Reengineering the Self-Storage Rental Process With Technology

Self-storage operators who’ve reshaped their rental process with technology are  accommodating today’s tech-savvy consumers and positioning their business to gain more market share. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Many self-storage operators have turned a corner in their marketing efforts. Yellow Pages advertising, direct mail and door hangers have been replaced with digital advertising, search engine optimization and social media campaigns. Those who have completed this transition are seeing great success. Now it’s time for them to take the next step and reengineer their rental process, too!

For most storage operations, the rental process begins and ends with the person behind the counter: the facility manager. However, consumer preferences have changed greatly over the last several years, and the rental procedure needs to evolve as well. Face-to-face interaction is great for consumers who prefer it, but many are just not interested in that level of intimacy. Some may not have the time for a facility tour and formal lease signing. Others simply prefer an electronic copy of their documents.

Self-storage operators who have reshaped their rental practice to accommodate these types of customers are positioning their business to gain more market share, catering to a faster moving and unconstrained consumer. Your rental process needn't be broken to require a redesign. An update will accomplish many things such as increasing net profit, reducing risk, lowering expenses, simplifying tasks, boosting employee productivity and improving customer convenience.

By using a bit of forward thinking and embracing some new technology, facility operators are finding ways to increase their market share and achieve their ideal performance level. Here's how you can do so, too.

Start With a Strategy

Your rental process is a critical part of your operation, so as you consider changes, make sure they align with your overall strategy. A process plan should make it easier for you to run your facility and consumers to do business with you. Buyer habits are shifting, and while many operators center their focus on customer service, very few give attention to customer convenience.

Customer service is based on the Golden Rule—"Treat others as you wish to be treated"—meaning you provide service based on what you would desire. Operating on this assumption is risky at best. In this scenario, all customers are forced to do business on your terms. They show up during office hours, greet you with a hearty handshake and tour the property. After agreeing on the best available unit size and rate, they sign the required paperwork, move in, and leave the property pleased about your high level of customer service.

Customer convenience, on the other hand, is based on the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they wish to be treated.” This puts the focus on the consumer, gearing the process to be flexible and adaptive to his desires. It’s is all about offering ease and alternative processes so consumers can do business the way they want.

Many customers are in a hurry and would prefer a quick, efficient process to one that is “high-touch.” Today, millions of people choose to serve themselves online rather than travel to a brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase. Some like to talk or chat online with a customer-service representative before they make a decision. Some work during the day and want to shop after business hours.

Satisfying consumers today is not simple. It requires alternate approaches that meet different requirements. Ultimately, building your rental process around the Platinum Rule will allow you to win the battle for more renters.

Seek Technology Tools

Over the past decade, innovative technologies have been introduced to streamline the self-storage rental process. Your reengineering begins by implementing a sound infrastructure in the form of a modernized property-management system. The most efficient systems will interface with technology tools like onsite rental and payment stations, call centers, and website rental software. There are a number of tools that plug into your software to create new sales channels and improve process flow.

Kiosks are impacting self-storage much in the same way the ATM has modernized banking. Meeting with your neighborhood storage manager has taken on a whole new meaning at properties worldwide where a kiosk and two-way computer monitor are used to conduct business via video conferencing.

Call centers hosted by third-party vendors who specialize in the self-storage industry provide facility owners with a range of phone services. They can field all facility calls or just rollover and/or after-hours calls. They also assist with rentals, reservations, payments, inquiries, access and added customer convenience day and night.

Other phone-based self-service channels function as a filter for simple, recurring tasks that would otherwise end up with the manager at the counter. A pay-by-phone solution effectively routes callers through a custom-designed call flow based on facility needs and allows them to make a payment or balance inquiry using interactive prompts on the touch-tone keypad of any mobile device. This automated channel reduces collections by offering tenants a 24/7 option to make payments.

Website rental applications are another process-changer that gives operators the ability rent units from their facility website. Cloud-based software enables customers to rent a unit, purchase merchandise, get an access code and complete their rental paperwork, all online. Ultimately, the added technology allows them to complete the rental process from their mobile device or desktop computer.

Online chat technology is another tool that can be added to your website. It offers a unique way to engage customers you would not otherwise be able to reach. Most effective when using website rental software, an chat application gives your Web visitors round-the-clock access to a centralized team of storage specialists.

Getting Results

Your investment in change will need to provide almost immediate results to make a good trade. Any of the technology tools mentioned above represent an effective touch point that’s designed to compel potential customers to rent from your facility rather than a competitor's. They'll allow a you to generate incremental rental revenue, reduce costs, and improve customer convenience with additional rental and payment options.

Now that you've revamped your facility marketing, it’s time to improve your rental process. With a clear strategy of giving consumers what they want, you can leverage current technology to make your business more convenient, drive more profit, and allow your property to prevail over the competition.

Robert A. Chiti is president and CEO of Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc., a provider of INSOMNIAC self-storage kiosks as well as 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, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.opentechalliance.com.

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