Would YOU Do This to Your Customers?

A friend has a storage issue at home. (Too much stuff. No place to store it.) So a few years ago, he rented a storage space.

(For those readers not living in the lands of all-things-in-excess, there are actually places here in the States and Canada, at least, that take the burden of having to be prudent off of us poor overconsumers—myself included!—and allow us to store our extra junk at their facilities. Sort of like renting a huge closet.)

He rented the storage space because it was near home, so he could check on his stuff frequently, and add to the space if needed. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a lot cheaper than a bigger home, which he wasn’t yet in a position to afford. So he moved in his baby’s old toys and maybe-someday clothes and extra bikes and college textbooks and all the rest, and in this way he was able to keep his small home more manageable for not too much extra dough. ‘Til the day when they went too far.

The rent had been rising every year, but so does any rent, he figured. Only this year, they raised the rent enough that he choked on it, and he decided he’d had enough. He drove out to the storage space on a Saturday, went in to the office, and demanded to know if there was anything that could be done about this before he thought real hard about moving his things out and going someplace else. After all, he’d been there for years! Surely they’d want to keep such a loyal customer.

(Always worth a try. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?)

The manager raised his eyebrows. He’d have to bend the rules… He hemmed and hawed and tapped on an old calculator. Clearly my friend had him over a barrel! He checked his computer a few times, then went back to the calculator. Finally he said he’d roll back the increase, plus give him another X% off from now on.

He didn’t feel great about the 35-ish dollars off that the manager offered, but it was something. Now he’d just go home, look on the computer to see if that offer was way better than the other two storage places he knew weren’t too far away, and maybe see if he could use this price as leverage to get an even better deal elsewhere. After all, only this morning he had been willing to move. Might as well go for it while he was making the effort.

He powered up the Internet and then thought of one last thing. He’d check the site of his current storage-space company to see how fabulous a deal he’d just gotten. He wanted to be able to rave about the manager when he got back to work—what a nice guy he’d always been, how he’d worked so hard to give him a great deal, how he told him “You have to call this in to me if you want the deal, because it’s not available through corporate,” how he looked a little concerned when he handed him the slip of paper with his final offer. The great deal you get on the weekend makes nice water-cooler talk on Monday.

On the website of his current storage-space company, he found out how “good” the deal was. It was, in fact, $60 over what someone walking in off the street would pay for the same space. Not including their move-in discount. Every year, they’d been raising his rent while he paid no attention… far, far more than they’d raised the rates for new customers. Maybe the 5-year mark, which he’d just passed with this company, is when they realize you’re truly NOT paying attention and decide to give it to you good.

When he went to the websites of the two other local companies offering storage spaces the news was worse. His company had by far… by very, very far… the worst rates around. So the rate he was paying up to this date was over 2 1/2 times what he’d pay someplace else… and the “deal” the manager was cutting him was still highway robbery.

He got in his car and drove to the other spaces to make sure there was no difference in location or safety or facilities.

No difference.

The manager at one of the other spaces explained it to my friend as “a bit of a loyalty penalty.” He said that at his space, when he notices that the automatic increases have gotten out of control for a customer, he takes it upon himself to bring the rate back down, but heaven knows when he just happens to “notice” such a thing. Doesn’t sound like a rent-control method to rely on.

The loyalty penalty.

“I’ve been had,” said my friend, “and in fact, I’ve been had for years. I feel pretty darned foolish.”

Whichever one he chooses, I don’t think he’ll ever trust his new storage-space company the way he trusted the old one. I don’t think he’ll feel comfortable recommending any of them to his friends, ever again, unless he gets to tell his cautionary tale first. (Which won’t make it much of a recommendation at all.)

Some racket. Charge your long-term customers more and more, since you know that switching companies is a pain they’d rather avoid, and hope they don’t look into it too often.

Not a game I’d want to play with my most loyal customers.

Would you?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson