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Dealing With Self-Storage Rule-Breakers: Maintaining Control While Offering Superior Customer Service

Every now and then, a self-storage operator must deal with a rule-breaker, someone who simply disregards company policy. The following offers advice on how to enforce your facility rules while still offering great customer service.

My dad is one of those people who thinks not all rules apply to him. In fact, it’s a running joke in our family, so when he does break a rule, we’re no longer even surprised. Now, I’m not talking about major stuff like committing a crime or ignoring socially acceptable etiquette (most of the time, anyway). But if there’s a sign that says “stay on the path,” my dad was bound to wander off it. He’s had more than a handful of speeding tickets over his lifetime, has camped in a “no-camping” zone, and fed wildlife when explicitly told not to. When I asked him why he thinks it’s OK to disregard certain policies, he said, “Those decisions were made by other people. They don’t necessarily align with the rules I think are correct.” Oh, Dad!

While keeping my dad in line is up to my mom, self-storage operators are charged with ensuring hundreds of customers abide by their business’ rules. Not an easy task! From rental day to move-out, your tenants are expected to adhere to dozens of business policies. Sometimes, they might forget what they are. Other times, though, you’re dealing with a straight-up rule-breaker.

There are dozens of threads on Self-Storage Talk (SST) on the many ways tenants ignore facility policies. From leaving trash by the facility dumpster (even if there’s a “no dumping” sign) to tailgating onto the property to the ultimate offense—living in a unit. Beyond fuming about the situation, operators are left wondering how they can make sure everyone tows the line.

First you need to determine if your rules make sense. If you’re a parent, you know you’ve enacted a rule occasionally for arbitrary reasons. Are your site rules fair? Do they target a specific group, leaving you vulnerable to a lawsuit? Do they focus on an integral part of running a business, such as safety? Basically, does the rule have a specific purpose? If it doesn’t you may need to evaluate whether it should be a “rule.”

Next, be clear with your customers about your business policies. One way to keep tenants informed is through signage. Everywhere. SST members recently discussed the types of signs they’ve posted around their sites to communicate their various rules. Some have even shared photos of their signs. Let’s face it, few tenants read the rental agreement line by line. And no one can remember everything about everything. So, how can you use visual cues to reiterate this information?

Also, be sure to hit the highlights during the rental signing. You might even create a simple list to review with new tenants. Better yet, give it to them. A half-page bulleted list on colored paper is easy to create. It might include the property and office hours, site rules and contact information. You can even add a “coupon” on the bottom for a free box or info on your referral program.

Finally, when someone isn’t following the rules, you must act. Again, it might have been an oversight on the part of your tenant, so give him the benefit of the doubt. Remind the customer about your site rule and let him know it can’t happen again or his lease will be terminated. Most people will apologize, say they didn’t know or forgot, and won’t do it again. If the tenant does repeat the problem, terminate the lease and rent the space to someone else.

Your self-storage business has the right to enact rules. You also have the right to enforce them. Part of the that, however, is doing so while still providing great customer service. There also may come a time when you need to “bend” a rule. There could be situations in which offering great customer service surpasses enforcing a policy. This often comes into play with past-due tenants. For example, providing an extension or forgiving a late fee for a long-time customer who missed a payment once might be warranted. You’ll need to use your best judgment in these cases.

While the saying goes “rules are meant to be broken,” some really aren’t. Whether your storage operation is big or small, your policies are in place to protect your business, staff, customers and guests. Be clear about your rules and act swiftly when someone disregards them. Do this while providing the best customer service possible. Customer worth keeping will understand and follow your policies, and you’ll rid your property of the ones who never will.

How do you deal with rule-breakers at your facility? Post a comment below or on SST, the industry’s largest online community.

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