If you asked self-storage operators around the country what they feel their competitive advantage is, 95 percent would likely say they provide a higher level of customer service. Very few ever talk about their level of customer convenience. There’s a big difference between the two, with the latter rapidly becoming the most important, the one that may lead to winning the battle for more customers.
Customer service is often based on the Golden Rule: "Treat others as you wish to be treated." Operating on this assumption is risky at best. We’re not all alike, and it seems customer preferences and demands vary more than ever.
Customer convenience is based on the Platinum Rule, originally conceived by Dr. Tony Alessandra: "Treat others as they wish to be treated." With this mindset, the focus of the relationship shifts from “This is what I would want, so I’ll give you the same thing” to “Let me first understand what you want, and then I’ll give it to you.”
Companies that believe in and build their operation around the Platinum Rule will have a real competitive advantage over those that still believe all customers want to be treated the same. We’re in the age of “the experience,” and the more commoditized a product is, the more the experience matters. Here are a few technologies you should consider that will make the experience of doing business with your self-storage facility more convenient.
Half of all consumers who rent storage are new to the concept, which means they need to be educated on how the service works and how your company can make the rental process convenient. We also know consumers are “consuming” (the buzz term for watching videos) more video content than ever before—and they like it!
By creating short, valuable video content that helps consumers understand self-storage, unit types and sizes, and why your facility is the best choice, you’re demonstrating that you realize their need to grasp the concept. Of course, your manager can provide the same education in person; but many consumers are shopping for storage online, so that’s where you need to connect with them if you want to serve them the way they want to be served.
You have lots of friends on Facebook, LinkedIn and maybe even Twitter, but your real friends and the companies with which you do business are saved as contacts in your address book. Don’t believe me? Pull out your phone. I bet you have info for your banker, attorney, landscaper, maid service, favorite restaurant, etc. Why? Because you want a convenient place to store all the information you need about these companies. A goal of your self-storage marketing should be to become a contact in the address book of every consumer who comes in contact with your business.
So, how do you do it? With vCards! They’re a powerful new approach to electronic Personal Data Interchange (PDI). A vCard is a universal format that allows you to store and share data including the facility and manager’s name, phone number, e-mail, office and access hours, unit number, access code, and more.
I’m sure you’ve seen e-mails with files attached that have the .vcf coding. Open the attachment and you’re prompted to save the contact information in your address book on your mobile phone or in whatever contact-management system you use (Outlook, Google, etc.). If you don’t have an icon on your website that allows visitors to save your vCard in their address book with a simple click, you should.
Think about the last time you referred a business to one of your friends. Did you simply text the contact card from your address book so your friend instantly had all the information he needed? Now apply this concept to your business. If every one of your tenants had your business information in his address book (with a personal referral coupon in the vCard), then all he has to do when referring your business to a friend fee is share the card. It’s a great way to make your referral program very convenient.
Sometimes when a self-storage tenant needs to make a payment, he'll search online for the facility phone number. Unfortunately, he may click on the facility’s pay-per-click ad, so the call costs the operator money. If the tenant had the number in his address book, he would find it much more conveniently, and you wouldn't have to pay for the click.
Just imagine if your call center sent a vCard to everyone who called your facility. Both tenants and prospects would then have an easy way to contact you.
How many reoccurring reminders do you have in your calendar? vCal works similar to vCards, except the data shared is a calendar event. When the recipient saves it, the data goes into his calendar instead of his address book.
To create more convenience for your tenants, you could share a vCal with them that includes a reminder alert to pay their rent. By implementing a vCal-sharing program, you may be able to improve cash flow and decrease costs associated with collection activities.
While we, as a consumers, complain about having to keep track of tons of logins and passwords for the different customer accounts we maintain, it does make it more convenient when we can go online and maintain our own accounts rather than having to call someone during business hours. By providing your customers with self-serve options for tasks like changing their contact information, making a payment or renting a unit, you’re making their lives easier.
There are several vendors in the self-storage industry that offer self-service technologies commonly referred to as customer portals. Since these are for existing customers only, few companies have developed self-service options for prospects, too. These allow new customers to rent units either while at the facility, online via your Web and mobile site, or over the phone. All these tools are designed to allow consumers options to do business with you the way they want to, not just the way you want to.
Using technology to make your business more customer convenient should only be a priority if you believe it will make a positive impact on your bottom line. The leaders at Southwest Airlines are believers in this philosophy, and that belief helped them go from a small, regional airline to one of the few profitable businesses in its industry—and one of the ones most liked by consumers. Consider these technologies to add convenience for your self-storage customers. It may make all the difference when they decide where to rent.
Robert A. Chiti is president and CEO of Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc., a provider of several models of INSOMNIAC self-serve kiosks as well as a range of self-storage rental solutions including the INSOMNIAC Live! Call Center, INSOMNIAC Online Web and mobile applications, LiveAgent! software products, and the INSOMNIAC ILock Security System, all available through the company's Self-Storage Cloud. For more information, call 602.749.9370; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.opentechalliance.com.