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6 Customer-Service Mistakes in Self-Storage: How to Fix Them and Provide a ‘Magical’ Tenant Experience

While you might think you’re providing your self-storage customers with excellent service, you may be making mistakes without even realizing it. Following are six common blunders made by facility operators and how to avoid or correct them. You’ll also get advice for managing expectations and ensuring every tenant’s experience is “magical.”

Emily Pratt

February 10, 2024

8 Min Read

In the world of retail, companies like to use points of differentiation to sell customers their product or service. These include things like brand, quality, features, price, customization, luxury status and limited editions, to name a few. In the self-storage industry, however, the primary selling points are relatively similar across facilities, for example, accessibility, cleanliness, security, etc. It’s important that you don’t inadvertently self-eliminate by lacking in any of these essentials.

The biggest differentiator in self-storage? Customer service! A positive interaction with a prospect can guarantee you the sale, while a negative or mediocre one can motivate your potential tenant to move on to the facility down the street. But here’s the thing: Even if you believe you’re providing stellar service, there are mistakes you may be making without realizing it.

Let’s look at the six most commonly made customer-service errors and how to avoid or correct them. I’ll also share strategies to set expectations and elevate the tenant experience to something “magical.”

Avoid the Big 6

To prepare for writing this article, I read hundreds of self-storage facility reviews and discussion boards on customer service. I also spoke with some of my company’s district managers for the inside scoop. Based on my research, here are the most common mistakes operators are making today and, more important, how to fix them.

Lacking product knowledge.  Many self-storage prospects have never rented a unit before. They’re looking to you for guidance. A manager who isn’t knowledgeable about their facility’s offerings can’t expertly lead the customer through the sale. The best salespeople effectively guide people to the optimal unit size and assertively upsell when appropriate. They help tenants feel confident about their purchase and satisfied with the service they receive.

How to fix it: Know about all of your facility’s unit sizes, features, and other products and services, so you can help a prospect identify what they need. You should also be able to explain the benefits of each feature, such as climate-controlled space. If you’re unclear about anything, ask your supervisor to explain it.

Having a bad attitude. When a self-storage customer interacts with a manager who’s unpleasant, grouchy or rude, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth. No one wants to be around a Negative Nancy.

How to fix it: Anyone can have an off day or be in a bad mood. The key is not to show it. If there’s a bigger problem, such as you’re no longer satisfied with your job or employer, it could be time to assess your situation and perhaps move on to something else. When employees feel happy at work, their attitude will spill over into positive interactions with customers. 

Failing to follow up.  When a sales prospect attempts to make contact, it’s because they need something. It’s your job to respond. It’s also your job to follow up and close the sale. If you don’t, your customers may feel neglected. They won’t believe you want their business.

How to fix it: Letting prospects know you’re aware of their problem and actively working to provide a solution tells them they’re a priority. Timely follow-up increases the likelihood of being able to help, i.e., secure the rental. However, your customer service is only as good as the systems you have in place to support it. Evaluate your current process for potential improvement.

Disrespecting customers’ time. Everyone values their own time, so don’t make your self-storage prospects and tenants hold for long, whether on the phone or in person. Similarly, don’t make them wait too long for a callback or return message. If they’re having trouble paying a bill or accessing their unit, they need help now, not tomorrow or three days from now. In fact, if you don’t respect their time, they can feel slighted and may go elsewhere.

How to fix it: To reduce customer wait times, improve your processes. Then follow them. Rely on sales scripts, policies and procedures for a clear set of guidelines. This way, you’ll be prepared for most inquiries. If you fall short of providing quick service, a simple “Thank you for your patience” is appreciated and sometimes all it takes to prevent frustration.

Listening passively.  Many self-storage managers only listen to customers long enough to get the minimum amount of information needed. They’re too eager to get the person off the phone or out of their office. Then the prospect or tenant is dissatisfied because they don’t feel heard or understood. Nobody wants to be ignored, cut off or dismissed.

How to fix it: Learn to listen for keywords or phrases that may signal there’s more to the customer’s story. Make eye contact when in person and paraphrase what the person has said to ensure you understand. You might also ask some follow-up questions.

Claiming a lack of control. When a self-storage customer has a problem, the last thing they want to hear is, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” They’ll be instantly frustrated if you say you can’t help, “it’s just policy.”

How to fix it: Of course, you should follow company rules, but you might also ask for some autonomy in your job. Property managers need a bit of freedom to creatively solve problems and provide customized solutions based on customer needs. 

Manage Expectations 

Ultimately, when someone walks away from a customer-service experience disappointed, it’s because they expected something other than what occurred. This doesn’t necessarily mean your service was bad; there was simply a disparity between the customer’s anticipated experience and reality.

To correct this, you need to perform an “expectation audit.” The goal is to determine what your self-storage customers are assuming will happen when they do business with your facility and where you might be giving them the wrong idea. (Of course, if they have preconceived notions about the industry from the media or some other source, there’s no controlling that. All you can do is manage your little corner of the universe.) Here’s how to perform a self-assessment: 

  • Walk your property. What kind of impression would a customer get upon visiting your site for the first time?

  • Review customer feedback. Thoroughly read your online reviews and look for common themes or trends when customers leave one that’s less than positive.

  • Audit your website and marketing materials. Ensure they accurately convey the kind of service a person can expect to receive, not just marketing “fluff.” If there are any promises or guarantees, you need to live up to them 100% of the time.

Self-storage isn’t all that complex. No one is expecting a white-gloved valet to drive them to their unit. However, those things that most facilities offer, like easy access, cleanliness and strong security? You need to knock these out of the park!

Make It Magical

There’s nothing wrong with providing satisfactory customer service, but it isn’t memorable. On the other hand, when you go out of your way to “shock and awe” customers, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that they’re more forgiving of the little inconveniences, such as an unexpected wait time or a mix-up about access hours.

You may be thinking, “Storage is boring. How am I supposed to make it magical?”  The truth is it’ll take some outside-of-the-box thinking. It may also vary based on your location and market. But here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Many of your customers are undergoing a stressful life transition. Let them know you’re cheering them on by offering a pleasantly unexpected gesture on move-in day, such as a free pizza or ice-cold bottles of water.

  • Host a fun community event such as an outdoor movie night.

  • Collaborate with a nearby spa to give coupons for discounts on post-moving massages.

  • Offer coffee, soda, bottled water and other treats to tenants visiting the site.

  • Mail a cute or funny thank-you card to new customers. Better yet, create a "welcome" basket with a few goodies.

  • Email tenants around the holidays to thank them and wish them well.

Start Your Journey

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to invest in elevating your self-storage customer-service skills. If it feels overwhelming, try these tips:

  • Identify your goals. Where do you want to see progress? What’s your ideal outcome? Think about the reasons you’d like to improve these skills.

  • Set your investment. Based on your available resources (time, money, energy), determine where they would have the best return. Can you afford to take a class? Attend an industry conference? Participate in online training?

  • Define and track key metrics. These might include retention rates, referrals, customer-satisfaction scores, and average customer lifetime value. Identify your starting point for each to create a reliable baseline, and then track them over time.

In one online review I read, a happy self-storage tenant described her fantastic customer-service experience like this: “They didn’t have to help, but they chose to. Not only that, but they went out of their way to make it an extraordinary experience. That kind of thoughtfulness is rare and should be treasured wherever it comes from.” At the end of the day, kindness and generosity are impactful—and they often don’t cost a cent.

Emily Pratt is the marketing coordinator for Crescendo Self Storage Management, a third-party management firm that oversees 32 facilities comprising 2.4 million square feet across seven states. With a degree in entrepreneurial management, she’s a problem-solving enthusiast and enjoys creating content and compelling marketing assets. She can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Emily Pratt

Marketing Coordinator, Crescendo Self Storage Management

Emily Pratt is the marketing coordinator for Crescendo Self Storage Management, a third-party management firm that oversees 32 facilities comprising 2.4 million square feet across seven states. With a degree in entrepreneurial management, she’s a problem-solving enthusiast and enjoys creating content and compelling marketing assets. She can be reached at [email protected].

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