May 082012
 

For all of you who think I’m too “anal” when I help you rewrite your self-storage rental agreements, I’ll say this: I have nothing on Cincinnati Bell.

Yes, I’m one of the old-fashioned folks who still has a land line at his house, and I still pay a Baby Bell company to provide phone service.  Now, I’m not so old-fashioned that I don’t pay my bills online, but the due date on my most recent bill was coming up, and I forgot to schedule the online payment to ensure the bank would pay it on time. So I did the old-fashioned thing … I found my checkbook, wrote a check (I had almost forgotten how), and stopped by a Cincinnati Bell store.  My payment was not due for two days, but many of you know my feelings about late fees, so I stood in line to pay.

Here’s the kicker: Cincinnati Bell would not take my payment unless I presented photo identification. No exceptions.  I asked how they handled payments by mail, since I don’t normally send a copy of my ID with my payment, and I doubt my bank does it either when I pay electronically. The girl simply answered, “If you want me to post this payment, present identification. Otherwise, you can mail it.”  Then I also had to “sign the screen,” authorizing her to process my payment.

So this sounds like a rant against Cincinnati Bell (Note to self: Cancel the service. It’s a waste of money, and now time, too), but it isn’t (OK, maybe just a little).  What I really want to point out is how other businesses are handling bad checks, identity theft and customer information.  These are all common problems in the self-storage industry.  But facility operators seem so scared to ask for a copy of tenants’ identification, date of birth or, dare I even say it, Social Security number. You’re letting these folks move into your million-dollar investment because they have cash and a pulse; but Cincinnati Bell won’t even take a payment from a 20-plus-year customer without proper ID!

Half of me wanted to strangle the snotty kid at the Bell store (what is so cool about working at a cell-phone store anyway?), and half of me wanted to record the transaction for my next seminar.  The reality is you have to know your self-storage customers. The more information you have on them, the less likely they are to do you or your facility harm.  That harm could be providing you with a false identity or bad checks, or dumping a bunch of hazardous waste in your units.  If the phone company requires proper ID  for a payment, why should you be shy about requesting proper ID for a storage rental?  The answer is you shouldn’t be scared.

The further reality is you need to be trained to ask, without flinching, for enough information from each prospective tenant to know to whom you are renting—his real address and phone number, his real date of birth, whether he’s in the military, where he works and, yes, even his Social Security number.  Some of my clients go so far as to photograph or fingerprint the tenant (the Insomniac kiosk does both automatically).  So why are you so afraid?  Is the customer going to turn and walk out?  If I’m the perfect example of a difficult customer, I did not walk out. I questioned, but eventually, out came the ID and the bill was paid.  If I had made enough of a stink, I’m sure there was some way to pay without giving ID. But my time being worth something, the snotty kid was well-trained enough to hold her ground until the difficult customer fell into line and handed over the ID.

Hopefully, you can draw something from this lesson. If you believe it’s a good idea to get this necessary information with every rental, then have the backbone to really ask for it.  Customers are not going to walk out.  You can even turn it into a marketing moment by saying, “Why would you want to rent anywhere that wouldn’t require this sort of information?”  You just implied safety and security without using either of the words. And your tenant knows that you know enough about him that he had better tow the line, just like Greenberger did at the phone store the other day.

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