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A Three-Pronged, Holistic Approach to the Self-Storage Customer Experience

If you want to provide the best self-storage customer experience, you need to address three key aspects of every interaction: physical, digital and human. Here are a few tips to help you take a more holistic approach to service.

Katharine Lau

February 8, 2022

5 Min Read
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Self-storage professionals don’t like to talk about the pop-culture stigma surrounding our industry. When the public’s view of self-storage is colored by “Storage Wars,” a TV show about repossessed units, or that unforgettable scene in “Breaking Bad” in which the show’s main characters survey their cash-packed storage unit, it’s no wonder we have our work cut out for us.

Self-storage is often associated with unsavory tableaus for a reason. In the past, our facilities were often built in industrial or fringe areas that sometimes felt less than safe. Many lacked adequate maintenance or security, both of which impact the way customers feel about a location. If we’re honest about how potential renters view our industry and product, we’ll do a much better job of debunking common misconceptions.

Self-storage is so more than four walls and a lock. It’s an extension of a tenant’s home or workplace. It’s more of a service than a piece of real estate. Our work isn’t just about letting people move stuff in and out of our units. It’s about providing a holistic customer experience (CX) that starts even before the need for storage originates. What does that mean? I’m talking about a CX that satisfies customer requirements on three levels: physical, digital and human. Let’s explore each.

The Physical Experience

The baseline requirements here include easy access to the self-storage facility, clear wayfinding signage, effective security measures, well-lit corridors and more. Once you’ve met these basics, you can go above and beyond by creating a friendly, inviting environment that counters people’s preconceptions about the industry. Focus on these four senses: sight, touch, smell and hearing.

Rows and rows of corrugated steel and fluorescent lights aren’t appealing to most people, so incorporate durable design elements that add texture and break up the monotony as users make their way through the facility. Experiment with neutral but pleasant scents and music to end the deafening silence and create a more familiar environment. These efforts won’t change your business overnight, but your customers will notice and appreciate the improvements, especially if they’ve rented from another provider in the past.

The Digital Experience

I’m not just talking about having a mobile app or creating an easy online rental experience. I’m referring to anything and everything that affects the CX in the digital realm. In self-storage, this includes a wide range of touchpoints, from your website and paid search ads to your access control to your social media and so much more. In nearly all cases, though, it involves technology of some kind.

Choosing, building or implementing tech tools can feel intimidating, especially if this isn’t an area in which you’re comfortable. Every self-storage operation is different, but here are a few guiding principles to help it feel more manageable:

Less is more. If you provide a mobile app, don’t aim to include every bell and whistle. You’re better off with few high-quality features that are easy to use and actually serve a need (i.e., provide a digital key). When building your website, figure out how to provide a seamless booking process with as few clicks as possible. If you’re running paid search ads on Google, test a few at a time so you can more effectively compare the variables, such as photos, text and functionality, to truly understand and isolate what’s most effective.

Integration is key. A self-storage business relies on many technical systems including management software, access control, HVAC and others. It’s important that these can “talk” to each other and share information, When they do, it creates greater convenience and higher productivity. Many vendors will say their products can integrate with others, but do your due diligence.

Test, test, test. Don’t you hate that feeling of being sold one thing and getting another? While a demo can be incredibly informative, use any new system on your own for a period before going all in and rolling it out facility- or company-wide. You should be able to work with your potential vendors to get a free trial.

The Human Experience

If you’ve made the switch to contactless self-storage operation, the human experience is seemingly challenging to deliver—except it isn’t! A human touch doesn’t necessarily have to be provided in person. You just have to treat the customer as a person rather than a transaction. It’s about spending the time to listen to their concerns or answering a long list of questions about sizing, payment methods or insurance. It might mean going above and beyond to research moving companies or supplies they should consider. This is the easiest part because we’re all humans, after all.

The key to an impressive customer experience in self-storage is to consider the person renting the unit, not just the items they intend to put there. I’ve offered tips to help you improve your experience across three dimensions: physical, digital and human. Most don’t require a heavy financial investment, but they do demand your thoughtful consideration and planning. This may be a mindset shift for some owners and managers, but it’s well worth the effort.

Katharine Lau is the CEO and co-founder of Stuf, a next-generation self-storage startup delivering modern, tech-enabled storage solutions to consumers. Stuf partners with real estate owners to monetize basements, garages and other spaces in commercial buildings, creating new cash-flow opportunities while providing neighborhoods with new amenities. To reach her, call 833.380.7883.

About the Author(s)

Katharine Lau

CEO, Stuf

Katharine Lau is the CEO and co-founder of Stuf, a next-generation self-storage startup delivering modern, tech-enabled storage solutions to consumers. Stuf partners with real estate owners to monetize basements, garages and other spaces in commercial buildings, creating new cash-flow opportunities while providing neighborhoods with new amenities. To reach her, call 833.380.7883.

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