In my experience working as a self-storage property manager, collection calls go much better when you put a positive attitude on, before you even call your tenant. Most people are already defensive when they answer a phone call from their storage company. They almost always know that they are behind on the rent and that you are calling them to try to get them to make a payment.
However, you can defuse a lot of this distrust by simply asking how they are doing as soon as you finish identifying yourself. Most tenants are so surprised by the question: “how are you doing?” that it will change the entire course of the conversation. By explaining that you are making your collection calls (plural!) you can depict yourself as their helpful guardian!
A lot of potentially unpleasant and negative situations can be proactively steered into a place of mutual understanding and respect. I thought I would share the tips and tricks I learned for collecting rent when a tenant is behind on their payments, and doing so in a manner that allows your tenant to maintain their dignity and you to make your quota.
Starting With the Right Attitude
Nobody likes getting collection calls. If you put yourself in this mind set before you start making your calls, it will help. Think about the last time you got a collection call when you were home from work. It’s not pleasant. It’s obnoxious, intrusive and can be embarrassing. You can expect that many of your delinquent tenants you hit with collection calls are already going to be upset over the disruption. Nevertheless, making collection calls is something you must do as a self storage property manager in order to keep your job, so you need to go about it in the most effective yet least intrusive way possible.
This is what always works for me: when you get them on the phone, say Hello, speak clearly and let them know who you are. I usually say something like, “Hi, Bob, this is Zack calling from ____company name___”. Bob will say Hi back, most of the time.
[box type=”info”] This is the point at which many managers make a crucial error. They will proceed directly into a discussion of the account and what is due. Here’s what I do instead: I ask them how they’re doing. Simple? Yes. Effective? You bet. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard outright surprise in a tenant’s voice after I ask them how they are doing. Usually, this is all you need to set up the rest of the conversation on the right foot. [/box]
When you ask your tenants how they are doing, a lot of them will tell you. Whether you bargained for these stories or not, you can get some insight into what is going on in their lives and how it’s impacting their ability to make their regular payments. This information is important.
You should note it down in your self storage property management software so that you and other managers can refer back to it in the future. Being able to discuss details of a tenant’s life with them down the road will increase your rapport. Building positive relationships with your tenants can help you to navigate problems in the future as well as to more easily discuss account issues.
Phrasing Your Collection Sentences Correctly
Once you’ve finished up the pleasantries, it’s time to discuss the reason you first made the call: their rent is overdue. There are a number of ways to go about this. Some managers take the bull-headed approach and demand payment immediately, which may or may not work. Some managers take the buddy-buddy approach and tell the tenant that they’re being forced to make collection calls in order to keep their job, so sorry for the disruption, and by the way your rent is overdue. This can work, too, since it keeps your tenant feeling comfortable and reminds them that you, too, are a working person trying to keep it all together, and not the evil landlord that wants to shake them down.
[box type=”info”] Here’s what I like to do. I let my late tenant know that “I’m checking in with them about the rent”. This is gentle enough not to be offensive, but it’s also to the point and allows you to get right into what’s going on. Alternatively, it also gives your tenant just enough wiggle room to start telling you their late-payment story, at which point you can either decide to give them a break and try to work something out, or let them know that no concessions can be made and it needs to be paid immediately, at your own discretion. [/box]
Regardless of which technique you choose to employ, always speak clearly and firmly. If you sound uncertain of yourself or like you’re wavering in your desire to collect rent, you will find that many tenants will try to exploit your uncertainty by insisting that they have already paid up their rent and that the mistake is on your part or the part of the company.
Sticking to the Record
Some late tenants like to the play the smoke blowing game. They will swear up and down that they never got a reminder, they never got an invoice, they never paid on the first of the month before and that their due date is in the middle of the month. If you’re new to the facility or if you don’t keep careful notes, there’s no way you’ll be able to keep track of all this information and you will find yourself in a pickle when you can’t confirm or deny all the junk that’s being hurled at you. A good note keeping system is built into almost every major self storage property management software, and you should always bring up the account of the tenant you’re about to call so that you can review the latest activity and be ready to flag down any bullshit they send your way.
Be polite but firm when correcting a tenant’s facts. If you are civil but you make it clear that you have all the facts in front of you, most tenants will stop arguing with you over dates and numbers and just accept the fact that they are late and need to make a payment.