Keeping the Peace With Your Self-Storage Customers: Common Conflicts and Resolution Strategies

Most people aren’t fans of confrontation and will go out of their way to avoid it. As a self-storage operator, however, you may face conflicts with your customers for a variety of reasons. This article examines some of the common causes and smart ways to keep things copacetic.

Cassie Dodgen, Owner and Operator

April 18, 2024

6 Min Read

Customers are the backbone of the self-storage business. However, as in any situation that involves people, there’s the potential for conflict to arise. Here are just a few instances in which a tenant might get upset and tangle with a staff member:

  • They have trouble logging into your website to make a payment.

  • They’re unable to access the property because they forgot their gate code.

  • They’re unhappy about a late fee or rental increase.

  • They’ve encountered a problem with their unit door or have another maintenance concern.

  • Their credit card payment didn’t go through.

  • Their unit has been damaged or robbed.

  • Their belongings were sold at lien sale.

  • You’ve had to talk to them about breaking facility policies or procedures.

  • You’ve asked them to move out for a reason other than non-payment of rent.

Delinquent customers present some of the most common and stressful scenarios for self-storage managers. They might claim they never received any payment reminders or lateness notifications from your facility, or they don’t understand why their automatic payment was rejected. In any case, once they realize they’re locked out of the facility and their unit and can no longer access their stored items, they can get pretty aggravated.

You can’t completely avoid disputes with your self-storage prospects and tenants, but you can learn productive ways to handle them. A good resolution can make bond between company and customer stronger, too.

Seek Resolution

No matter the cause of a conflict with your self-storage customer, it’s imperative to de-escalate the situation and fix the problem. Following are some best practices for reducing and resolving difficult situations.

Listen. Truly listen to what the other person is saying. They may be very clear and straightforward about their complaint or have a list of reasons why this issue is generating so much frustration. Either way, all the information they’re sharing is important to finding a solution.

Let the customer talk without interruption and get the entire story. Allow them to lay everything out before contemplating a response or action plan. Not everything they tell you will be germane to the problem, so clue in on keywords, dates/times and other pertinent details.

Take a breath. Conflict can be uncomfortable, especially when the person delivering the message is angry and verbally aggressive. It’s important to remain relaxed but focused. Taking a breath before responding allows you time to revise your thoughts and to make sure your body language and tone don’t match the customer’s. The goal is to be attentive and understanding.

Don’t take it personally. There’s a pride of ownership that comes with overseeing a self-storage facility, and it’s incredibly difficult when a customer blames you for the gate not working or a late fee they were charged. Always remember that the reason they direct their anger at you is because you’re the person in charge. They believe you’re also the one who can fix the problem. So, let those words of judgement roll off your back, and focus on the root cause of their complaint.

Maintain professionalism. In extreme circumstances, there may be a need to pause communication, for example, when the customer is too frustrated to hear what you have to say, or their actions are more than just addressing the true complaint. You’re the manager at this location and maintaining professionalism is the priority. If this isn’t possible with the conflict in front of you, calling for an intermission is fully acceptable.

Repeat the message. When you repeat what you’re hearing back to the customer, it verifies your understanding and the fact that you’ve been listening. It also confirms that they’ve been heard and you’re accepting their information. Once you’ve recapped the root of the problem, look for validation from the customer on your understanding. This confirms you’re both on the same page and you can now move to the next step

Identify the right solution. This is the end goal for both parties. Often, the instinct is to justify and explain the reason for the mistake. Or you might be inclined to say, “It’s company policy.” Neither of these is a solution in the short term and likely won’t satisfy your customer. Resolutions to conflict don’t have to be exceptional or perfect. They’re more about what you’re going to do now to mitigate the complaint. If the conversation drifts from the root cause, then repeating the issue and your commitment to serve can get the discussion back on track.

Repeat the mutually beneficial solution and expectations. Once a resolution has been found, it’s important to repeat it to the customer along with clear expectations. This allows any last objections to be heard and addressed. In addition, there’s confirmation that both parties have agreed to an action plan.

Again, be professional! You might say, “Thank you for coming in and speaking with me about this. We strive to provide the best customer experience, and I appreciate you holding us to that standard. I will have this issue resolved by midday tomorrow and will call you once it has been done.” This reiterates that you’re working on it and there’s a deadline for when it will be complete.

Prevention Is Key

Customer conflict is inevitable in the self-storage industry; however, there are ways to prevent distress. No. 1 is to provide outstanding customer service. Treating people with respect and having a courteous mentality will always minimize interactive confrontation. It’s a simple but effective way to keep the peace.

In addition, set expectations from your very first interaction with a new tenant. This’ll keep confusion and miscommunication to a minimum. For example, explain the gate hours during the leasing process and clearly state your property rules, such as when rent is due and what happens if a payment is missed. Be transparent about all your products and services, too. If you carry a full line of packing supplies, make sure the inventory is full when the customer is ready to purchase.

Finally, listen to what your self-storage customer is saying—even if they aren’t asking for anything. If a tenant comes in to pay their bill and mentions their door is hard to open, then having it fixed before it’s impossible to open will save the future confrontation. It’ll also make the tenant feel important and build rapport with them.

Conflict can be intimidating, in a self-storage environment or anywhere else; but with the right tools and skills, you can prevent and handle any unpleasant interactions. Managing them takes practice, so don’t wait until you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation to try your abilities. Work with a coworker or supervisor to role-play different scenarios that may arise. Finally, if a situation becomes overwhelming, you can always call for a time-out or get help from someone else in your company.

Cassie Dodgen is owner and operator of Monarch Republic LLC, where her responsibilities include strategic leadership, facility operation, accounting, human resources and marketing. She also implements new projects and ideas to stay competitive with self-storage industry standards. For more information, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Cassie Dodgen

Owner and Operator, Monarch Republic LLC

Cassie Dodgen is owner and operator of Monarch Republic LLC, where her responsibilities include strategic leadership, facility operation, accounting, human resources and marketing. She also implements new projects and ideas to stay competitive with self-storage industry standards. For more information, email [email protected].

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