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Overcoming the Common Challenges of Contactless Self-Storage Services

The self-storage industry has quickly gone from a high-touch, human-interactive experience to one that offers contactless services and various modes of automation. While this yields benefits for operators and customers, it can also create challenges. Read about some of the more common issues and how to overcome them.

Al Harris

February 21, 2023

5 Min Read
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In just a few short years, contactless rentals have become a staple within the self-storage industry. Though many operators first adopted online rentals and other forms of automation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology-fueled business model continues to flourish. All of the real estate investment trusts now provide customers with a way to move into a unit without ever talking to another human. Even smaller operators are embracing platforms that allow them to run “unmanned” facilities with minimal labor costs.

While a contactless mode of operation offers many benefits to operators and customers alike, it also presents unique challenges. As the use of technology has spread, the user experience has changed rapidly, giving rise to new customer objections and complaints that must be addressed to ensure positive sales and service. Let’s look at some of the more common issues and ways to ease the friction points.

Finding Their Way

One of the most common challenges to emerge in the new contactless self-storage rental experience is one of orientation. Some tenants are having trouble finding their unit once on site. Without someone to guide them, a customer can easily get lost within the repetitive aisles of buildings and unit doors, which can lead to frustration and more calls to facility staff. To help minimize confusion, bolster your communication touchpoints, for example:

  • Display directional signage, and label all buildings and units.

  • Incorporate wayfinding functionality into your mobile app if you have one.

  • Provide a detailed facility map and clear instructions on how to find the unit. Send these to the tenant via text once they’ve completed their rental, so they have it on hand when they arrive.

  • Provide a virtual tour on your website. Allow tenants to view the facility as well as the unit they plan to rent.

Gaining Access

Another common complaint from self-storage customers who’ve rented their unit online is they’re having trouble accessing the site. They may have forgotten their gate code, or the keypad isn’t accepting it. Maybe their account is delinquent or they’re attempting to enter after hours, but the keypad isn’t giving them any feedback to explain the problem.

Without a manager on site to address these issues, a tenant can quickly get flustered; but there are ways to help. For example, you can send the customer their gate code via text at the time of rental, so it’s always in their phone. You can also implement a contactless entry solution using a mobile app, Bluetooth, keycard or text-to-open command. All these options are gaining traction in the self-storage industry and will become increasingly more available.

To minimize access issues related to delinquency, introduce or improve your communication with tenants. Automated email and text reminders can be effective. You can even integrate this functionality into some access-control systems, so that when the tenant attempts to use their gate code, it triggers an automated text with a link to their overdue bill, with an option to remit payment immediately.

Similarly, if a self-storage tenant attempts to enter the facility outside of normal business hours, you can have the access-control system send an automated text reminding them of when they can visit. In addition, make sure your operating hours are clearly posted outside the gate.

Filling the Knowledge Gap

Another challenge in a contactless self-storage environment is supporting customers who are unfamiliar with the product or new to an automated experience. For example, if someone is renting for the first time, they may not know what size unit they need, or what “climate control” is, or why they have to pay an administrative fee. It’s important to provide answers to common questions and solutions to typical pain points. If you don’t, your customer may very well move on to another facility.

One solution is to include detailed information on your website or mobile app about unit sizes and types, site amenities, and the various products and services you offer. This content should be easily accessible throughout the rental process. Visual aids, such as a unit-size guide, can vastly improve the customer experience.

In addition, offer ways for customers to reach a person if they can’t readily find the answers they need. Hiring a call center is one way to tackle this problem. Another is to have an offsite manager available to respond to texts or calls. Integrating a chatbot into the facility website is becoming more common in the self-storage industry and can be an effective way for customers to quickly get answers to common issues. However you do it, responding in a timely manner is critical when communicating with tenants and prospects.

Smoothing the Bumps

Offering contactless services still comes with a learning curve for many self-storage operators. New processes will almost always raise concerns from customers, particularly when they’re radically different from past experiences. Until a few years ago, the rental process involved driving to a facility, taking a tour and then sitting down with the facility manager to go over paperwork. Customers might even have paid by check. Today, it’s common to complete the entire process in minutes using a smartphone and credit card.

Given the relative newness of the contactless experience and the low frequency at which the average household uses self-storage, it’s likely that most of your customers are renting online for the first time. If you’re able to anticipate their needs and questions, and effectively provide solutions and answers, you’ll minimize poor experiences and close more sales.

Al Harris is the editor of Storage Beat and content manager at Storable, an Austin, Texas-based supplier of cloud-based access control as well as management software, marketing services, payment processing, website development and other services. He obtained his degree in journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University. He loves reading Elmore Leonard novels and listening to classic country music. For more information, call 888.403.0665; email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Al Harris

Content Manager, Storable

Al Harris is the editor of the "Storage Beat" and content manager at Storable. Based in Austin, Texas, Storable is a provider of self-storage technology, delivering a full suite of products including management software, websites, access control, insurance, payment processing and an marketplace for renting self-storage units.

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