Awash in Tech Tools, Self-Storage Operators Streamline and Offer Greater Customer Convenience

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In addition to reducing this risk, Roberts says operators can generate revenue by charging a fee to process the payment via the phone. "A payment-processing fee has been widely accepted by tenants who want to make a payment before a late fee is levied," he says.

Web and Mobile Devices Offer Ultimate Convenience

While phone services provide additional convenience for tenants and operators, online-marketing and Web-design services help operators capture the tech-savvy or convenience-conscious consumer. Using these services, operators are able to take online payments and reservations through a facility's website via multiple management-software providers.

"This tool helps operators run a safer and smoother operation by allowing their corporately branded website to have high-tech features without having to invest millions in code development," says Izzat Dajani, company partner of StorageClicks, a provider of online-marketing and Web-design services to the self-storage industry. "We are able to take online payments securely right through the familiar website our customers’ tenants know and trust."

Herman & Kittle Properties Inc., which develops, builds and manages self-storage and other commercial properties, uses Web-based services to provide customers with real-time rates and inventory, as well as integrated services like Google Maps, driving directions and online-payment options.

Allowing prospects access to real-time inventory and providing options like online unit reservations ensures tenants can rent at their convenience. "Contrary to some schools of thought within the storage industry, our experience has been that by providing the consumer with online tools and purchasing/move-in options that are not bound by standard business hours, we've been able to capture sales when it's convenient for the customer," says Scott McLaughlin, regional manager of Herman & Kittle. "Don't get me wrong, customer service is important; but customer convenience must not be overlooked."

In today's mobile world, companies are taking it a step further and offering these services on mobile platforms. StorageClicks launched the Mobile Site Platform in 2012, which helps self-storage operators create mobile websites that seamlessly connect mobile devices to their mobile-optimized website. Dajani says the future for self-storage and technology will rely on the stupendous growth of mobile devices. "As a result of what's happened in the past year or so, we now know that folks are using their mobiles devices more than they use their PCs," he says.

Mobile devices also provide another medium with which to communicate with tenants, via SMS test-messaging services. Last year, self-storage services provider Storage Network Advantage LLC (SNA) and SMD Software Inc., provider of SiteLink self-storage management software, launched the SNA Collections Manager, a tool that combines hardware and software technology to send phone and SMS text messages to past-due tenants.

SNA also offers Web-based services. "We spend a lot of time focusing on how to convert online traffic to rentals, and are constantly testing and optimizing our online reservations system to refine how we tell our story through video, pictures and words,” says Drew Hoeven, principle at SNA and Westport Properties Inc., which operates more than 40 self-storage facilities under the name US Storage Centers.

Automated Kiosks Expand Hours, Reduce Costs

Automation is another technology trend that's been popping up at facilities, employing tools such as self-serve kiosks and automated locks. Kiosks integrate with a facility's property-management system to let customers rent units, make payments, purchase locks and complete the lease process. Some also allow customers to engage in a two-way video conversation with a live storage counselor for assistance.

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