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News flash: Your self-storage customers want to be more self-sufficient. They don’t want to have to deal with a human to rent a unit or solve simple problems. They’d rather interact with a machine! And yet customer experience is still a major factor in the buying decision. Here are some tips to help you strike a balance between facility automation and top-notch service.

Carol Mixon

April 25, 2023

4 Min Read
How to Provide an Excellent Self-Storage Self-Serve Experience

Here’s a stark reality about operating a business today: Your customers want to be more self-sufficient. My kids, who are Generation Z, want to interact with companies as little as possible. They prefer to get information and buy things online. They’re all in to make purchases, order food delivery, share their latest TikTok video or even rent self-storage right from their phone.

This mindset isn’t limited to younger age groups, either. The pandemic changed the way many people engage with businesses. Many of us don’t want to have to talk to a human to get the things we want and need.

As a result, self-storage operators have been driven to offer more automation. Many of us are improving our websites to accommodate online rentals and modernizing our facilities with technology. We’re doing all we can to give users the autonomy they desire; and yet customer experience (CX) is still a key factor in most purchase decisions. It can be a challenge to strike a balance between hands-off and high-quality service.

What They Want

Most of your self-storage customers, especially the younger ones, expect a quick, technology-rich CX. Your business needs to meet this demand. But before we discuss the many ways to automate your operation, let’s look at the kinds of information and functionality your customers expect to find online:

  • Unit sizes, prices and availability

  • Examples of what will fit in each unit size

  • Specials or incentives for renting

  • Quick driving directions to the property

  • The ability to rent a unit (signing the agreement, confirming identification, making a payment)

  • The ability to pay rent

  • The ability to access and make changes to their account

  • Possibly the ability to buy moving and packing supplies and other add-on products

Keeping all of this in mind, here are some things you can do to both automate your business processes and ensure a positive CX:

  • Build the best website you can afford. Make sure it allows for online rentals.

  • Use digital documents and e-signing.

  • Put customers on autopay (ACH or credit card), or offer the ability to pay online.

  • Install a self-serve kiosk, possibly with two-way video support.

  • Employ a call center to offer 24/7 support.

  • Consider installing a chatbot on your website.

  • Invest in digital access control that allows customers to enter the property and their unit using a mobile app.

  • Improve your security system, especially if you have an older property. Today’s systems include not only include basics like perimeter fencing, access gates and surveillance cameras, many have motion-sensor lighting, smart locks, individual unit alarms and monitoring services.

The Manager’s Role

The above strategies allow you to have less physical contact with your self-storage customers, but that doesn’t mean staff is no longer important. Even in an age of automation, good facility managers can improve the CX and make the business more profitable. Your opportunities to communicate with prospects and tenants may be changing as a result of technology, as well as the means of communication, but you and your team still play an important role.

Whenever and however you interact with customers, the goal is to build a positive, professional relationship. It’s extremely important to understand how each customer prefers to be contacted—email, phone, text, social media—and then use those methods.

Also, personalize your conversations whenever possible, and try to avoid negative phrases like “You’re required to,” “You need to,” “You’d better,” “We expect you to,” etc. Instead, use consistent, upbeat brand vocabulary.

In addition, always be clear and concise, and tailor the length of the message to the mode of communication you’re using. Proof your text and email messages before sending to ensure they’re friendly and conversational. I like to use templates for written communication so it’s consistent and ready to go. You can personalize the message to humanize the experience, but be efficient and to the point, especially in a text.

Ultimately, we want to win each customer's trust and loyalty. As a self-storage operator, your goal is to manage your asset, maximize revenue, meet customer expectations and provide a great CX. Hopefully, even as we automate our processes, we don’t forget to have a personal touch when it counts.

Carol Mixon is owner of SkilCheck Services Inc., which provides self-storage auditing, mystery shopping, development and operations consulting, and sales training. She’s owned and managed more than 35 storage locations in the West and is a frequent speaker at industry tradeshows. She’s also written more than 100 articles for various publications and has served on state and national self-storage association boards. For more information, call 800.374.7545; email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Carol Mixon

Owner, SkilCheck Services Inc.

Carol Mixon-Krendl is the owner of SkilCheck Services Inc., which provides self-storage auditing, mystery shopping, development and operations consulting, and sales training. She’s owned and managed more than 35 storage locations in the West and is a frequent speaker at industry tradeshows. She’s also written more than 100 articles for various publications and has served on state and national self-storage association boards. For more information, call 800.374.7545; email [email protected].

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