It’s something that’s simply part of this business. If you manage storage properties for a living, eventually you will have an encounter with an irritated, angry, or just plain furious tenant. It’s not a question of IF, but of WHEN.
Managing your property effectively also means being able to manage your own response and keep your cool when one of your storage customers flips their lid. It’s not always easy to do so, and it’s definitely not always fair, but here are some insights I’ve had while taking care of storage facilities and some tips for keeping your customers, turning arguments, misunderstandings and confrontations into opportunities, and generally making sure no one goes postal in your office.
Approach the Situation Cooperatively.
I know it’s easier said than done. Believe me, I do. But what I mean specifically by “approaching the situation cooperatively” is to turn the confrontation from a You Versus Tenant issue into a mystery you’re trying to unravel together.
With a little finesse and stagecraft (Oh, really? Your latest bill is too high? Let’s bring up your account and find out what’s going on, together!) you can almost immediately take the fight right out of one of your customers.
Try to keep their perspective in mind (even if you don’t agree with the content of their argument). They’ve probably been driving over to your facility, getting more and more pissed with each passing minute, planning to erupt at you over something regarding their account and expecting that you’ll put up just as much of a fight.
Twisting them right around with a little bit of this friendly Judo (Oh, really? That sounds terrible – let’s look into it together!) can defuse the situation quickly. The sheer shock value of responding to anger sweetly is often enough to defuse their negative emotions.
Listen to the Story They’re Not Telling You.
Many (but not all) storage customers are people in the midst of transitions. Transitions can be scary. Transitions can come about because of recent job loss, divorce, break-ups, serious medical issues, financial strain, evictions, overseas deployments and returns from overseas deployments.
For some of the folks storing with you right now, their ultimate need for a storage unit came as the final step in a long series of nightmarish developments in their lives. It helps to keep all this in mind when that seemingly quiet small dude that spends a lot of time in his unit suddenly bursts into your office and unleashes a torrent of abuse and spittle.
Sometimes you can take your tenants’ complaints at face value:
“That jerk from 305 keeps driving over my foot when he goes by.”
“The light needs to be replaced over my unit because I can’t see anything at night.”
“Your new trainee manager charged my credit card $750 more than my usual bill of $60.”
Face value complaints should be entertained with compassion and then swiftly remedied, with an apology if you or one of your staff were indeed at fault. Yet, oftentimes, the tenants that become truly enraged over something that doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, like the $2 per month rental rate increase that corporate enforced remotely, actually just want you to listen to the story they’re not telling you.
I can remember one guy in particular that was raising hell over a miniscule rate hike that had occured over the weekend. Despite the fact that we had given him 30 days notice as required by law, and despite the fact that I’d had many long and patient conversations with him explaining that we didn’t really have any control over the increase and that we had repeatedly gone out of our way to help him by waiving late payment fees, delaying his overlock day, and letting him borrow the company truck to do quick moves, he still found it within his rights to absolutely nut-off at us one afternoon.
But oh, how quickly did his rant about our $2 per month rate hike veer off into a seemingly unrelated tirade about the increasing costs of electricity, how outrageous gas prices were and, to top it all off, how ridiculously low minimum wage happened to be.
I happened to agree with him on all these points and very soon his rage gave out and he seemed to forget he had ever been upset with me in the first place. Within minutes I was like an old trusted friend to whom he could vent all the injustices and frustrations he’d suffered.
This guy had no problem with me, our service, or any aspect of his storage experience that was within our daily control. He was having money problems, as most everyone does at some point or forever, and he just wanted someone to listen to his problems.
I can’t count on both hands how many times a potentially ugly storage conflict has dissolved into a griping session. And this is exactly what I mean by trying to listen to the story they’re not telling you.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Abused
There’s a big difference between providing excellent customer service or making things right for your tenants and allowing yourself to straight-up be abused. Let’s face it – some storage tenants aren’t reasonable, socially capable or totally stable people. Some of them just want to rage at somebody, and you’re the only one around. Don’t allow this for a second.
Aside from the fact that it’s never alright for anyone to scream at you, if you don’t nip this kind of behavior in the bud immediately you can only expect to get plenty more of it from the repeat offenders in the coming months and years.
Getting screamed at by a regular tenant puts many storage managers in an awkward situation for reasons beyond the obvious. Some managers aren’t sure how to handle the situation so that they’re balancing their professional need to keep their customers happy and their personal need not to be abused. Meanwhile, it’s confusing and surprising when someone bursts into your office when you’re having a pleasant morning and rips you a new one out of nowhere.
In cases like these, it’s best to play the calm and level-headed (yet firm) adult. You can raise your voice if necessary to put an early stop to a loud tirade and state very firmly that you will not be spoken to in this way. Look the tenant directly in the eye and speak with confidence and presence. You can keep repeating “Excuse me” loudly and forcefully if they persist in screaming over you.
Once you have their attention, you can explain calmly (and this is a good time to start lowering your voice – hoping your cues will invite them to do the same) that you will only be spoken to calmly and with respect. Follow up by saying you are more than happy to help them address whatever issue it is that is bothering them, but you will need them to first calm down and relate their problem to you respectfully.
Now you can open the channels of communication and re-frame the issue as a problem you are working together in order to solve. If they have calmed down, listen to them at length, while nodding and making direct eye contact and other cues such as timely and contemplative “mhhmm’s” to indicate that you are absorbing and considering what they are telling you.