Customer-Service Savvy for Self-Storage

The best method for self-storage operators to attract new tenants and retain current ones is to under-promise and over-deliver.

January 3, 2009

7 Min Read
Customer-Service Savvy for Self-Storage

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned customer service? How many times in just one day do we experience less than satisfactory service?

Over the years, we have found whatever tone is set by the CEO of a company rolls down hill. If the tone and importance of customer service has not been properly set by company leaders, the employees of this company will not focus on service either.

When the CEO of a company places customers and customer service at the pinnacle of the business, employees will do the same. This rule applies for all customers, internal and external alike. These customers not only keep the company going strong, but ultimately pay our wages. It is crucial we all remember this and learn to love all our customers.

It actually takes very little to gain a loyal customer. A smile, positive attitude and being kind costs us nothing. When we add consistency to our customer service recipe, the result is a loyal customer.

Take Responsibility

You never get a second chance to make that first impression, so make it count. The initial tools you need are the bait and a hook. Sounds a lot like fishing, doesn’t it?

Make sure your have outstanding curb appeal and an impeccable sales area. These two things alone will serve as bait for your customers. You and your award-winning smile, positive attitude and sincere kindness act as the hook. When your customers feel their business is important to you and has value, they are happier and easier to serve.

When a customer comes into your facility, the goal is to provide the best possible outcome. When something goes south, as it sometimes will, you need to have the ability to adjust your strategy and turn the situation around.

Allowing your management staff to be in control of customer service issues not only empowers them, but also sends a clear message to the customer letting him know the company doesn’t hide behind the ever-popular “that’s against company policy” statement.

Instead, it trusts its managers and the decisions they make. Besides, an unhappy customer does not want to hear about what is and isn’t against company policy; they want a resolution and, in today’s fast-paced society, they want it now.

Teach everyone on your team to document everything so if they make a good business decision, they can show why and how they arrived at the result and can stand behind it with all the details necessary to provide the whole picture even months later. Nothing questionable is the goal. Good managers and staff members should take responsibility for company shortcomings without pointing fingers about who is or is not at fault; pointing fingers solves nothing and will undoubtedly annoy an already irate customer even further.

When managers practice this customer service tool and accept responsibly, they begin to disarm the customer. By disarming the customer, you get his full attention in a positive light. Even a less than honest customer will take a step back and really listen to what you have to say. Remember, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution; be the solution!

Let the customer vent. If necessary, make sure you invite him to a more private part of the office or step outside if other tenants are present. Once he has stated the problem, repeat it back to him to make sure you clearly understand what he is saying. Sometimes hearing what he said repeated back is all it takes.

Objections come in two forms: those you can do something about and those you cannot. If the customer doesn’t want the sun to shine on his unit door, this is not something you can change; however, you might be able to transfer him to another unit on the north side of the building that gets no sun.

Some managers fear that if they give one customer everything he wants, all customers will want the same. The fact is there are very few people whose mission is to “beat the system.” When managers focus on these types of customers and put systems into place for them they undoubtedly will insult those customers who do not fall into this category. Do not forget the power of word-of-mouth advertising—it can make or break your business.

Hiring and Training

Hiring the right type of manager is paramount when it comes to customer service. Not everyone is cut out to work with the public. The best prospects for these positions are people who have the heart of a servant, or pleaser-type personality. If you hire employees with this skill set, they can be trained for the rest of the business. Without the right type of people in these positions, it can cost the company a great deal of time, effort and money. Hire for attitude, and train for skill is the lesson here. You cannot give or train someone to have a positive outlook and good attitude.

Let’s pretend we have a disgruntled customer who wants to purchase 25 packing boxes but you only have 10 in stock due to a delay by the distributor. To diffuse the situation and move forward, first, take responsibility by saying, “I’m sorry that I have so few boxes.” Second, don’t point the finger; in other words, do not say, “Well, our distribution center has not delivered them yet.” Third, put the customer in control by asking, “How long will it take you to fill the 10 boxes we do have available?” Fourth, under-promise and over-deliver: Go to a sister store, if available, or even a competitor and purchase the boxes, then deliver the other 15 boxes to the customer personally. Include an additional few boxes, and a couple of rolls of tape or a marking pen. That’s the way to create legendary customer experiences.

Be a Star

When you must deal with multiple tasks simultaneously, prioritize and keep everyone informed. If you are on the phone and someone walks through the front door, make sure you acknowledge the person with a wave or some direct indication you have seen him and will be with him shortly. Most of us just want to be recognized as existing rather than ignored as so often happens in retail these days. This is why it is so easy to be a star in the retail environment today.

Stand and greet everyone entering your office. It sets a great tone for the rest of the customer’s experience with you. Invite the customer to be seated and maintain eye contact while he describes his self-storage needs. Have a firm but friendly handshake. Practice at home or with friends to make sure you are not bone-crushing or wimpy as either case can be off putting. When you greet someone, smile, look him in the eye and shake hands; it is the start of a new relationship.

What if you’re with someone and the phone rings? Most would agree you should let the phone ring and focus on your customer. However, if you can notice from the caller ID it is someone you have been trying to reach, it’s acceptable to ask your customer if it’s OK if you grab the phone. Usually when informed of a special circumstance, your customer will not mind.

Likewise, if you need to put someone on hold to pull records or call your supervisor about a situation, ask if the caller can hold for the specific amount of time. You will find the customer doesn’t mind waiting as much when given a specific time span. Remember, under-promise and over-deliver.

So go on, challenge yourself, have fun with your job and, most of all, with your customers!

Dianna L. Tuttle has been involved in customer service at every phase of her career from her experience with the U.S. Army, and her tenure with Fleet Mortgage to her current position as an accounts payable staff member at Universal Management Co., which provides global consulting for evaluations, feasibility studies, training and development services. Anne Ballard is president of Universal Management Co. For more information, visit

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