a cost. For example, have you ever suffered a techno-trauma? You know what I mean … a crashed computer, broken smartphone, lost data, compromised e-mail address … the list goes on. It involves any situation where a technology on which you have come to rely breaks down, causing you far more distress in its malfunction than it ever solved problems in its use.

I recently suffered two such ordeals. One involved a credit card and the other an e-mail account. Both situations created reverberating, ongoing inconvenience and no shortage of aggravation. I want to share them with you because they shed light on a challenge you face every day in attempting to communicate with and serve your self-storage customers.

First, I use a Southwest Airlines Visa card for just about everything. Why? To rack up those flight miles! When I can, I charge it, and pay the bill in full at the end of each month. It’s a sweet arrangement—until you get a call from the Chase Fraud Department telling you a dude in Kentucky just attempted to charge $118 in gas to your card. Thanks to their super-duper fraud-detection technology, they figured out I’m not actually in Kentucky (an astounding deduction, considering I just charged groceries at a Target store in Phoenix less than an hour ago), and they have cancelled my card.

But don’t worry, the rep tells me, a new card will arrive in the mail in seven to 10 business days. Awesome. I’m really excited because now, not only am I out my credit card (and two weeks’ worth of miles), I have to update all the bill accounts tied to the breached card. What’s worse is this is not the first but the fourth time this card has been replaced due to fraud activity in the past year. The rep told me it’s increasingly common, and I should expect (and be grateful) that it will happen again. Apparently, the technology is smart enough to detect fraud after the fact, but not powerful enough to prevent it in the first place.

While I was dealing with all this hassle, I started having trouble with a Cox Communications e-mail account I had been using for more than a decade. After fruitlessly attempting to get help from several company representatives, I decided it was time to succumb to the inevitable and switch to using a Gmail account.

If you haven’t had to transition from a well-established e-mail address to a new one, you don’t know the fun you’re missing. Cancelling and updating subscriptions, notifying your contacts, setting up new folders, updating your info with any company or person with whom you do business, forwarding old correspondence … It’s pure joy. After several weeks, I’m still trying to get all my mail to go to the right place.

But what does this mean to you as a self-storage operator? Your tenants are dealing with similar techno-traumas every day. Things happen in their worlds that cause them to change credit card numbers, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other vital information on which you rely to serve and get paid by customers.

We hear a lot about the importance of protecting tenant data, and the far-reaching implications of cyber-crime have not been lost on even the most tech-timid business owners. But there’s a flip slide to this coin: Your customers now have incredibly transitory information. How do you ensure you have the most updated contact and payment details? Are you regularly reaching out to tenants to ensure your messages reach their target?

I recently finished reviewing the video footage we captured in the education rooms at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo. In his seminar about self-storage collections, industry trainer and consultant Brad North shared a great strategy for getting customers to participate in a facility’s auto-pay program. He said that by telling them about your “no-late-fee guarantee,” it’s easy to get them to provide a credit card number for payment, which minimizes delinquencies. (You may also have heard this popular phrase from storage guru Bob Copper of Self Storage 101.)

But what do you do if your tenant, like me, has an ever-changing credit card number? And he isn’t diligent about updating it with his creditors? Having to keep up with expiration dates is already a challenge for storage operators; now you may have to start regularly chasing down card numbers, too.

As peoples’ lives change, so can their information. The beauty of cell phones and e-mail is they can provide something of a “home base” for folks even as they switch residences or jobs. The drawback is the technology can be compromised, stolen, lost or broken, creating digital-age challenges for business owners.

This isn’t a new development, but it is an evolving one.  The onus is on you to maintain stronger and more consistent contact with customers to ensure you’re top of mind when and if a change is required. Consider an e-mail newsletter that will help you keep an eye on addresses, and connect with your tenants on social media. Another takeaway from Brad’s session: If you can’t contact your customer via the information on the lease agreement, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter can be your saving grace. People often want to be found on these sites, potentially making your job easier.

Have you had trouble keeping tenant information up to date? What do you do to ensure you’re hitting your target when you communicate with tenants or attempt to run payments? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments section below.

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