No matter what business you’re in, you’ll come across a few angry customers. They raise their voices, make demands and may even insult you and your staff.
So, what makes self-storage tenants any different from disgruntled diners or irritable shoppers? For one thing, lots of people need self-storage because they’re facing stressful situations like moving, a parent’s death, eviction, divorce or foreclosure, said Carol Krendl, a former trainer for National Self Storage and president of Skilcheck Services, which provides training for the self-storage industry. High stress levels can lead to quick tempers when customers get frustrated by even minor problems.
What can you do to ensure that angry customers don’t cause lost business and damage your facility’s reputation? Here are 10 tips to turn those situations around.
1. Respond Promptly.
The longer a complaint hangs out there, the worse the problem becomes, said Dwight Zahringer, CEO of TruReview, which specializes in reputation management for small businesses. Don’t try to work things out by email, which can be misinterpreted and can leave the customer feeling powerless from a faceless transaction.
“You want to come across as genuine, not automated,” Zahringer said. Pick up the phone or set a time to listen to concerns in person.
2. Hear Them Out.
“This is not a cross-examination,” Zahringer said. “At the end of the day, you both want the same thing.”
Truly listen, and acknowledge what the customer says. Be nonjudgmental, and don’t let yourself come back with a strong personal reaction, said Eileen Lichtenstein, a certified anger management specialist. Let the customer work through his or her frustration.
“The more time a person spends airing their grievances, the more time they have to come down,” Lichtenstein said.
3. Show Empathy.
Krendl recalls a self-storage manager who refused to let a woman pay her hospitalized mother’s past-due bill. Instead of empathizing, the manager even refused to accept cash from the daughter when she showed up on the day the unit was scheduled to be auctioned.
“Sometimes, managers set themselves up for failure,” Krendl said. Digging in for a power struggle just makes the matter worse.
4. Don’t Take It Personally.
Everything an angry customer says to you is from his or her own perspective, Lichtenstein said. That person’s frustration may or may not be relevant to anything you’ve done. If a customer becomes verbally abusive toward you, don’t escalate it into a ping-pong match of nasty remarks. Instead, Lichtenstein recommends saying: “I appreciate your frustration with the situation, but attacking me will not improve anything. I want to help you.”
5. Take Ownership.
Don’t assume you did nothing wrong, Zahringer said. Show the customer you’re in touch with your organization and in control of whatever happened.
“The customer is looking to be heard and to know that the problem is not theirs to contain or figure out,” he said. “Start from a neutral place, assess the complaint and move on from there.”
6. Offer Solutions.
Ask the customer what it will take to set things right. You might be ready to offer free rent when all that person really wants is a few extra moving boxes.
Other times, figuring out the solution is up to you. A flood at one of Krendl’s facilities forced staff to cut locks off units to get inside. Krendl offered a month’s free rent to tenants, gave them replacement locks and provided Dumpsters to get rid of damaged items. “Out of 700 tenants, we only had three move out,” she said.
7. Keep Your Word.
The only thing worse than doing nothing is promising too much.
“Only make promises you’re able to keep, and if you can’t, call that person with a reason why,” Zahringer said. “If it’s a complex situation, request additional time to find an adequate solution.”
8. Follow Up.
Check back in a couple of weeks or a month to make sure the customer is happy with the outcome. “A quick two-minute conversation can make all the difference in the world,” Zahringer said.
9. Train Your Staff.
Keep on hand a “living, breathing document” that lays out guidelines for resolving complaints, Zahringer said. If a customer is angry because of a late fee and a manager knows it’s OK to waive that fee the first time, then everyone is happy.
“Late fees are one of the most common complaints from self-storage customers,” said Krendl, who has seen people move out over a $10 fee. “They get angry and frustrated that there’s just no budging.”
10. Learn From the Experience.
Address the complaint constructively with staff and find ways to head in a positive direction. “There is a bit of learning in every piece of criticism,” Zahringer said, “and you want to make sure your company moves forward better and smarter than before.”