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7 Deadly Customer-Service Situations in Self-Storage and How to Handle Them

Self-storage managers often find themselves in tricky customer-service situations. Here are seven common scenarios you may face and advice on how to handle them in a positive way.

If you’re a self-storage operator who deals with customers, you may encounter situations in which a customer is unhappy and you’re in the spotlight to fix his problem. Knowing how to handle these difficult interactions takes a bit of skill, a dash of experience, a whole lot of understanding and the ability to see things from the customer’s point of view. Here are seven “deadly” circumstances you may face and advice on how to handle each.

1. You Made a Mistake or Must Deliver Bad News

You receive a call from a customer who was supposed to move into his unit on Sunday, but the vacancy lock was never removed, and he couldn’t do so. Yikes! This is clearly a manager mistake, one that might even result in disciplinary action. To reduce the negative impact on the tenant and business, the at-fault party needs to react—quickly.

The first step is to put your ego aside and evaluate the situation objectively. How would you feel if this happened to you? Apologize and let the customer know you feel terrible about the error. Being truthful and letting him know you also would be upset shows empathy and understanding.

Next, let him know you’re doing whatever is necessary to remedy the mistake, or that you’re willing to facilitate contact with the appropriate parties. Tell him when to expect a resolution. Then, whatever you do, make sure the problem gets solved!

In the example above, the answer is to remove the vacancy lock immediately and do what’s necessary to make the customer “whole.” Did he spend money on a mover or rental truck? You need to reimburse his lost expense or arrange to move him into the unit free of charge. Making the customer whole is key to gaining forgiveness when mistakes are made.

The same process applies if you must give a customer bad news. “I find that when you have to relay tough information, it’s just best to be honest and straightforward. I’ve had to do this with a flood and fire, and it is never easy,” says Tammy Hamrick, manager Vigilant Self Storage in Richmond, Va.

2. You Don’t Have an Answer

Have you ever faced a situation in which you didn’t have an immediate answer to a customer inquiry or issue? Maybe you were new and still learning. In any case, simply telling a customer you “don’t know” isn’t acceptable. A better course of action is to tell him you’re going to research the question and get back to him. No one can be expected to know everything, so this is reasonable.

However, it’s vital to follow through in a timely manner. If a bit of time goes by and you still don’t have an answer, follow up with the customer to let him know you haven’t forgotten him and are still working on a solution. Set yourself a reminder and reach out to the customer either way. A quick e-mail works great for this purpose and creates a paper trail of communication.

3. The Customer Demands a Full Refund

Sometimes there’s just no winning and the only way to resolve a situation is to give in. When you’ve tried everything and the customer insists on having his money back, the best thing you can do is give it to him.

Apologize and let the customer know you’re initiating a refund request. Tell him when to expect the refund and by which means (check, a credit to his bank account or credit card, or even cash). Your business needs an internal procedure for processing refunds efficiently. You don’t want to lose any goodwill you’ve gained in providing the refund due to sloppy and slow execution.

From a business standpoint, refunds aren’t ideal and can be distressing; but as a representative of a reputable company, you should be prepared to keep your word. Chances are, you’ll rarely need to make a refund of any type.

4. You Can’t Fulfill the Customer’s Request

One of a self-storage manager’s greatest fears is facing a customer who’s demanding the impossible. Most self-storage operators genuinely believe in good customer service and will do whatever it takes to make customers happy—within reason. In most cases, going above and beyond to give them what they want or need is the right thing to do. But occasionally, it just isn’t possible.

For example, let’s say a customer asks for an extension to pay his rent, but the auction process is already underway and there’s a hard, immovable deadline to pay the balance and redeem the account. Your hands are tied here because each state has specific lien laws that dictate what can and can’t be done. In this case, you have to tell the customer “no.”

Norma Taylor, one of my company’s co-founders, once told me, “’No’ is both a complete sentence and a perfectly acceptable answer.” With my kids, it’s easy to say; but with a customer, it takes a little finesse. First, tell him the facts, as best as you can, regarding why his request can’t be fulfilled. Then offer some compromises. Once you’ve explained the logic behind the situation, most people will understand and accept an alternative over nothing.

5. The Impatient Customer

It seems like hours pass in mere minutes in today’s fast-paced, on-demand world. It’s easy to get caught up in the “I want it now” mentality because almost everything is available in a snap. So, what do you do when something is taking the “normal” amount of time, but it still isn’t fast enough for your customer? Or, worse, what if the customer truly is being made to wait longer than usual?

The first thing to do is apologize, and then calmly and politely explain the reason for the delay. Clarify what’s happening and why, so the customer has realistic expectations. Even if the holdup is all in his perception, it’s best to talk it through. Hopefully, he’ll understand and be lenient in his assessment of your business. Perhaps he’ll even see that his impatience is a little unjustified.

If a desired outcome is going to take longer than the customer is able or willing to wait, take his contact information so you can alert him as soon as you have more information. Communication is important so he isn’t left waiting.

6. The ‘My Way or Nothing’ Customer

There are some folks who just want it the way they want it and will take nothing less. The old phrase “my way or the highway” comes to mind. When the customer believes he knows exactly what he wants, he may refuse to hear alternatives. This is especially frustrating when you know there are other options that may work better.

When someone is set in his ways, getting him to budge is difficult, but achievable. The first step is to hear him out. Let him know you’re respectful of his wishes. Politely tell him you can honor his request, or you can share alternatives he might find more enticing. Ask if you can explain these options. If he refuses, then do what you can to provide what he wants.

Allow him to decide how to proceed. It’s important to provide as much information as you can, but, ultimately, it’s the customer’s choice. If he chooses one of your alternatives, hooray! But if he sticks by his original demands—especially if they’re unreasonable or unachievable—the next scenario may apply.

7. The Angry Customer

I’ve faced an irate customer in my office, making wild demands, accusing me and the company of terrible things, and generally making me afraid of what he’ll do or say next. It can be a scary situation, one nobody wants to encounter! When a customer is really angry, it can be exceptionally difficult because emotions are running high and causing logic to slip. Sometimes the customer is so upset you can’t immediately respond.

The key here is to listen. It may sound silly, but when a customer is in the middle of an emotionally fueled ride, sometimes the only way to get back to logic is to allow things to run their course. Let the customer vent and listen to what he says. If you try to interject at this point, anything you say may add fuel to the fire. This is especially true if he’s complaining about an ongoing problem. Just let him talk and try not to take it personally. That last bit is hard, but if the customer is upset, it’s your job to be the logical one. Channel your inner Spock and try to hold back your emotional reactions.

Once the customer has explained his grievances, make sure you understand the situation by repeating them back to him. Say something like, “I want to make sure I understand you fully so I can best help. What I’m hearing is…” Sometimes, this simple act of repeating his words can be the thing he needs to see his argument or complaint is illogical. Then, he may come back down to a more rational level.

If his complaint has merit, this is when your clean-up begins! As always, apologize that the situation has occurred, regardless of who may be right. As the company representative, you must accept some responsibility. Let the customer know you understand he’s aggravated or frustrated. Speak slowly and calmly.

“It is easier to bring a customer back down if you are calm, and by just stating the obvious: that he is yelling at you and you are not raising your voice to him. Make sure you understand [his] complaint, but you don’t necessarily have to agree with [his] complaint,” says Quay Reeves, manager of Chateau Storage in Braselton, Ga.

Always remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the customer and whatever is going on in his life that brought him to use self-storage. Try not to fight fire with fire. Instead, focus on being the calm waters of reason and expertise. Getting angry is never the answer, as it’ll shut down any chance of coming to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Even if you have to walk away and try again, it’s always worth the extra effort to defuse rather than allow destruction.

These are just some examples of difficult service situations you may encounter. There are many ways to handle each, and you may have some unique experience and techniques you use. However, there’s one sound piece of advice you can apply to every customer interaction: Listen, be honest and do what you can to make it right. No matter what you encounter when operating your storage business, one thing is for certain … It’s never boring!

Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group, a provider of self-storage management, education and development services. With more than 18 years of experience in the storage industry, she oversees the branding, design and marketing programs for the company and its portfolio, as well as the company’s award-winning multi-phase training programs. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.

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