It was 2018 when I stated hearing about other self-storage facilities that were making paperless leasing a standard. I’ve always embraced technology and knew that if we wanted our company, San Diego Self Storage, to stay competitive, we needed to embrace this process and match the customer experience that exists in other markets.
We began our move to a paperless lease in fall 2019. By the time the pandemic hit, we had the system in place for our entire 18-property portfolio. There were plenty of errors made and challenges to overcome, but I’m so happy and thankful we made the effort.
We knew we needed to roll out paperless leasing slowly, in stages. My facility, Encinitas Self Storage in Encinitas, Calif., was chosen to be among the first to examine the ins and outs. Those of us who were part of the testing team started a group email and text chat to share experiences, feedback and troubleshooting. This was extremely helpful because we didn’t all face the same situations. Any errors or workarounds were addressed, and then I became a mentor to train staff at our sister facilities.
Since our lease was moving to a digital format, we also decided to update its language. We held meetings to go over the document in its entirety. Presentations and PowerPoints were created to show examples of how an online lease would work from a customer’s perspective. Finally, we installed additional hardware at our rental counters, including a customer-facing monitor, mouse, digital signature pad and, my favorite, a tablet.
Working Out the Kinks
So, I’m sure you’re wondering what friction points we encountered during this change. Errors came from both hardware and software. Plus, there was a learning curve for staff and our customers.
The hardware was key because the forms were digital, and we needed a way for customers to sign them electronically. I found it useful to have a software representative confirm our signature pads were connecting to the digital lease.
Other errors resulted from the many types of Web browsers available. Our customers use various methods to connect to the Internet, including personal computers, or Android and Apple devices. I learned quickly which ones worked best and what was the most compatible with our new system.
We also had to update our facility website. We learned what we needed to add in terms of payment methods and the best verbiage to help customers understand the new method, including the information they were required to provide.
Prepared for a Pandemic
Once we perfected our new leasing process, we were ready to roll it out to the rest of our facilities. It couldn’t have come at a better time because our new system was essential to our success during the coronavirus pandemic.
Being able to assist customers while socially distancing and lessening any anxieties they may have about storing their belongings made me happy to be of service. I had so many people tell me that they knew they needed storage but were worried about how they were going to do their part in remaining socially distant. This, in turn, increased our positive reviews by those who were pleased with our contactless and seamless service.
Three Takeaways to Consider
Here are my final three takeaways to other self-storage operators who are preparing to move to online leasing:
First, update the language in your rental agreement in conjunction with the online integration. This is a logical and necessary undertaking to ensure the form is as current and comprehensive as possible. However, this step does cause some lag time. For us, it slightly delayed the final launch. I recommend editing your document before you start the conversion.
Second, to allow a customer to complete a rental through your website, you’ll need a certain degree of cooperation between your management-software support team and your Web-hosting provider. This creates a bit of a communication triangle. It’s in your best interest to prepare both teams for the coming change well in advance, and put clear plans and expectations in place.
Lastly, the more familiar and comfortable your frontline teams are with the new procedures, the better customer experience they can provide. Though there were some obstacles with our move to online self-storage leasing, the effort proved worth it, especially during the pandemic.
Ruben Elenes has been in sales and retail management for 20 years. He joined the self-storage industry in 2017 as a property manager of Encinitas Self Storage, which offers 134,546 square feet of inventory. Since then, he’s dedicated himself to becoming knowledgeable in the field and making himself available as a resource to support his peers. Encinitas is a part of the San Diego Self Storage portfolio, which operates 18 facilities in San Diego County. To reach him, email [email protected].