Friday, January 5, 2007

Safeguard Self Storage 180º Turnaround from Bad To Great

Please read my updated comments now...Ben Martin is the current facility manager and is a prince among men. This man couldn't be nicer and as a result we are still with Safeguard and have expanded our space to a full 20X20 foot location. The turn around is 180 degrees for this facility and I would gladly recommend it now for your storage needs....8/22/2007.

We have also been informed of the passing of Rob. He was a very young man and unfortunately passed away. I was told that his death might have been caused by medication he had been taking which created the wild mood swings he exhibited. I want to express my deepest sympathies to his family and friends for their loss of this very young man, who went before his time...12/28/2007

I am leaving this story on my blog to illustrate how companies handle their customers and how you might want to handle issues you have with companies. I hope this doesn't show my lack of respect for Rob's family, but I believe it is important to understand how some medication can in fact cause individuals to act irrationally and as in this case even cause death.

I have spent the better portion of my life in people oriented positions which included being the owner of an executive search firm a sales and marketing manager in the women's clothing industry, and the owner of a licensed movie apparel company working with leading film studios. I also spent 7 years as a marketing and corporate communications consultant to one of the largest east coast parking companies in the country and many years as a consultant and writer. Currently I am busy running a 400 member organization which I founded called International Press Association. IPA is a web based organization made up of members of the media, photographers and journalist and has become a well respected international organization.

The reason for the brief bio is to let you know that all of my career positions were based on my people skills and understanding of how to motivate individuals to either do their jobs better or to convince people or companies to purchase my companies goods or services. I have been very successful in all of these career and personal choices and one only has to read the articles on my IPA web site or this blog to see I have a keen understanding of how a company and their employees should treat their customers.

A couple of years ago I had to rent some space in a local storage facility Safeguard Self Storage in Holmdel, NJ. At that time I had an incident where the local site manager accidentally closed the bay doors as I was backing in and by the time the doors sensor realized it hit the roof of my car and began to go up, damage was done to the roof rack of my SUV and to the top of my car.

I had to shame this company to pay for the damage done to the car and finally, after numerous attempts, settled for a small allowance against my monthly rent. I didn't want to get the manager in trouble so, I didn't make a big deal out of this and moved on. I left Safeguard when my needs for space ceased and later found out the manager, I was trying to protect, allegedly entered customers rented spaces and helped himself to some of their belongings. This came to my attention when reading an article in our local paper. I was surprised to see this, since he seemed to be a nice guy.

This year my son moved back to New York from Florida and needed a storage facility while he looked for an apartment in New York City. I shopped around for him and called Safeguard again thinking they were a nice, clean place and would offer us a competitive price for the space. They offered me a decent deal on a 20'X20' space and I ended up taking one in the middle of August with a move in date of September 1, 2006.

My son arrived in New Jersey and began to move his belongings into Safeguard and soon found out he needed more space. It was necessary to now take another 10'X10' space to supplement the first one. Of course the cost of the smaller space was much more expensive
per square foot, then the larger space, but we felt it wouldn't matter since it was only a temporary situation. After all with the first month free it wouldn't be that bad.

We thought we would keep the 20X20 when my son moved into his apartment and give up the 10X10, but as it turned out, we were able to get his remaining items, after his move to New York, into the 10X10 space. Of course we were paying approximately 50% per square foot more for this small space, over what we paid for the larger space, but it was still going to be less each month then keeping the 20X20. We really had no choice now so we stayed with Safeguard. There goes the competitive pricing we got only 2 months before on the larger space.

The manager of Safeguard Holmdel is a young man named Rob. Rob is one of those guys that likes to play bully, you know the type, the Alpha Male. I understand from Rob, that he once managed a health club and had a number of other jobs in his young career, which is not really something I would be bragging about. Now he sits in a storage facility all day...from his list of jobs, it didn't seem like a lot of great career choices to me, but who am I to pass judgement. The only reason I mention this is to show his arrogance, which you will understand, as you finish reading this article.

Let me give you a little profile of Rob and his lack of people skills. One day my son forgot the key to his facility and asked if he could borrow the snips to cut it off. Rob informed him he couldn't let him use it and there was a $10 fee to cut the lock off. Now I understand this may be a company policy, but don't you think that either Rob or Safeguard should try to accommodate their customers especially on something so trivial? Rob was extremely rude and made what could have been a very simple thing into an adversarial situation. My son called me, I drove down with my snips and cut if off myself in 5 seconds.

At the same time my son needed to use their rest room and Rob refused to let him use it and told him it was out of order, again this could have been the case, but in both situations that day, Rob was not pleasant and was quite rude to my son. When I arrived at Safeguard to cut the lock, I thought Rob was just having a bad day, so I went to introduce myself to Rob. I decided to give Rob a nice Lenox China Christmas Salt and Pepper shaker set, as a gift (retail value $22). I was going to store these in my son's space, because I had bought a number of Lenox Holiday items at the Lenox outlet store that I was going to sell on eBay for Christmas. I thought by extending my hand of friendship and my token of good will, I would at least warm Rob up and just maybe, he would begin to treat my son a bit nicer then he had. I soon found out that was my mistake.

Now remember, that rate we first got on the 20X20 space, which now became a higher rate on the smaller space, became even more expensive. We received a notification that we would now have to pay a new 7% state tax which was being imposed on rent at these facilities. OK, we understand this happens when state government passes new laws, but how about the additional increase of another $10.70 each month, that Safeguard now added to this account as of January 1st, because their costs increased. I suppose on a month to month lease, the consumer has few rights to object to these increase and our rent increased another 15% or more between the tax and the Safeguard increase.

Once you have loaded all your items into a storage unit, it is very hard to move. That is why these places offer a free month, they know that most customers who believe they will only need storage for a couple of months actually stay a year or longer. Unless you want to pay for a truck rental and spend a day moving from one place to another, you stay where you are and they know it. Now remember, all these increases happened to us, in just about a 4 month period.

When we signed the lease and I paid the first month with my credit card and possibly the second month too, not sure, we asked Safeguard to bill my son's credit card for the rent each of the following months. For some reason December's charge didn't go through and we discovered the reason was that Rob at Safeguard forgot to include the 3 or 4 digit security code when entering the information. Of course Rob sent us a letter that the card was rejected and we had 3 days to call them and make the payment or we would incur a $10 late fee. I thought this was a bit harsh, but my son called, discovered the problem and while I was there with him, gave them the security code and information they needed for future charges. We thought there would not be any further issues.

Once again this month I received a notice from Rob at Safeguard dated 1/2/07. The notice explained that the credit card company declined the charge again and if they didn't receive payment by the close of 1/6 a late fee of $10 would be added to our account. The letter arrived in my home on January 4th. Since Safeguard is located near my home in New Jersey and my son is now in NYC, I called him to let him know there was a problem again. He told me he would call and was sure that once again, they forgot to include the security code when applying the charge to his account.

Today, I received another letter from Rob at Safeguard dated 1/4 (only 2 days after the first notice) that they have now charged my son's account the $10 late fee because the payment was not received. How could they charge a late fee when the first letter clearly stated that the fee would not be imposed before 1/6? It further stated that if payment was sent for the original amount that we should add the $10 late fee to next months payment. Now as you read this I am sure you can understand my outrage at these dunning letters. They didn't wait until 1/6 to impose the fee, they sent the notice with the late fee on 1/4 only two days after the first notice. Most companies would either mail you a polite notice, or call you and give you some time to contact them or make the payment, Rob at Safeguard did not.

Some companies have a policy to charge your card on file a week before the payment is actually due or will mail a rent notice out a couple of weeks in advance, so if there were any problems you still had time to correct them. I have never seen any company or any individual, in all the years I have been in business, or in my personal dealings, charge a late fee after two days after notification of a problem. Personally I have never paid any bills late, have an A+++ credit rating and don't owe anything to anyone, my credit rating is around 780 out of a high possible score of 850, Rob bragged he had a credit score of 800, see what I mean about being an Alpha Male. By the way their web site claims they have easy payment options and automatic credit card you can see their payment option is not so easy.

I assumed my son already called and got this matter cleared up but because of the second letter I decided to call Rob myself and find out why he had issued a second collection letter only 2 days after the first letter and only 4 days into the beginning of the month. He once again was short with me, told me that my son had called yesterday with another credit card and the matter was now resolved. When I asked why he sent out the second letter only two days after the first, he told me that he sends out the second letter 5 days after the first one...but as you can see from the scanned letter above, the first one was dated 1/2/07 and the second one went out on 1/4/07 that is 2 days by my count.

As I discussed their procedure and how it was a bit harsh and wouldn't build customer loyalty, he seemed to care less. I further explained that this was simply a credit card issue and not a case of a dead beat, he replied that this was the second time it had happened as if to say "We are Dead-Beats". I was a bit in shock but still kept my cool and tried to reason with Rob. Now remember the first time they forgot to put in the security code, the card was good, it was their error, not ours that the card was declined. We even came in to the facility in person to correct the problem and make sure that had what they needed to charge the rent each month. When I asked Rob why their was a problem, he said it never happens on other cards, but on their system it some how didn't save the security code on his card and it was rejected...I really think they might have just written the wrong code down in their records because the card is fine when used anywhere else.

I asked him why he just didn't call us to ask for a new card or for payment and he told me he doesn't have the time because he sends out 500 invoices each month. I seriously doubted this is really a problem because he also told me he as at least 8 problems like this a month. I had suggested it might be better to simply make the calls or even send out an email to those customers it would take less time then mailing the notices and would be a more efficient and friendly want to deal with any credit card problems. He once again seemed annoyed by my comments and suggestions on the proper procedure to deal with his customers. He told me he didn't have Internet access so he couldn't send out email notifications, another one of my suggestions. He explained that Safeguard would shut off the access to their facilities except when they had to do some company business. He also said he personally felt insulted because he is a manager and should have the access all the time. He further explained that he likes to receive his Sirius Radio over the net because he can't get decent reception because of all the steel in the facility. He told me how he wanted to listen to Howard Stern on Sirius Radio and couldn't...I could have guessed this has to be a Howard Stern fan...remember he is the typical Alpha Male.

I once again tried to explain that I have spent years as a consultant to Kinney Parking Systems in New York and this was a similar business to his. We had to rent space each month in our facilities as they did in theirs. I told him that at Kinney, I would go out of my way to satisfy a customer and even had a company newsletter that I wrote and produced that was distributed to our customers. The newsletter was geared to offer customers benefits and savings and always had my direct phone number so customers could call me directly with their concerns. It was the only way I could tell what was broken and what I needed to fix at Kinney. That input was valuable and I encouraged our customers to contact me.

Rob the AM, continued to be rude. He basically told me that he too had years of great business experience (remember he managed a health club) and thanked me sarcastically for telling him how to do his job, yes he really said that, I couldn't believe it, but it is true. I had previously told him I was a journalist, gave him the URL of my web site and told him I write many different articles including some about companies that just don't treat customers correctly. He told me that he hoped I wouldn't write about him, well Rob, you earned this article.

I tried very hard to be pleasant and professional and continued to explain how these letters and his actions would only cause his company to truly piss customers off, he basically told me to mind my own business. At that point I decided it was a losing battle and said good-bye.

I will send a letter to Safeguard corporate or a link to this blog and see how they respond. I have a feeling from my past experience with Safeguard that companies that hire people like Rob or the last guy who was convicted of stealing customers property, often are not aware of these problems. One of my friends told me years ago that "when you see a company with poor customer service or management, you can be sure that the Head of the Fish Stinks" this meant, that when the head of a company is bad, it filters down, or stinks, from the head of that fish down to the tail or the lowest employee. Of course I can be wrong, after all Safeguard states on the web that "
We guarantee your complete satisfaction every single day." so we will see if they actually can live up to their companies tag line.

When I think of companies that go the extra mile with exceptional customer service, I think of, Costco, Ben & Jerry's, Nordstroms, HearX to name a few. I am sure you can add to this list, there are so many companies that just know how to treat and appreciate their customers.

Rob, you are the tail of the Safeguard fish and Rob you stink. I only hope that the head of your company is simply unaware of your actions and would never condone them if he knew how you bully their customers and are bitter because you can't listen to Stern on the radio. Stay tuned to this blog and I will report their response to my letter.



Update on letter sent to Ken Finlay, President Safeguard Self Storage - 3350 Peachtree St. - Atlanta, GA 30326

On January 12th, I sent a cover letter to Mr. Finlay to explain my background and the reason for writing a letter directly to him regarding this situation. I enclosed copies of the invoices and notices I received from the Holmdel facility and a copy of this blog posting.

To date, I have not received a reply, either by phone or in the mail from Mr. Finlay's office. I can only conclude Mr. Finlay did not want to comment on my concerns and condones the actions of his Holmdel manager. So once again we find that the saying "The fish usually stinks from the head down" might be a true statement in this particular case.

It would seem strange to me that Mr. Finlay wouldn't want to address this matter since bad publicity can cost them new customers, especially if one is on the net and does a google search of "Safeguard Self Storage - Holmdel, NJ". Do it and see what comes up. The first match is their listing for the facility with contact information and the second listing is this blog. I would think, based on this alone, they might want to correct the problem or at least have the decency to answer my letter.

This appears to be another company that doesn't deliver what they promise.


Letter of Appreciation 32 Years Later...

My father is nearing his 93rd birthday and I had to clean out some of his old papers and personal items when I moved him to a new assisted living facility. He has a small stack of papers with a rubber band around them and I began to look through them. Some were old legal papers, birth certificate and other assorted papers that no longer were needed, but in the stack there were two sheets that caught my attention.

The first was a Letter sent to one of my fathers companies dated January 30, 1974 from a customer who was looking for a new Condo in Florida and happened to meet my father the sales manager at that time of "Lime Bay" a new condo development.

I have scanned this letter so you can read it here.

Although it might be a bit hard to read here, the letter deals with how pleasant and professional my father was to this customer. Now remember this letter was one of two I found in my fathers only personal papers and he kept this one for 32 years.

The other paper I mentioned was one he received from one of the companies he worked for and acknowledged him as being the first salesman to reach the million dollar mark selling mutual funds. This too was dated or or around the mid 1960's.

So the next time you meet someone that does their job well or goes out of their way to help you, take the time to write a letter to their employer and let them know about their exceptional staff.

You letter can also end up being the one they save and cherish as my father did his.

A Simple Compliment To An Employee Can Make A Difference

Many of us go through our lives doing what we do each day and the only recognition for a job well done is a pay check. I used to have a boss that would never give you a pat on your back for a good job. He used to say "the pat on the back is that you still have this job and you get paid each week".

This type of boss, doesn't know how important that little thank you or recognition can be to an employee. When people discuss a good boss, you will always hear things like, he is understanding, supportive, appreciates what I do and "I would do anything for this man/ woman, he is such a good boss".

So if you are an employer, learn this important lesson, people need to be acknowledged when they do a good job. It doesn't mean you have to begin to hang the "Employee of the Month" plague on the wall, but it does mean that a simple, "Job Well Done" or "Thanks, you did a great job and I really appreciate it" can go a long way in building a strong relationship between you and your employees. Treat them fairly and acknowledge them and you will find the rewards are far more then offering them a few dollar raise.

Today there is so much pressure on all of us that these simple acts of kindness and appreciation can make the difference in a persons life. Don't think about it, do it, you will be surprised how this Good Karma will come back to you many times over.

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