Customer service is always a key concern for self-storage operators, and experienced professionals know that on-site managers can be an integral factor in the success of a facility. The interpersonal communication skills that managers bring to each face-to-face interaction and telephone conversation are critical to the success and reputation of a self-storage operation. A self-storage manager’s communication skills also may provide a risk management benefit by helping to reduce the risk of lawsuits.
Tenants who discover that their units have been burglarized or damaged by water or other events are naturally going to be upset and predisposed to look for someone to blame and make them whole. Facility managers have an opportunity to give these customers an experience that is as positive as possible under the circumstances. Succeeding at providing a “wow” experience for a tenant following a loss can go a long way toward reducing the chance that the tenant will file a lawsuit against the facility.
When a tenant experiences a loss, the most important first step is to show empathy.
While a manager should avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as an admission of culpability on the part of the facility, for example, “I should have checked the lights at that end of the building” or “We always have trouble with the roof leaking this time of year,” it is always a good idea to empathize with the customer’s frustration, anger, and sadness at having experienced a loss. Statements such as, “I can see that you’re upset” and “This must be very frustrating,” are appropriate and can be helpful.
The manager will need to establish initially whether the customer has purchased the tenant insurance (contents insurance) offered by the facility. If so, the manager should provide the customer with the phone number to report the claim. If not, avoid being dismissive as in, “Sorry, I can’t help you if you didn’t purchase our insurance.” Instead, use good communication skills to assist the customer to understand how to file the claim. If they are relying on their homeowner’s insurance coverage, advise them to contact their insurance agent or carrier. If the customer has no insurance at all, it is even more important to take great care in your communications with them to avoid the appearance of making promises on behalf of the facility.
During the initial conversation with the customer, managers should complete a detailed incident report documenting the loss, the conversation with the tenant, and the tenant’s contact information and insurance status. Within 24 hours of the loss report, it is an excellent idea to follow up with the tenant and maintain an open line of communication until the claim is resolved. E-mails are effective, but a personal phone call is perceived as quality customer service.
When communicating with a customer who has experienced a loss, the primary objective is to resolve the incident quickly and satisfactorily for both the self-storage business and the tenant. Maintaining clear communication throughout the claims process helps the manager to provide excellent service to the customer while protecting the interests of the operation.
For more detailed examples of effective communication in these types of situations – including what NOT to say – consult your insurance agent directly. Taking the time to prepare managers and practice effective communications may help to reduce the risk of costly and time-consuming lawsuits in the future.
President and CEO