Though we’re still navigating the business effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: The self-storage industry proved to be extremely resilient, with Americans moving and using storage more than ever. We’re now seeing an uptick in customers who value ease and flexibility when looking for a place to store their goods; and this shift has brought some industry inefficiencies to light.
In many cases, the online and offline experiences self-storage businesses provide no longer match the way people prefer to shop. When their expectations go unmet, consumers get frustrated. For example, when dealing with a company, many want the ability to fluidly alternate between communication channels. Whether they want to call or email you with a question or chat with someone on the fly via text, they expect you to know who they are, wherever they are. Here are some other common irritations reported by customers:
- An online experience that’s difficult to navigate
- Trouble finding basic details about a business, such as address, phone number and hours of operation
- Not being able to get answers to simple questions
In the on-demand world in which we now live, consumers expect to find the information they need quickly and easily. Current trends point to a 24/7 online experience as being an important to customers and business operators alike. To succeed, a self-storage operation needs to be “always on,” data-driven and customer-centered. Thankfully, operators are quickly adapting to today’s technology-rich landscape and leveraging it to be more efficient, save money and free up staff time for important tasks like renting units and providing superior service.
My company recently surveyed industry operators and leaders to gain a better understanding of how self-storage is adapting to consumer demand and the latest technological advancements. Here’s what we discovered.
Automation on the Rise
Our study shows that less than 25% of storage operators are already using automation at their facilities. Among the barriers faced are lack of a clear use case, lack of a dedicated budget, and lack of proper personnel to launch and maintain the technology. That said, 58% of respondents said they’re actively exploring or developing automation, with heavy adoption expected this year.
The study also revealed that many of the above obstacles are being resolved by partnering with providers who can educate company executives and provide a clear path forward. Among the operators who are doing this, most are looking to budget $100,000 per year on technology projects, with the median budget sitting at about $250,000. This is exciting because although the industry is still very much in the early-adoption phase, it’s clearly moving in this direction, and most operators are already taking steps toward implementation.
A More Personalized Experience
When asked about the most important areas within the customer experience that could improve by using automation, the vast majority of our survey respondents said they intended to streamline multiple touchpoints within their sales funnel. More than half of them focused on enhancing the shopping experience, while 42% want to refine customer-success initiatives.
When looking at the types of technology projects receiving focus in the short term (within the next five years), those related to improving the customer experience were mentioned most. This includes finding ways to better serve customers and improve their shopping experience, plus streamlining the workflow to ensure existing tenants are happy.
As it turns out, one of the best ways to create a more personalized journey for your self-storage customers is to leverage artificial intelligence (AI). For example, fielding all of the sales and customer-service inquiries a facility receives day in and day out is labor- and resource-intensive as well as unscalable. Data shows that combining a powerful AI system like a chatbot with a live agent provides the best experience. Customers don’t expect a human agent to be readily available at all times; but when they need help, they expect to get it quickly and easily.
Technology Is Here to Stay
The self-storage sector has seen an explosive rate of technology adoption in the last decade. Operators continue to look for innovative ways to stand out within a growing competitive landscape. This industry might not seem “high-tech,” but the power of data is driving personalized digital experiences and laser-focused marketing initiatives.
Facility operators are leaning into recent advancements in software and analytics to learn not only how their customers are finding them but what steps they need to take to get prospects to a point of conversion. As a result, they’ve already begun to use data science, AI, automation and other initiatives to drive operation, improve marketing effectiveness and the tenant experience, and increase occupancy and revenue.
Self-storage companies can stay competitive by tapping into this wealth of data, extrapolating from reservations, rentals, income, occupancy, mobile use, location interest and more. They can then leverage this information to predict customer behavior, which can have a direct impact on revenue. Marketing and sales teams can use it to take control of their initiatives at a fraction of the cost.
With further advancements in technology, self-storage operators are exploring industry-specific tools. Automation ad IT are the future of the industry. Whether you embrace it or not, your renters demand it.
Rodolfo Ramirez is cofounder and chief operating officer of swivl, which offers self-storage operators of all sizes an artificial-intelligence assistant that can answer common customer questions as well as identify and qualify new leads. The company helps users put 70% of repetitive tasks on autopilot. For more information, email [email protected].