High-Tech vs. High-Touch: Finding the Right Balance in Your Self-Storage Customer-Service Experience

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Consumers like choices, so it’s no surprise that self-storage operators whose customer-service experience includes high-tech and high-touch (i.e., human) options will fare much better in today’s market than those that offer only one or the other. Here’s insight to help you create a winning combination of both.

People are spoiled for choice these days. When they shop for a product or service, they’re no longer limited to the options within their immediate area. All they have to do is go online and search!

Self-storage is usually a local purchase, but consumers still expect—and have—many options. Most cities offer multiple facilities. So, how does a prospect choose? What will push your business to the top of their list? The answer is the customer-service experience, which begins the moment a person decides they need storage and lasts all the way until they move out of their unit and even beyond! The trick is to create one that meets the most consumer expectations.

Lots of studies have been done to determine what self-storage customers really want, but convenience, proximity and security usually top the list. After that, it can differ. Some want to feel a personal connection with the business and communicate face-to-face with staff (high-touch), while others don’t want to interact with a human being at all. They want everything to be self-serve and automated (high-tech). To be the leader in your market, you must offer both.

Why Both?

Most self-storage facilities already offer a combination of high-tech and high-touch service. Technology has been playing an increasingly bigger role in the industry, and even those operators who’ve tried to avoid it have had to embrace some level of automation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Your facility website is often the first interaction a potential customer has with your business, and it should contain more than just pretty pictures and vague information. A good site includes specifics, frequently asked questions, and a way to request a quote or rent a unit. If you’re smart, you’re using search engine optimization and digital advertising to ensure your business shows up in every relevant search. You also tie your website to your social media platforms, where you post regularly, and you encourage every tenant to leave an online review. All these points of interaction involve technology. They work together to help the customer find you, choose you and rent with you.

But no matter how great your website is or how strong your online presence, there are times when a customer will need a personal touch. For example, if they aren’t sure what size unit they need, they’re going to pick up the phone and call or stop by and visit. They may want to ask the manager questions or tour the site. Hopefully, you have staff available to help.

But what if they contact you outside business hours, or your manager is busy? You don’t want to miss an opportunity to rent. Perhaps you can still capture that business through a call center or a kiosk. Now we’re back to technology again!

Reading online reviews is a great way to see how customers think about self-storage and the things that are important to them. Read those written for your own facility and competitors. You’ll quickly see that words like “customer service,” “communication,” “safe,” “clean,” and “easy to reach” factor in heavily. So, it’s logical to make these the goals of your operation. To ensure you can deliver them and capture every possible rental, you must use all the tools available to you, human and technological.

Bridging the Gap

At this point you may be thinking, “This sounds complicated. And expensive. And painful. We don’t need to change. Our customer service is fine.” Is it really, though? If your facility operates exclusively on a hand-on, high-touch basis, you may be turning off customers who prefer a self-service experience. If your site is fully automated with no human presence, it may be intimidating to customers who aren’t comfortable with technology. In this competitive market, can you really afford to lose any renters?

Every self-storage business is unique. Maybe yours includes full- or part-time staff who work on site. Maybe you have a manager who works at one property and oversees another remotely. Perhaps your team works from home and assists everyone via cameras, microphones and intercoms. Whatever the case, you likely offer some level of live, personal interaction. Face-to-face service is how self-storage began, and most operators still embrace it, though perhaps to a lesser extent in a post-COVID world.

But again, technology is making strides in self-storage. Here are some ways it can bolster your customer experience today:

Online rentals. The consumer mindset around self-storage is changing from “I need to see it up close to know if I want to rent there” to “I have a smartphone in my hand and I can do this right now.” Of course, there are options in between. Your goal is to help as many customers as possible using whatever methods make sense. It may not be possible to be all things to all people, but the more choices you offer, the more units you’ll rent and the more money you’ll make.

Kiosk. A self-serve kiosk in your lobby is a very common and easy way to secure rentals when staff is busy, the facility is closed, or the customer wants to avoid personal interaction. Today’s models are extremely sophisticated and can walk the customer through the entire process.

Mobile app. You’ve heard the saying, “There’s an app for that.” In self-storage, some companies create an app that allows customers to rent units, pay their bill, communicate with the site manager and more. Other facilities use one that allows access at the facility gate or even the unit door.

Unit calculator. Choosing a unit size can be tough for customers, particularly if they’ve never used self-storage before. It’s one of the things that can drive a need for in-person interaction. To help potential renters, consider adding an interactive estimating tool to your website. Many web developers in this industry can create one for you. It should allow users to fill a virtual unit with commonly stored items and see how they fit, from all types of furniture to boxes. You can even include presets for homes of various sizes.

The most profitable self-storage operators are using both high-tech and high-touch methods to provide the best possible customer experience through the entire rental cycle. Don’t leave money on the table. Create a winning combination of human and tech-based support, and watch your occupancy and profit soar!

Shannon Charbonneau is director of client relations for XPS Solutions, a Richardson, Texas-based call center that specializes in self-storage. Shannon has been with the company since 2011 and worked with a diverse clientele, from first-time owners to large operators with hundreds of locations. She uses what she learns from customers to help shape the services offered by XPS product developers, software engineers, call-center staff and quality management. For more information, call 877.977.8721. You can also follow Shannon on LinkedIn.

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