Here’s a little secret: The customer isn’t always right. Unfortunately, as a self-storage operator, you’ll regularly encounter tenants who are difficult, rude and just plain wrong. But while you can’t always protect your facility from security threats, inclement weather and pests, you can safeguard it against cranky customers. Here are six strategies to turn those problematic individuals into loyal renters.
1. Stick to the Facts
A tenant comes into your office. He’s angry because something is missing from his storage unit and he thinks you stole it. You know you didn’t take it and there’s probably a logical explanation. Your instincts might tell you to get defensive. After all, it’s never pleasant to be unfairly accused. Instead, stick to the facts. Reassure the customer you’re not a thief. Calmly suggest that he get in touch with anyone who has access to the unit, and reassure him of your facility’s security measures. You can even offer to show him security footage.
Whether you’re dealing with a tenant who’s blaming you for a missed rent payment, asking you to take responsibility for items damaged due to his own poor storage practices or accusing you of some other injustice, stick to the facts of the situation. Rather than raising your voice and asserting your opinion, remind the tenant about your lease terms, facility policies, etc.
2. Do Things in Person
In the age of smartphones and seemingly omnipresent Wi-Fi, it’s convenient to conduct a lot of business via e-mail. While this is fine for basic communication, if you’re dealing with an unhappy tenant, it’s always best to talk in person or at least pick up the phone. E-mail is efficient but denies both parties the opportunity to express tone of voice and body language, which can often lead to a misunderstanding.
Even if the tenant initiated the communication via e-mail, it’s still a good idea to call or set up a meeting to discuss the issue face-to-face. Not only is this a great way to demonstrate caring, thoughtful customer service, it’s a better and faster path to a solution. Instead of exchanging e-mails all week, you can have a conservation in person, fix whatever’s wrong and get back to running your storage facility.
3. Set Protocols
Ensure your entire team is on the same page when it comes to dealing with difficult tenants. Everyone should know when and how to issue refunds, what incentives to offer and what information to communicate, no matter the situation.
Consider weekly or monthly meetings to get everyone up to speed. You can devote each meeting to a specific type of customer interaction and how to handle it. Role playing, as awkward as it might feel, is a great way to practice handling unhappy tenants.
4. Know the Line
Doing everything in your power to keep tenants happy is a great way to earn loyalty while attracting new business through referrals. Occasionally, however, you may encounter someone who’s a little too difficult. A customer is certainly entitled to express his frustration, disappointment and confusion with you, but when he does so through threats, physical violence, sexual harassment or any other behavior that feels frightening or inappropriate, you’re no longer obligated to keep his business.
Customers who are vulgar or aggressive aren’t just a danger to you, they’re a danger to other staff and tenants. People won’t rent or continue renting with you if they’re made to feel uncomfortable while on the premises. No one wants to hear or witness shouting in the office. If a situation escalates from difficult to threatening, call the police if necessary. Consult with your supervisor or legal counsel. You may need to suspend the customer’s facility access, or even take steps to evict him.
Most important, never go into a storage unit alone with a disgruntled tenant. If he’s getting heated, stay within the range of your security cameras and phone.
If you’ve ever been on endless hold with your cable company or repeatedly overbilled by your insurance provider, you know what it feels like to experience customer service without compassion. Bad service often feels like it’s you against the business. This isn’t how you want your self-storage tenants to feel.
The solution is empathy. When a tenant comes to you with a concern, it’s your responsibility to take ownership of the problem. You want him to know you’re on his side. For example, if your facility’s corporate office raises the rent and the tenant expresses displeasure, try to see the situation from his point of view. Recognize the increased rent presents a hardship and see what incentives you can offer to make it better. Empathizing with your tenants will often mean admitting that you’re in the wrong, but most important, it means letting the customer know you have the knowledge and the authority to help.
6. Seize the Opportunity to Turn Critics Into Fans
The next time a tenant comes into your office with a problem, try viewing it as an opportunity to create your biggest fan yet. People often forget customer-service experiences that are average or even good, but you can bet they remember those in which the business operator went above and beyond when addressing their complaints.
In your own life, you might not remember every nice meal you’ve had when dining out, but can you think of a time when a restaurant apologized for a long wait time by offering desert on the house? Good customer service at a storage facility should be just like that. Every time a difficult tenant comes into your office, take the time to listen to his problem and then say the following, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do better.”
Unhappy customers aren’t used to hearing the words “thank you,” and business owners often only express gratitude to clients who are already satisfied. So, try expressing gratitude the next time you’re dealing with a difficult tenant. You just might be surprised by how quickly you both change your attitude.
Krista Diamond is a staff writer for StorageFront, which allows customers to custom search and compare thousands of self-storage facilities. She’s a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and lives in Las Vegas. When she isn't writing about storage, she’s climbing mountains in the desert. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.