By Jim DiNardo
Your management software needs to meet the specific needs of your self-storage operation, but in todays competitive environment, your entire business must be customer-focused, including your software. Whether you own one store or 100, all of your operations must work toward the same goal: to serve as many customers as possible and maximize the value of every customer relationship.
You may not think customers care about the management software you use. After all, it functions in the background, and your employees are the only ones really using it. Well, thats not the case.
Customers may not know exactly what youre doing behind the counter, but think about your own experiences when out shopping or doing business with a company over the phone or online. Dont you recognize almost immediately which ones seem to have smooth, efficient operating procedures and instant, accurate information at their fingertips? Arent you frustrated when an agent cant answer your questions promptly or accurately because hes waiting for the computer or needs to get back to you? Will you even do business with a company thats not online?
What makes self-storage any different? Nothing! With this in mind, here are four important considerations when addressing your management-software needs and the effectiveness of the program youre using or evaluating for purchase.
Ease of Use
Regardless how sophisticated your management software is, it must be easy to use as a point-of-sale tool. If renting a unit or selling a box with a roll of tape is more complicated than buying a house, customers arent going to enjoy doing business with you. Sure, its nice that your computer program will allow you to handle move-in and move-out transactions and calculate the money due, but if it takes a long time to get through all the screens, bogs down the transaction and frustrates your employees, customers will be aggravated, too.
Remember, customers must enjoy doing business with you if you want them to stay a long time, rent with you again and tell their friends about you. Make sure your software is easy to use, processes transactions efficiently, and generates comprehensive receipts, invoices and notices.
Your management program should also allow you to do business online. Some operators believe its OK to have a website but not list rates or allow reservations/rentals on the Web. If thats still working for them today, Im pretty certain it wont be in the (very near) future. Think of your own online-shopping experiences. What do you do when you come across a business that doesnt give you the information you want? Click.
At a minimum, your management software should integrate with your website so prospective customers can view current rates and availability and reserve a unit. There should be a continuous two-way flow of information between your software and your website, so if you decide to change rates, your website will be updated immediately. If prospective customers shopping after hours (when its convenient for them) want to reserve an available unit, they can do so, and your managers will be alerted the next morning.
In addition, existing customers should be able to manage their accounts. The program should enable them to make payments from the convenience of their own computer, and the gate system will be updated and allow them access. You get the idea.
With respect to online rentals, even experienced operators who understand the importance and value of doing business via the Internet are still debating the right thing to do because there are security and other important management considerations. However, regardless how you prefer to operate your business, your management software should support online rentals so you at least have the option.
Ablility to Interface
Your management software should have all the necessary interfaces to communicate with the other software programs and management tools you employ in your business operation. As the saying goes, if one hand doesnt know what the other is doing, youre going to have problems.
The best example of this is your gate and access system. Sure, you can update these manually each time a customer rents a unit, becomes delinquent or makes a payment, but is that really what you want to do? More important, what if you forget or dont do it promptly? Your customer doesnt get through the gate, isnt happy, etc.
The online-payment scenario described earlier is another example when considering a gate-interface program. There are other important interfaces to consider such as:
- Credit card processing. This eliminates the need for an external machine and speeds up transactions.
- Kiosk. It wont help your customers if its not communicating properly with your management program.
- Listing services. Your prospective customers wont see accurate information about unit availability, rates and specials if the listing services arent linked directly to your software.
Again, its all about the customers and making sure their experiences with your facility are positive.
Finally, your management program should have integrated tools to help you optimize customer-relationship management (CRM), which simply refers to the process of tracking inquiries and leads, converting them into reservations and rentals, and maximizing the value of every customer. At a minimum, your program should have the functionality to:
- Enter prospective customer inquiries and reservations
- Make notes/comments about leads, collections and customer-service issues
- Set reminders to trigger timely follow-up
- Send e-mail communications to prospective, existing and former customers
If youre a large operator with multiple locations and youre using a call center or sharing customer information between facilities, its important to have a fully integrated CRM application with a centralized database because your employees need to have complete, accurate and up-to-the-minute customer information at their fingertips. Furthermore, multi-facility operations need the ability to track advertisement sources while capturing inquiries and reservations to streamline the process of determining how customers are finding them and ensure accuracy.
On the surface, these functions obviously make it easier for you to manage your business, but they also benefit your customers because they get the detail-oriented, timely service theyre looking for, from employees who are able to make well-informed decisions. As you evaluate your existing management program or consider the many options available to self-storage operators today, keep all these things in mind to ensure youre making the right decision for your business as well as your customers.
Jim DiNardo is vice president of operations, self-storage software division, at E-SoftSys, developer of the Self Storage Manager facility-management software program. Hes been in the industry for more than 22 years, with experience as an operator and a consultant. Self Storage Manager is available in a Windows-based Standard Edition or Web-based Enterprise Edition, with a variety of add-on modules, including a fully-integrated e-CRM program. For more information, call 800.469.1740; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.selfstoragemanager.com.