When Tragedy Strikes
By Shannon Charbonneau, Director of Client Relations, XPS Solutions
What do you do when weather and local events affect you and your tenants?
As we head into the holidays and take a look back over the year, we see a lot of good in our industry! More units are available, occupancy is still up, and the “bubble” that some worry about is still in the future!
However, it’s also easy to see that 2018 brought with it a lot of natural disasters that affected our industry as well. Let’s consider the following incidents that have all caused billions of dollars in damage and significant power and telephone and cell service outages:
- Three separate current wildfires in California – affecting both the Northern and Southern regions, as well as a rash of wildfires in late spring/early summer and again back in January of this year.
- Alaska earthquakes – beginning with a 7.0 earthquake early in December and continuing today with 4 earthquakes registered in the last 5 days.
- Hurricane Michael – caused significant damage in the Florida panhandle.
- Tropical Storm Lane – which may not have earned the title of “hurricane” but dumped enough water to flood significant portions of the big island of Hawaii.
- Subtropical Storm Alberto – again, dumped a multitude of water and affected widespread areas of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
- Mount Kilauea Eruption – lava flow, multiple earthquakes and a massive eruption caused by a volcanic crater collapse.
- Bomb Cyclones in New England – Massive flooding and wind damage.
In case none of these major disasters impacted your area, consider this – if you search the term “phone outage” in your favorite browser, you’re likely to find 10 or more different phone companies that allow you to report problems or outages, or to check the status on known area-wide outages. This is all major carriers in all major markets, even in “middle America” which may not have borne the brunt of all of the natural disasters listed above. You’ll find the same if you do a search on “power outage”. A quick search on a random Tuesday, with no known weather related issues, shows 3 major metropolitan areas in Texas, Colorado and Wisconsin with power outages affecting more than 5000 accounts! And this was just a single provider!
So how do you, as a self-storage operator, help continue to service your clients and potential client’s needs if your facility is impacted by any of these major catastrophes, or even just minor outages?
There are a lot of steps to a true business continuity plan, but the first few steps are fairly simple.
- Make sure that your tenants have multiple ways to handle their day to day business, such as making their payment or finding their gate code.
- Make sure you have a method to communicate with your prospective tenants about your facility’s features and available inventory.
- Partner with and fully utilize companies like third-party call centers to handle rollover calls that you can’t reach – or that can’t reach you due to power or phone outages – so your business line gets answered. This may make your phone line the only one in town that does! The ideal situation would be for your call center partner to offer a 24 hour payment option so that you never have to worry that your receivables will suffer as the result of a power outage at the facility!
- Finally, offering features such as a mobile app that allows your current tenants to find their gate code or make their payment without even needing to speak with your staff onsite ensure that your business will go on, even if you’re temporarily in the dark.
In just this past year we have worked with clients who have had some incredible circumstances. Our clients near Anchorage, AK, the Florida Panhandle, California, and the Southern US were impacted by the disasters noted above and more. They were able to notify us with updates for their callers regarding special driving directions to avoid the most heavily damaged roads, insurance information so clients could immediately begin the process of filing a claim, and one that needed to make sure we did not accept payments or reserve units while they figured out which units were salvageable. We even had one client affected by wildfires in California that knocked out phone lines for nearly 2 months. We were able to handle all of their incoming calls and help keep them from what would have basically meant shutting down their business while new phone lines were installed in remote areas to replace the lines damaged by fire.
No one wants to believe that these types of situations will impact them. But let’s face it. This is why we insure our homes and businesses. This is why we create Disaster Recovery Plans. And this is why you need a call center if you don’t have one already.
What will happen to your phone calls if the line is down for 12 hours on the 1st of the month when your tenants are trying to pay their bill? Who will let your callers know that your facility is closed due to ice on the north side of the building freezing the gate shut in a 4 inch block of ice and covering the entire parking lot and driveway?
In order to make sure that you catch every call from people who would like to rent from you – and let’s face it, if your area is impacted by a disaster, they NEED storage – and also to provide the highest level of service to your current tenants, consider adding a third-party call center to handle your calls. If you choose one that offers both 24 hour automated payments and a mobile app that allows your current tenants to handle their own day to day needs without needing to contact your facility at all, you’ll have a significant need in your business covered in the event of natural disaster or disruption to your facility’s power or phone lines. This can go a long way toward your personal “Peace on earth and good will to men” this holiday season.