Over the last 30 years, technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. This major change started in the mid-80s with the adoption of the personal computer. Fast forward to today, and technology is the epicenter of our daily lives. No longer are people forced to carry a cell phone the size of a brick or use a computer with the bulk of a file cabinet. Consumers can buy a refrigerator with Internet access and Hi-Fi speakers or control their homes thermostat with a smartphone.
Communication is now almost instantaneous. Smartphones have more processing power than a personal computer had just 10 years ago. This new technology will open more doors for the self-storage industry than ever before. The ability to be in constant contact with customers, existing or possible, is an almost overwhelming wave of potential. The changes in customer service will revolve around three items: product quality, communication and information storage.
Product Quality and Your Online Reputation
The Internet has already permanently changed the way consumers shop for products and services. How many times over the last year has a customer contemplated purchasing an item in a brick-and-mortar store such as Walmart or Barnes & Noble only to be overheard saying, I wonder how much it costs on Amazon? or I wonder what the reviews say? There are smartphone applications that will allow a customer to scan a bar code on an item and pull up a price or review. How about using the Internet to find a good restaurant or a great dry-cleaner?
Perception is reality, particularly in business. How do your self-storage customers perceive your facility online? Do they like the services you provide? Do they rave about your great managers? Do they talk about how clean your facility is? Do you even know what potential and current customers are saying about your business?
If you dont, stop reading this article right now. Go to Google, Yelp, Merchantcircle and Citysearch and search for your facility. These sites will give you a good idea of how customers value your facilitys services and what theyre saying about you on the Internet, which is now essentially the worlds largest billboard. (To read a great blog entry on how powerful the Internet can be in self-storage, read "The Power of Viral Media: Angry Customers Armed With New Weapons," by Teri Lanza.)
It wasnt long ago that to connect with a current or potential customer, a self-storage operator was limited to three options: call the customer, wait for him to visit the facility, or send a letter. Technology has changed communication forever. Today, the options are limitless. Telephone calls, personal visits, letters, e-mails, text messages, instant messaging, video conferencing, website and social media are just a few ways to keep in contact with customers.
Do you have military customers stationed overseas or disabled customers who cant visit the facility on a regular basis? Why not speak with them using Skype? Google just launched a new service called "Hangouts" within Google+, the Web giants new social-media platform. Why not hold a hangout with some of your customers? Did one them disappear? Try searching for him on Facebook. Quite often a customer will update his Facebook status before updating friends and family directly.
Do you want to announce a new product or service at your facility? Update your website and social-media accounts and then e-mail current customers. Remember, one of the issues customers have with any business or service is the feeling that theyre not important or the company takes them for granted. With the tools available today, none of your tenants should feel that way.
Information Storage: Stay Organized
Increased data storage also has a huge impact on customer service. On the surface, this sounds like an odd component, but think of it in terms of being better organized.
A self-storage operator often has things coming at him from all directions. For example, the customer in Unit 101 has an issue with his bill, a landscaping bill is due to be paid, a vendor is supposed to come by and give a bid to repair an AC unit, the facility gate has come off track, and you need to pick up milk on the way home. On top of this, a potential customer would like a tour of your facility. How do you handle it all? Technology can help.
First, start by installing Web-based management software. With online software, the accounting for Unit 101 be checked quickly and accurately and from any Internet-based device. An electronic calendar syncs to your smartphone, helping you keep track of due dates. It will also track vendors appointments and allow you to schedule facility tours. An online contact list will allow you to immediately contact the gate vendor for repairs.
Also consider using a cloud-based storage system for invoices. When that landscaping invoice comes, scan it into the system. It will never be lost and will always be accessible online.
Finally, download an online note-taking program such as Evernote, which can be accessible from your smartphone. Evernote is great for lists. That milk you need will be on your grocery list, so you dont have to remember it.
Technology will never replace good customer service. No piece of technology can take the place of having great self-storage managers. Technology can't automatically keep a facility clean or bring a cup of coffee to a tenant on a cold day. What technology can do is supplement customer service so it can be provided in an accurate and timely manner. Take the time to streamline some of your operations with technology and it will only increase the level of customer service you provide.
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, which specializes in self-storage management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures. Mr. Van Horn is well-known for finding hidden profit centers in self-storage operations. For a complimentary copy of Hidden Profit Discovery Session, e-mail [email protected] . For more information, call 866.970.EDGE or visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com . Follow the company on Twitter, @Cuttingedgemgt, and on Facebook at Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management.