The AI-Powered Chatbot, an Indispensable Customer-Service Tool in Self-Storage

Though chatbots have been around for years, artificial intelligence has greatly improved them. In the self-storage industry, they offer an abundance of benefits to facility operators and their customers. Here’s how to implement this technology and leverage it to boost your customer service.

Al Harris, Content Manager

April 25, 2024

6 Min Read

As the self-storage industry endures declining rental and occupancy rates, customer service is emerging as a differentiating factor for savvy operators who seek to attract new tenants and retain existing ones. Enter artificial intelligence (AI). No longer a futuristic concept, it’s a real-world ally that's starting to have a significant business impact. 

At its core, AI is the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like people and mimic their actions. It’s used in popular virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, which understand and respond to voice commands. It can also be used to offer personalized customer experiences. For example, consider Netflix's ability to suggest TV shows based on a user's viewing history. While these features streamline engagement, they also add a layer of customization to business interactions. 

Further, AI's role in predictive analytics contributes to more efficient service delivery. For example, Amazon's anticipatory shipping uses AI to forecast customer buying patterns. Sentiment analysis helps businesses gauge consumer opinions. In this context, AI isn't just reactive; it's increasingly used to anticipate and meet customer needs. 

From automating routine tasks to providing deep analytical insights, AI can potentially transform the way we interact with self-storage prospects and tenants, creating a level of engagement that was previously out of reach. And one of the best ways you can tap into its power to refine your service approach and positively impact revenue is to implement a chatbot. Discover how this tool is becoming indispensable for business growth and customer satisfaction.  

A Game-Changer 

One of the most immediate and impactful applications of AI in the self-storage industry is the chatbot, which can be used to handle routine inquiries and improve response times. Yet, AI remains a largely untapped resource in customer-service settings. Only 6% of organizations are currently using generative AI to power chatbots, according to a recent study by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. 

AI-powered chatbots that use natural language processing are poised to quickly overtake the rule-based ones that currently dominate the market. Also known as decision-tree bots, older chatbots rely on predefined instructions and scripts. While helpful, they lack the ability to understand context or intent beyond their programmed guidelines. This means they can’t handle queries that fall outside their commands, leading to a less flexible and sometimes frustrating user experience. 

The new AI-powered chatbots promise to provide thoughtful and relevant responses to any query. With the goal of being indistinguishable from a human helper, they unlock a torrent of possibilities for self-storage operations. In fact, a few pioneering companies are using them to provide around-the-clock support, efficiently handle inquiries and simplify the rental process. This 24/7 availability isn’t just a convenience, it's a game-changer in customer engagement.  

Key Advantages for Operators and Customers 

Chatbots offer many advantages to self-storage operators. Here are the most notable: 

  • They handle routine customer inquiries, freeing up staff to focus on more complex tasks. 

  • They reduce the need for customer-service staff, leading to labor-cost savings. 

  • They augment existing customer-contact centers while deflecting incoming call volume. 

  • They provide 24/7 assistance, ensuring that customer inquiries are addressed at any time of day, thus improving satisfaction and engagement. 

  • They gather valuable data, providing insight to tenant preferences and behavior, which can inform business strategies. 

  • As the business grows, they can easily handle an increased volume of customer interactions, so you don’t need to hire additional staff. 

  • Chatbots can be programmed to identify opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. For example, they can suggest larger unit sizes, insurance options or packing supplies based on the customer's stated needs, thereby increasing revenue potential. 

For customers, interacting with a well-designed chatbot yields the following benefits: 

  • Immediate answers to their queries regarding unit sizes, prices, facility hours and more 

  • A convenient way to get information or resolve issues without the need for human intervention 

  • Personalized recommendations based on the customer's past interactions and preferences 

  • An interface that makes it easy to get the information they need, regardless of their level of technology savvy 

If a customer's query can’t be answered or resolved by a chatbot, there are several fallback mechanisms to ensure a seamless experience. Typically, the system is designed to escalate complex issues to human customer-service agents for personalized assistance. Alternative contact options like phone or email are also provided for further support. 

Many chatbots offer feedback options to improve future interactions and can automatically generate support tickets for unresolved issues. These measures, combined with the ability to direct tenants to self-help resources, ensure that every client query is adequately addressed, enhancing overall satisfaction and maintaining efficient service.  

Considerations for Implementation 

Implementing an AI chatbot in a self-storage operation isn't without challenges. Technical glitches and a potential distrust from customers who are wary of speaking to a machine are among the top concerns. The key is to find the right balance and ensure that any technology you use is complemented by human oversight. This hybrid approach can mitigate the risks while maximizing the benefits. 

Before implementing a chatbot: 

  • Understand the demographics and preferences of your self-storage customer base. If they prefer more traditional methods of communication, a chatbot might not be as effective. 

  • Make sure it can seamlessly integrate with your management software and databases for real-time information updates. 

  • Ensure it can be customized to align with your brand voice and address the specific needs of your business and tenants. 

  • Evaluate the costs of implementing and maintaining a chatbot against the potential return on investment, including time and resource savings. 

  • Plan for initial training to help your staff work alongside the chatbot, and provide ongoing oversight to ensure the tool functions correctly. Update it as needed. 

  • Ensure your chatbot is secure and compliant with data-protection regulations, as it’ll handle customer information. 

Experience Is the Bottom Line 

AI chatbots can significantly strengthen the bond between your self-storage company and its customers. They offer personalized assistance at a moment's notice, which can greatly enhance the level of user satisfaction. However, over-reliance on this technology can lead to a perceived lack of human touch, which is crucial in building trust and loyalty. 

AI is far from replacing the human heart that’s traditionally at the core of customer service. When a machine isn’t up to a task, a skilled people person will always be needed to intervene. As such, you must continue to focus on improving the basic aspects of your customer service. 

Staying ahead of the technology curve is crucial for competitive advantage. For self-storage operators looking to adopt AI in any form, the advice is clear: Start small, learn continuously, and always keep the customer experience at the forefront. 

Alexander 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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