What Would You Do? Navigating Tricky Service Situations in Self-Storage

Self-storage experts know a critical component to keeping a facility in top-notch status is a management team with customer-service savvy. When customer issues arise, do you have a plan of action? Is what you would do the same as what you should do? ISS asks industry professionals to weigh in on what theyd do in tricky customer-service situations.

February 19, 2013

7 Min Read
What Would You Do? Navigating Tricky Service Situations in Self-Storage

The following is part of an exciting 2013 content series titled "What Would You Do?" ISS asked managers and owners how they would react in difficult situations that can arise at any facility. We then asked experts to advise on their recommended course of action. To see all articles and slideshows in the series, enter code WWYD13 in the search box at insideselfstorage.com. The complete sequence will roll out over several weeks and be available in full by March 10, 2013.

While there are many elements behind the success of a self-storage facility, industry experts know a management team with customer-service savvy is what keeps a facility in top-notch status. Customer service is one of the easiest and most effective ways to one-up your competitors. It ensures tenants are happy with your facility and will have them talking about you, which will bring in more tenants. An advertisement may bring a customer through your door, but good customer service will keep him there.

When it comes to service, facility employees must be prepared to handle the most delicate situations on a moment's notice. An unprepared or poorly-equipped manager can send a potential rental to the competition, or escalate emotions in a conversation with an upset tenant instead of directing the conversation toward a resolution. When customer-service issues arise, do you have a plan of action? Is what you would do the same as what you should do?

Inside Self-Storage got the inside scoop from professionals in the field to learn how they would proceed in specific but common situations that could happen any time at any facility. They were asked "What would you do if ...?"

  • You simultaneously got a phone call and walk-in customer?

  • You didnt have a unit size a customer needed?

  • A tenant filed a complaint against you, a co-worker or another customer?

The answers were provided by members of Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. We then asked professionals from self-storage management companies to tell us what operators should do in each case. Our well-known experts are Linnea Appleby, president of Lime Tree Management in Sarasota, Fla.; Anne Ballard, president of training, marketing and developmental services for Universal Storage Group in Smyrna, Ga.; and Kevin Bledsoe, district manager for Storage Asset Management in York, Pa.

What would you do if you simultaneously got a phone call and walk-in customer?

Gina Six Kudo (Gina6k), an SST moderator and general manager for Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., uses the often-quoted idiom, A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, meaning the walk-in customer usually trumps the one on the phone. Always take care of the person standing in front of you first, she says. It is something called common courtesy.

SST member StrongTeam agrees, but also notes its usually OK to excuse yourself for a moment to answer the phone and take a number so you can return the call later. Just dont forget to make the call, Kudo says.

Another tip, from an anonymous manager in Oklahoma, is to consider hiring a call center to handle rollovers when youre busy or out of the office. They are able to help the customer as well as I can, being able to both schedule truck rentals, assist with storage supply sales, and even rent my units using the exact same software I am using. They are the on-call employee, pun intended.

What SHOULD you do?

Appleby: If a call center is in place, let the call go to them, and assist the walk-in customer. If not, acknowledge both and politely let one know you are assisting the other and will be with them shortly.

Ballard: Answer the phone and make a hand motion of acknowledgement to the walk-in, letting him know hes been seen and you will be with him shortly. Maybe hand him something to read, motion toward the coffee bar or to have a seat, and you will be right with him as soon as possible.

Bledsoe: The walk-in customer would be our No. 1 priority in this instance, and we would allow the call to roll over to our call center for assistance.

What would you do if you didnt have a unit size a customer needed?

You should never lose a potential tenant simply because the requested unit size is unavailable, our experts say. Go to the next size up, or maybe two smaller spaces to equal the size the customer needs. Just find a way to supply what they need, advises Bob Taylor (astro), an SST moderator and facility manager of Blue Ridge Self Storage in Cashiers, N.C.

For most operators, there are a number of solutions, including combining units, upsizing or downsizing or adding the customer to a short waiting list, says Robert Madsen (Madman), an SST moderator and president of U-Lock Mini Storage in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Most important, we don't want to say flat out no and force them to go elsewhere to work on their storage solutions on their own.

Not only is this a great customer-service opportunity, but also a time when a discount might come into play. I'd offer the customer the next size up at a discounted rate, says Satyra From PhoneSmart, an SST senior member.

What SHOULD you do?

Appleby: Figure out a way to satisfy the need and get the business. If weve got a unit to rent and they have money, we can work something out. That is what we are here for.

Ballard: Since we are the pros and know all about our competition, we would place them with a competitor, calling to confirm they had the size and price and letting them know we are sending them a customer. The customer will be so impressed that, when they rent again, we usually get them back to us.

Bledsoe: We would attempt to find two units that are close to each other and offer the same amount of space between two units at the same rate. If the customer needs a smaller unit and we dont have the size available, we would try to find a unit with low occupancy and offer that unit at the same rate or at a slightly discounted rate. Ideally, we would try to offer the tenant a unit that we do have in stock, and we may make some deeper concession to rent them that unit.

What would you do if a tenant filed a complaint against you, a co-worker or another customer?

Richard and Beverly Haessler (RichardandBeverly), SST members and resident managers at Park Inn Storage in Odessa, Texas, disclose that their owner has received two complaints about them. They called the owner ahead of time to explain the situation. The owner said he felt bad that we had to deal with such people. End of problem. Both [customers] were given 15-day-to-vacate notices. One called the owner back and wanted to stay, but he said he would stand by our decision.

As the facility owner, SST senior member geraldine1051 says she hasnt come across this scenario yet. But she knows exactly what shed do if it ever happens: I would suggest the customer take his belongings to another facility. And if that tenant needed a police escort, that could easily be arranged.

However, she has had complaints from one tenant about another. In these instances, geraldine1051 says shes spoken with the offending tenant about altering his behavior. Usually, thats all it takes.

What SHOULD you do?

Appleby: This depends on the nature of the complaint. It should be handled according to company policy. If needed, contact your attorney.

Bledsoe: A complaint filed against any employee would never be directly handled by that person. The complaint would go directly to his supervisor, and that persons supervisor would contact that customer to discuss the issue. The supervisor would then work with the employee to resolve the problem.

A complaint filed against another customer can obviously be tricky. From time to time, this sort of thing happens, and typically we work with the complaining customer to find out what the problem might be. Sometimes we can resolve the problem by moving tenants to units that arent close to each other on the property. We work with the person filing the complaint to exhaust all efforts for resolution before we go to the person theyre complaining about.

To read more great content in the ISS "What Would You Do?" business-challenges series, type code WWYD13 in the search box at insideselfstorage.com.

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