Live video will not stop at kiosks. It will soon be used to provide human assistance to website visitors as well. The effectiveness of this assistance is still to be determined. Live chat has been around for many years and has not yet become a frequently used service, nor has it been attributed to more rentals on the Internet.
Advancements in technology are empowering remote call centers to be as, if not more, effective than onsite managers when it comes to handling sales calls. The real estate storage trusts (REITs) have been routing all incoming calls to their call centers for a few years now, and they claim to be winning more business from their competitors because of this approach. Just think about it: If you never miss a call, never have to put a prospect on hold or need to call him back, you’re going to win more business and improve facility revenue.
Routing all calls to a central site is not a knock on the manager, who handles many tasks that often take him away from the counter. Some tasks, like dealing with an angry customer or making collections calls, can put a person in a mood not suited for handling a sales call. Until a few years ago small- to mid-sized operators had no way to compete with the REITs. Now some call centers offer similar services without hidden costs or transaction fees.
Admittedly there’s always going to be a knowledge gap between what the onsite manager knows and the information available to a call-center representative, but in some call centers, technology is closing the gap. The new technology includes real-time integration between self-storage property-management systems and call-center software applications.
In addition, some call-center vendors offer an Internet portal to allow managers to share facility content in real time with the call center. This way, the call-center representatives are updated immediately of any changes at the facility. The facility content includes landmarks, directions, special pricing, etc. The portal narrows the knowledge gap but, more important, it provides the onsite manager and the call center a channel to collaborate, which helps develop an atmosphere of teamwork.
Self-service technology is rapidly evolving. Prices for the hardware component—the kiosk itself—are getting less expensive, as are their respective service and warranty programs. There are now many kiosk models from which to choose, each ranging in price (starting at $5,500) and functionality. This technology continues to provide a cost-effective option to having a part-time manager on staff, and it significantly expands the hours of operation of the facility giving it the potential to rent more units.
Software on the kiosks is also getting simpler to use and can do more. Using VOIP technology, kiosks now offer a live person to assist the user in renting a unit or making a payment. The live person provides the personal touch, and soon kiosks will support two-way video so the consumer experience will be much like that of the traditional in-person interaction.
Some kiosks will soon be able to help self-storage owners improve their search-engine optimization. Tenants will have the ability to create video reviews (testimonials) on a kiosk, which can be directly uploaded to YouTube. Self-storage operators will be able to select which videos they wish to make public.
Expect self-service technology to become hardware agnostic and be delivered in a software as a service model from an industry-specific cloud. As consumers start to rent self-storage units over the Internet, from their mobile phone, on their TV or even from their car, self-storage operators who still think consumers must rent from the onsite manager will see the impact on their bottom line.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about new technology is not the technology itself, but the reason for implementing it. It’s best to first clearly understand the business problem and then research solutions, instead of getting enamored with a solution to a problem you may not even have. Technology that solves business problems will positively impact your facility’s revenue. On the other hand, implementing technology just because it’s cool may make you cool, but it will not make you rich.
Robert Chiti is president and CEO of Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc., the developer of the INSOMNIAC line of self-storage kiosks, now with seven models. The company also offers the INSOMNIAC Live! call center and the INSOMNIAC Self Storage Network for online storage reservations and rentals. For more information, call 602.749.9370; visit www.opentechalliance.com .