Always on the lookout to cut costs, save money and eliminate wasteful spending, I’ve been meaning to call the storage unit I’m renting in Alexandria, Virginia. I’ve had the unit for about two years and it’s basically been a necessity with all the moving I’ve done. I opened the account with Public Storage in 2012, after I came back from Las Vegas but before I went to Costa Rica.
I’ve thrown out some things little by little but it was filled with things I simply could not take with me or leave at a friend’s house. It’s been an expense I’ve reluctantly had to pay each month, but one I just couldn’t get rid of. But it’s been uneventful. I’ve been back maybe once or twice in a couple years and always pay on time. My account is synched with auto-pay so they receive my credit card payment on the same day each month
I would be passing through Virginia before the Christmas holiday and I realized this would be as good a time as any to figure out some logistics with my unit. After about two years and about $2,000 spent in total, it’s a monthly cost that starts to hit the budget. I’d currently had a 5×10 unit at $93 a month and thought if I could get it down to a 5×5 unit that at least I could cut my expense roughly in half. Still something I’d have to pay, but a continual savings I’d get just by managing the logistics. Knowing that a website is not always updated with the most accurate information and prices, I call up my storage location to talk with the staff there. And so begins my Public Storage Journey.
Public Storage – 7501 Fordson Road. Alexandria, VA 22306 – 703.765.4607
The call goes to a fax machine. As I try to stop my ear from bleeding out due to the screeching buzz, I wait a few minutes and try again. Same thing. I consider that perhaps they use the line for both phone and fax and currently someone was using the fax machine. I wait some time and try again, same thing. So I look around on the Public Storage website and find an additional number for the location. It’s a different area code so I assume maybe it’s a direct line. Turns out it’s a guy’s cell phone. And not like a guy who works at the company, just some random guy.
He misses my call and then calls me back a few minutes later thinking I’m from the Fish and Wildlife Department, (I guess he was expecting them.) It’s bad enough this Public Storage location doesn’t have working phones, but their website posts the cell phone number of local residents. I won’t post the number because I don’t want this guy to get more calls, but it’s literally just a guy’s cell phone. As of me writing this, it’s STILL listed on their website.
Public Storage Main Line – 800.688.8057
I call up Public Storage’s main customer service line and make it through to a live person. Success! I reach the rep and I relay my story to him. “The cost is getting a bit high and I’m examining different options. Closing my account is an option but I’m more inclined to get a smaller unit or cut the cost down.” When I tell him I’m potentially canceling the plan I’ve had for two years but I could be kept as a customer if I could get a hold of someone to discuss options, I’m told, “There’s nothing I can do, the phone lines are down.” Alright. I’m not expecting him to fly out and repair the line himself, but clearly there is a contingency plan if they can’t reach a store.
Having studied the website before I call him, I see Public Storage has 1/2 price Christmas special. This is when it starts getting interesting and this subject will be the crux of my back and forth with the company. The promotion is VERY specific. The offer ends on December 20 and you have to move in by December 27.
This is about half the price that I’m currently paying so I ask him about it. He tells me that it’s only for new customers. I ask him if I can “become a new customer,” and he tells me I could only get that if I moved units… I ask him to clarify and he says that even if it was across the hall or the unit just five feet to the left of where I was, that’s the only way I can do it. This sounds beyond ridiculous to me, (and it turned out to be wrong anyway.) But he tells me that I have to physically move all my items out of one unit, and replace them all in another unit, because, “That’s the policy.” Only allowing your customer to get a discount if he jumps through paperwork hoops and checks off proverbial boxes, AND is forced to lift heavy things seems like a bad business practice to me, so I don’t push too hard. Shortly though I’d learn that as far as Public Storage was concerned for, “bad business practice,” this was just the tip of the iceberg.
The rep also tells me that I can only get this if I physically came into that location in the next two days, (by the deadline of December 20.) I tell him I live halfway across the country and while I do have a stopover in Washington DC for the weekend, that would mean a special trip out to the store. In additional I can’t even get through to the store, much less am I interested in moving all my stuff five feet to the left to a different unit, “just because.”
I actually say the words to him, “I don’t think you understand, I’m telling you you’re going to lose me as a customer if I can’t get someone to help me.” and his response is, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” I’m literally telling the company, “I’m sorry I may not be explaining myself properly… I want to give you money.” And the response is, “Nope, can’t do it, cant take your money.” Knowing I didn’t hit the signpost for the Twilight Zone I don’t get into it with him further. I ask him who I would contact if I needed to absolutely reach the store and he gives me the number for one of the District Managers. It’s about to get good.
Fatima – Public Storage District Manager for Alexandria, VA – 703.455.4213
I reach Fatima and go through the process with her. Fatima is nice enough and explains the same corporate line to me. I ask again, “You’re potentially going to lose a loyal customer, are you absolutely sure?” And she says she’s sure. She tells me there is, “Absolutely no way we ever offer any of the new customer promotions to existing customers.” I tell her I understand, but I have spoken with companies in the past who did honor this, and perhaps she could make this exception. If not, perhaps someone in the management of customer service or marketing could make the call once they looked over my account and realized I was a genuine, longtime customer and not just some guy trying to scam a deal. Her response is a solid no and she adds, “Sir, you could call the Vice President of the company and you’d still get the same answer. Not even he would give you the deal.” Feeling up to the challenge I decide I’ll try to reach him. I thank her for her time and hang up.
So it’s getting interesting now. I’ve had responses like this before and dealt with poorly run companies before. Most people have at one time or another. The major difference between me and most people is that I don’t allow things just to fizzle out. While the average person may write a letter or leave a message with customer service I’m perfectly comfortable getting to the bottom of a problem and speaking to higher levels of management. For every time that a customer service rep tells you, “I’m sorry we just can’t do that,” if you ask to speak with her supervisor you’ll likely get through to someone who can in fact do that.
Recently I had a lower level rep with American Express give me some bad information which led to a fee I should not have been hit with. I called them up, got an entry level rep and was told, “We can’t reverse that.” I asked to speak to a supervisor, was put through to a manager and had the charge reversed on the spot. “Yes sir thank you for being a loyal customer, I’m actually refunding that charge as I speak with you, it will be complete in just a few seconds.” There is virtually always, always, ALWAYS someone who CAN do that, or CAN press the button to give you that refund. It’s just a matter of how much time you’re willing to spend and how serious you are about making sure businesses conduct themselves professionally.
Public Storage Main Line – 800.688.8057 (Second Time)
This is a quick call. I reach a customer service rep and ask for a line to talk to someone in the marketing or customer relations department. The rep is nice enough, grabs some basic information. He asks for the last four digits of my driver’s license. I tell him my license has changed a few times since then and I don’t have it. He listens to why story and agrees with everything I’m saying. Who knows if he actually thinks this, but his job is to keep the customer happy and he realizes that. Happy customers mean more revenue. He says, as I expected, that he can’t provide me an answer but he does provide me the number for Public Storage’s Corporate office in California. This was all I wanted so the call’s a success. I tell him about the fax number and the guy’s cell phone and he says he’ll send a note to the web guys. I thank him and we part ways.
Public Storage Corporate Office – 818.244.8080
I call the number for the Corporate Office and I’m put through to a gentleman who needed to get some basic account information from me. No problem. I provided him my name and account number. I’s get, “I need the last four digits of your driver’s license.”
Again I explain my driver’s licenses is two years old since I lived in Virginia and I don’t have it anymore.
Now, this seems like an extremely logical argument to me. What do they expect from people who move? I mean their entire company is based on people who need to store things because they are moving or traveling…
Him: “Well I understand you may not have the license right now, but I do need to get that number,”
Me: “My man, I’m not going to go digging through the garbage dump for something I threw out over a year ago so what are the other options?”
He tells me I can call my location and see if they’ll accept a fax or scan. I tell him the same story, “Your phones at that location are down, I wish I could.” He then tells me I’ll have to go into a physical public storage and update the account. My head hurts a bit too much to argue with him on this… Does that mean the physical location won’t ask me for my old driver’s license number? If they won’t, then why can’t I just update it with him over the phone? And if they will, I still won’t have it because it was thrown out a year ago.
Once again this seems like dealing with individuals who have no interest in helping their customers, but rather checking off boxes of the policies made by people who got bored and decided to create the most backward way to run a business. Part of me feels empathy for some guy who is literally just sitting by a phone call day answering questions. Just because some foolish CEO or Vice President made a ridiculous policy, isn’t his fault, and he can’t do anything to change it. So I’m always sure to just be matter of fact with low-level customer service reps and not argue the merits of the policy. I ask for another supervisor who can perhaps help me. He gives me the Regional Vice President handling Alexandria, Virginia, Mr. Terry Martin.
Terry Martin – Public Storage Regional Vice President – 240.393.4955
At this point it’s getting real tiring real quickly. Explaining the same story a half dozen times is trying on your patience. I do it again, explaining the bill was getting high and I was examining other options, tried to reach the store and no luck, tried to negotiate a lower rate and no luck… Terry doesn’t mince words and tells me straightforwardly, “Well I can tell you Fatima was 100% correct, we don’t offer promotions for existing customers.”
I tell Terry I totally understand but perhaps something can be worked out. I explain that while I understand this may be beneath what he’s used to dealing with, I wanted to speak with someone higher up who may understand that it’s always preferable to keep a customer than go to the trouble to replace him. Terry and I go back and forth a bit, but keep things respectful. At one point it does get a little tense as I ask Terry, “Are you sure, because you’re going to lose a loyal customer you’ve had for two years,” to which Terry replies, “No, you told me you were going to close your account anyway so it’s no loss.” I’m caught off guard a bit that a business would say something so blatantly rude. Terry’s getting a bit snippy and that’s not what I said. Rather I said the costs were getting too high and I was considering different options, perhaps closing my account. But perhaps after a half dozen calls I’m getting a bit snippy as well without me realizing it, so I’m not going to get in a shouting match over the phone.
I ask Terry candidly what’s with the hoops the company is making its customers jump through? “Terry what if I just had a friend show up to get the lower rate and later on I move my stuff into his unit and the next week close my account?” Terry doesn’t like that and explains that if they knew that they’d make sure I wouldn’t be able to. There’s some brief back and forth, as I tell him it’s an example, and I’m not planning to, but Terry will have none of it. He speaks for a moment about integrity and enforcing the rules. I don’t want a lecture about “authority” from a company that clearly would rather lose money than make money, so I don’t get into it.
All throughout this however the conversation is staying fairly respectful. I tell Terry one last time, “Hey I totally understand you can only do what you’ve been allowed to, just one last time are you guys absolutely sure there’s nothing you can do for it? I’ve been a customer for two years.” Terry tells me that the leaders and powers that be decided long ago that this is how they’d operate and there would be absolutely no aid or promotions given to current customers. I thank him for his time and we part ways.
In dealing with poor customer service I’ve had some success in the past by reaching out on facebook and twitter. Companies will often disregard emails, letters or phone calls, but social networking has the opportunity to explode overnight. For the sake of a $50 disagreement with a customer, companies can lose millions in revenue and receive years of bad publicity. So just in case, I post on the facebook wall for Public Storage and send out a tweet by tagging them.
“Hey Public Storage, I’ve been trying to reach your location at 7501 Fordson Road in Alexandria, Virginia for two days. Office line goes to a fax and backup line listed on the website is some guy’s cell phone. Customer service told me, “The phone lines are down.”… They get back to me within a couple of hours. (I knew they would.) They ask me to email my account information to a special email address and they will review it. I do, and am waiting to hear back.
My only regret is that I don’t have many twitter followers to get the word out. Help me out and follow me on twitter.
Where We Stand
It’s important to mention that my thoughts and displeasure with Public Storage is on their policy and not on their personnel. Though there were definitely some staff members who didn’t seem to have it all together, everyone I spoke with was respectful and I never felt like I was being treated poorly. These individuals have no ability to do certain things if they’re supervisors haven’t given them clearance to and I don’t hold them accountable I’m much more disappointed with the way Public Storage does business. The aspect of their customer service that was poor was related to business practice and the policy created by higher ups in regards to how they treat customers, as opposed to individual staff members.
The way I look at it I have two options. The first is just to get a friend to open up a new account and get the promotional rate. I could easily do this in a day when I’m back in Virginia for Christmas and just move all my things over. Despite Terry’s feelings on the matter, I’m truthfully not that concerned about the ethical nature of it. Bad companies deserve to lose business and my time is valuable. If a company is going to make me do extra work in order to GIVE THEM money, then I feel little remorse for something like this.
The second thought is to clean everything out and close the account. This option is more appealing to me. While I’m not concerned that policeman Terry is going to sniff out a grand conspiracy, there is an aspect of honesty that I do want to keep. Even though its absolutely ridiculous for Public Storage to conduct themselves this way, I’m still trying to stay on the up and up. As foolish as they are, crafting an elaborate plan and scheme, even if it is to save myself money, is not something I’m comfortable with.
In addition to this, if a company doesn’t treat its customer properly then they deserve to lose that customer. I don’t doubt everyone I spoke to who said it’s all the decision of a bunch of big whigs. That’s why I never got upset with Fatima or Terry or the customer service reps. It would be like yelling at the intern answering the phones because your Congressman voted wrong on a bill. It’s not their fault that a stupid decision was made, they’re just answering the phones. However… poorly run companies who exhibit poor customer service no longer deserve my business. I’ve stopped working with other companies in the past and have no problem shifting my money to a company that values me as a customer.
So after laughing out loud for a few minutes at how silly the whole thing is, I’ve decided to close my account with Public Storage. I’ll be back in Virginia for the weekend before Christmas at which point I’ll be removing all my possessions from storage. I’ll be looking at other options, including other storage companies. This may all be for the best as I’ll be able to save money with a lower rate as well as declutter even more.
A Note to Public Storage
In the span of a day you lost a customer who had used your company for two full years and spent over $2,000 with you. But it didn’t have to be this way. And I was basically the perfect customer. I went back and looked at every payment I’ve made over the past two years. I was set up with auto-pay and never missed a payment. Every month you got my payment without fail. I was never late, not once. That means that in two years Public Storage literally had to do absolutely nothing except take my money. That seems like a tremendously good customer to me, and one I’d certainly want to keep.
I understand companies have “Rules” that lower level staffers can’t change, but to Public Storage I say, you need to get a better system in place. Considering changing the policy or give your managers some discretion on pricing, especially for loyal customers. A customer who signed up for a unit a week ago wouldn’t receive the promotion, but a guy who walked in the next day would? What if the first guy asked for some good will because he’s a new customer? Are you seriously going to fight with a guy who just gave you his business? Of course not, you should make an exception so he’s a happy customer.
The cost of recruiting a new customer compared to keeping an existing customer is astronomically higher. So many studies have been done on it that it’s not even a debatable statistic. A commonly quoted number is that it costs between six and seven TIMES the amount of money to go out and find a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer. That’s not an argument on philosophy, that’s just basic math. Any basic marketing or business class will have taught this and the Public Storage CEO’s should know this as basic common sense.
I didn’t go to business or marketing school, rather just started a couple of small businesses myself, and even I know this. In fact I’d wager most everyone knows this, except it seems for the decision makers at Public Storage. Now it’s possible Public Storage has run the numbers and determined it’s simply not worth it to make these exceptions. Perhaps they have all the answers and I’m spitting into the wind, but it doesn’t seem right to me. Taking a loyal customer who has paid on time for two years straight and not providing him with the deal because he’s not, “New” is just a bad business practice. It’s like the tongue in cheek car commercial that ran about a year ago that mocked the bureaucratic nonsense of customer “levels.”
“Hey can I get that deal you’re offering to new customers?”
“Nope sorry, only for NEW customers.”
“But I’m pretty new, I just gave you my business.”
“Yea but that guy is New-ER, so sorry.”
I am a firm believer that poorly run companies with bad business practices deserve to lose your business. Based on the simple fact that their company doesn’t exhibit some basic policies on customer retention, I will not be using Public Storage any longer. By “any longer” I mean, “Never.” Public Storage has lost my business forever just out of sheer principle. (Okay, okay. Maybe if the CEO calls and tells me they’ve changed the policy, effectively immediately, I’ll consider them.) If you are currently using Public Storage I’d encourage you to call them up or contact them and ask them about how they treat their current customers. As is often the case, big businesses and corporations don’t value individual customers who write letters or leave messages. It’s only when they see a potential tidal wave of social media or public outcry that they begin to worry about the loss of revenue.
Agree? Disagree? Post a note in the comments and let me hear your feedback.