“If you don’t note it, it didn’t happen.” Throughout nursing school and my years working in hospitals, I heard this repeatedly. Patient documentation was a critical part of our day. It served several vital functions: communicating important information to other staff members, quality assurance and accountability, process improvement, and legal protection. When I transitioned into the self-storage industry, I found many of these same principles applied to our interaction with tenants.
Quality notes can serve several purposes. Not only do simple, timely, truthful and accurate records protect the facility operator from legal liability, they protect tenants, too. Clear, concise notes let staff quickly and easily see any issues that require attention. They can even reduce conflict, for example, when a customer complains no one told him his unit was going to auction. If properly documented, the tenant record will show weekly attempts to contact the tenant through mail, phone calls and e-mail.
When to Document
Not every interaction needs a note. Some things, like payments and facility access, are probably already being documented by your facility-management software and security systems. Other details are covered in your rental agreement.
Before writing, ask yourself the purpose of the note. When I sit down to type, this helps me focus on what I need to include or whether I need to write at all. Typically, I’ll make a note in a tenant’s file if I’ve called or e-mailed for collections or any issues with a unit. I also document when I’ve explained a policy (move-out procedures, hours of access, delinquency procedures or disposal of personal belongings) or a tenant conveys information about a particular need. I also recommend noting individual complaints, what was done to resolve them, and each customer’s response.
Always include the date and time of the note as well as the actual discussion or incident. It’s best to document interactions as soon as possible to avoid the appearance of “covering your tracks.” If you made any phone calls, include the numbers, the full name of the person to whom you spoke and what was said.
Be Factual, Not Emotional
Finally, there are things you should not include in your tenant notes. The question to ask here is, “Am I being unbiased and accurate?” Notations should be fact-based and non-emotional. Words like “angry” or “happy” reflect your opinion of how a tenant feels. Instead, use the customer’s words, such as, “The tenant stated he isn’t happy that he had to come back to remove the mattress from the facility,” or “The tenant said he’ll do his best to come in and make a payment by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 9.” Quoting the tenant adds credibility.
When describing items, don’t use words that imply value. In the hospital setting, we were taught to describe what we see. For example, a ring might be described as “a yellow or golden color with a white stone.” You can’t know from looking at it if it’s gold or the stone a diamond. In a self-storage setting, you might write something like, “The customer complained that his brown sofa is now dirty.” While the sofa may very well be leather, it could also be vinyl or a material that looks like leather.
Never include internal disputes with staff or outside vendors in your tenant notes. Attempts to fix problems within the company should be addressed elsewhere.
No matter what’s being recorded, make sure your notes are timely, accurate, simple and unbiased. It’s possible the customer may read it one day … with his attorney.
Tracy McCall is regional manager for Mr. Stor-It self-storage facilities in Brevard County, Fla. She’s a former registered nurse, with a bachelor of science in nursing. For more information, visit www.mrstorit.com.