Reprinted with permission from Storable.
A crisis like the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn can remind us of the importance of many things we sometimes take for granted. For self-storage operators, clear communication is near the top of the list. During any catastrophe, it’s often one of the first things to fall apart.
With the current outbreak, there was a lot of confusion early on as self-storage owners struggled to figure out if their businesses were considered essential under state and local stay-in-place orders. Luckily, most were. States that didn’t specifically list storage as essential also didn’t list it as non-essential. As a result, industry facilities have largely remained open nationwide.
But staying open has presented new challenges. How do you continue to function in this environment? One major driver of success is clear communication, which can add calm and clarity for staff, customers and the community.
In the context of COVID-19, there are two sides to communication: internal and external. It’s important to differentiate between how you interact with staff and with customers. Let’s examine both angles, along with some key considerations to help ensure your business communication is understandable and consistent.
Make sure you’re communicating regularly and openly with your staff. This crisis is hitting people on multiple fronts. Not only are they concerned about their health, they’re worried about economic security. Basically, employees want to know if they still have a job. Fortunately, serious staff reductions across the self-storage industry appear to be minimal, since business has hummed at a steady pace for many operators—at least for now.
Be up front. Whether you’re able to retain staff or forced to issue furloughs, your self-storage employees need to know their status as soon as possible, so they can plan accordingly. One of the first things John Manes, CEO of Pinnacle Storage Properties, did when his region fell under lockdown was to let every one of his employees know they would still have a job with the company and continue to receive a paycheck, no matter what. Not only is this a great example of strong communication, it resulted in an almost immediate clearing of the air and gave his team one less thing to worry about, Manes says.
Start a dialogue. Good communication also plays a critical role in understanding exactly how team members feel during this time and if there’s anything they can do to help. Tim Springer, president of Move It Storage, held a town-hall-style Q&A for his staff. The meeting helped everyone get on the same page and gain a collective understanding about employee concerns. It received a lot of positive feedback, he says. If your people are confident about job security and the health and well-being of their co-workers and family, they’ll likely remain as productive as they were before the crisis, if not more so.
Lay it all out. Another crucial area of communication is setting clear expectations for staff as your operation transitions to revised procedures. Create guidelines for employees who work from home as well as those still working on site. Are you mandating limited contact with customers and adherence to social-distancing recommendations? If so, make it evident to your team and inform them what the protocols should look like in practice.
Timeliness and transparency should reign supreme in your internal communications. Whether the news is good or bad, if you inform employees as soon as something changes—and come from a place of honesty and sincerity—they’ll be far more likely to understand and appreciate your leadership. These actions can go a long way toward helping staff retention and attitude, which can lead to increased rentals and positive reviews from customers.
The other key to success during a crisis is external communication with customers. After all, if you’re open for business, you need to continue conversations with tenants and convert new prospects.
Get the word out. If you’re still open for business, let people know. The same confusion you may have felt when trying to interpret all the various government orders and regulations has also affected consumers. A lot of people simply aren’t aware of which companies are allowed to be open or closed. So, let your customers and community know you’re open via signage, e-mails, your facility website, social media and any other channels you regularly use.
Explain policy changes. If you’ve altered operating procedures during the crisis, again, let customers know. People are becoming more inclined to rent from facilities that offer contact-free move-ins vs. face-to-face transactions. If you’ve instituted online or automated services, it’s vital to let prospects know, particularly if that’s the only way you’re allowing new rentals.
According to Manes, self-storage facilities that rely on face-to-face business are seeing a decline in rentals, while those with online move-in capabilities are seeing increases. Though the evidence of this trend is observational and anecdotal, there’s growing sentiment across multiple industries that consumers will prefer less human interaction even once lockdown orders have lifted.
Provide service with a smile, even online. If you’ve shifted your business to offer only online move-ins, you need to reassure customers that you’re still providing an excellent tenant experience, even without the familiar, personal touch of face-to-face interaction. Position your shift as a necessary step to keep tenants and staff safe during this uncertain time. Again, rely on facility signage, your website and any online-marketing or customer-relationship-management capabilities you have. Further, explain how your processes work to minimize confusion and hiccups when new customers sign a lease and move in.
For existing tenants, it’s important that you deliver good news and bad effectively, just as you would with your staff. If you’re increasing rental rates, collecting delinquent rent or moving to evict, it’s important to communicate as you would have before the crisis. Similarly, if you’re offering any kind of rent relief or pressing pause on auctions (as most operators have), let tenants know. Make sure your staff is responsive to any customer requests that come in, regardless of whether you’re offering relief.
Overall, you shouldn’t treat external communication much differently than before the virus outbreak. Though you may have a bit more to discuss now, as long as you strive to provide exceptional service and a great tenant experience, you should continue to enjoy the success that comes from satisfied customers.
Communicate often and honestly. The best laid plans can fall apart during any crisis, particularly if there’s as much marketplace confusion as this during one. Therefore, it’s crucial that you and your team are steadfast in your internal and external communication plans.
Timeliness and transparency are vital. Good news, bad news, any news … When something changes that affects your staff or customers, the best practice is to let them know as soon as possible. If you your communication is sincere, empathetic and clear, you’re sure to achieve favorable results.
Trace Hughes is a senior copywriter at Storable, a supplier of cloud-based access control, management software, marketing, payment processing, website development and other services for the self-storage industry. He has nearly a decade of marketing and communications experience, having worked with several advertising agencies prior to joining Storable. He believes clear, compelling communication is the cornerstone to any successful business. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit https://www.storable.com.