Where do we draw the line between privacy and customer service? I dont know about you, but it seems self-storage managers struggle with this issue almost daily. Sure, we have a policy in place: Tell no one anything over the telephone! Simple, right? But then there are the customers Ive known for a decade or more, or the ones who call and share intimate things. This happened to me the other day. A lady called from out of state to pay the rent on her husbands unit. Ive never met her, and politely explained I couldnt give her information because I have no way of knowing who she is.
She replied, I can prove hes my husband. He has a tattoo on his backside in the shape of I responded (with laughter in my voice), Uh, OK, maybe a bit too much info, but thanks! If I ever need to really ID him Ill ask him to show me.
The other day I spoke with the 83-year-old out-of-state mother of a horribly irresponsible 40-plus-year-old man whos in a custody battle with his soon-to-be ex. Mom yells at me because I wont tell her anything, then proceeds to tell me how our rent and late fees are insane. Maam, Im sorry, but a $10 late fee is not unreasonable. No, he cant get into the unit; hes in lien status. She retorts, I was in business for 32 years. You could work with him. I know he hasnt paid in almost three months. So, I explained our state lien law to her and she insisted he be given access. Apparently, he told her he couldnt get in. So, I did inform her that I wont break the law for anyone no matter how much I may feel for the person!
Oops, she then proceeds to tell me what she thinks of our state. Since I wouldnt accept a partial payment via credit card from a basically unknown person on a severely delinquent unit, I wouldnt tell her how much was owed. Then she really started to yell.
Sure, if her son had shown up and made a vacate deal with us, I wouldve happily waived some late fees so he could get out and get on his feet. Better to collect something on the unit than go to auction since, trust me, there wont be much bidding on what he has stored. All I needed was for him show up.
What do I do in these situations? I try as to be as helpful as possible in a generic way to each unknown caller. I say, Well, if this were the case and according to our lien laws Usually this suffices and the spouse or parent of our customer is gracious about the situation, realizes were trying to help and appreciates our efforts.
Sure, we could turn a blind eye and collect money from a credit card for a lien-status unit. We could tell anyone who phones in, Oh, hes in unit 123 and he owes us two months of rent, plus fees. But what can of worms would we open if we did?
The soon-to-be ex of the guy above in the custody battle could show up, pay up the account and clear out his unit. Good for us dollar-wise, but what about his protection and privacy, or the potential lawsuit we could face? Or I could take the credit card payment from the wife and mail the receipt to the out-of-state address as she requested. Yes, I could do it, but it sure wouldnt be the prudent thing to do.
We have several threads on Self-Storage Talk addressing customer privacy issues and facility policies. I wont share my policies here as mandate, but instead I invite you to join the discussion. Help yourself and others to determine where its best to draw the line in the proverbial sand. My only advice is that you put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself if you would really want that nice man or lady behind the counter sharing your financial data over the phone with anyone. Think on that, then log in and join us. Membership is free; all you have to do is perform a couple of mouse clicks.