The Digital Dilemma: Balancing Technology With a Human Touch in Self-Storage Operation

Even as we embrace technology, we still crave the human touch in many customer-service situations. Our self-storage prospects and tenants feel the same way. So, how can facility operators strike a balance between these two seemingly opposite approaches? Following is helpful insight from a recent industry survey.

Chuck Gordon

June 15, 2024

4 Min Read

Technological innovation has become a necessity and an opportunity within the self-storage industry. From online rentals and mobile apps to customer support powered by artificial intelligence (AI), digital transformation has left its mark on the way facility operators attract, serve and retain customers.

But even as technology advances and its use grows, the fact remains: Personal, human interactions are still extremely important in business. In fact, my company’s latest “Tenant Insights Report” illustrates this, revealing how self-storage customers crave personal connection even as they embrace digital conveniences.

Users of self-storage increasingly expect the same frictionless, digitally enabled experiences they enjoy as consumers of other products and services. However, storing one's prized possessions and navigating life transitions often carries great emotional weight. Because of this, facility operators need skilled employees working alongside technology to meet customer needs effectively.

The Enduring Value of Personal Touch

Data clearly shows that while self-storage tenants want helpful technology, they also greatly value personal attention. According to our survey, 80% of them say that technology such as online-booking tools and mobile apps are at least “somewhat important” when selecting a facility; but 83% say that having access to good customer service is a key deciding factor when choosing where to store.  
Technology alone isn't enough. Customers expect responsive support teams and personalized service along with the digital conveniences. They want the best of both worlds.

Further highlighting the importance of human touchpoints, 32% of self-storage tenants prefer getting assistance in person when they need help with their unit; and 80% say that having a facility manager on site is at least somewhat important. The reassuring presence of staff members remains highly valuable, even in today's digital age. Customers want to know there are real people available to help them and keep things running smoothly. A property manager provides a sense of security and trust that’s challenging to replicate with technology alone.

Bridging the Digital-Human Divide

So, how can self-storage operators strike the right balance between innovation and a personal touch? The answer lies in leveraging technology as an enabler, not a replacement, for human interaction and service excellence.

By embracing digital tools that automate routine tasks and streamline processes, you can liberate your staff to focus on delivering exceptional, personalized customer experiences. For instance, remote-monitoring systems and digital access control can alleviate the burden of manual security checks, freeing managers to engage more meaningfully with tenants and address complex inquiries or concerns.

Similarly, AI-powered chatbots and online knowledge bases can serve as initial triage points, handling straightforward queries and freeing human support teams to concentrate on escalations that require nuanced, empathetic responses. Ultimately, the key is to create a symbiotic relationship between technology and human interaction, where digital tools augment and amplify the personal touch rather than supplant it altogether.

Personalization: The New Service Battleground

In a market where 69% of customers cite price as a “very important” factor in their business choice, differentiation through exceptional service becomes paramount. This is where the personal touch can be a game-changer, enabling operators to elevate the self-storage experience beyond mere transactional interactions.

By leveraging data-driven insights and harnessing the power of technology, you can tailor your services to individual needs, preferences and life stages. For instance, our report indicates that 43% of tenants are considering a move within the next year, while 18% seek storage solutions for downsizing, and 13% need space to adapt to lifestyle changes like starting a family or retirement. Armed with such insights, you can proactively offer personalized solutions, tailored communication and targeted promotions that resonate with each tenant's unique circumstances. This level of attentiveness and anticipation of needs can foster deeper connections and enduring loyalty, differentiating your business in a crowded market.

The Path Forward

As the self-storage industry navigates the intersections of technological disruption and evolving customer expectations, it remains clear: The personal touch isn’t a relic of the past but a vital component of future success. By seamlessly integrating cutting-edge digital capabilities with human-centric service models, you can unlock new realms of operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and competitive advantage.

The road ahead will require a delicate balancing act, continually refining the harmonious interplay between technology and human touch. Self-storage operators who master this equilibrium won’t only meet the demands of today's customers but will position themselves as leaders in shaping the industry experience of tomorrow.

Chuck Gordon is CEO of Storable, a supplier of various products and services for the self-storage industry including cloud-based access control, management software, marketing and website services, payment processing, tenant insurance, and others. In 2018, Chuck cofounded SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based company that provides listings for self-storage units. To reach him, email [email protected].

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