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Inside the Revolution: How Mobile Technology Is Transforming Self-Storage for Operators and Tenants

Mobile technology comes with many benefits for businesses and consumers. Integrating it into your self-storage operation can elevate your customer experience and significantly improve facility efficiency and profitability. Discover how.

Mobile technology touches nearly every aspect of our daily life. More than four out of five U.S. consumers own smartphones, according to American think-tank Pew Research Center, and they rely on them for everything, from social networking to online shopping to work activities. Usage has only increased with the onset of social-distancing measures and greater attention to contactless options during the coronavirus pandemic.

Customers bring their mobile devices—and their demand for enhanced mobile functionality—with them when they rent units at your self-storage facility. In response to these high expectations, many operators are turning to technology to elevate their customer experience and significantly improve efficiency and profitability.

The use of mobile technology in self-storage isn't new. But in today's environment, it’s no longer an add-on feature. Rather, it's an integral part of the industry experience and a central resource in your quest to improve customer acquisition, retention and the bottom line.

Tenant-Facing Benefits

Customers approach self-storage the same way they do other consumer experiences: Many use their mobile devices to research products and services. In the case of storage, they grab their phones to identify and evaluate local facilities. But browsing search engines for providers is only the beginning of the experience. These days, forward-thinking self-storage operators provide an extended range of mobile capabilities such as:

Online rentals. Our growing reliance on mobile devices for everyday activities creates new opportunities for consumers to engage with self-serve options. By optimizing your website for mobile, you can offer online, self-serve rental capabilities. If you provide a mobile-friendly interface, prospective tenants can browse storage-unit sizes, select units and complete the entire rental process in minutes entirely on their own, using a smartphone or any Internet-connected device.

Mobile payments. In the past, monthly billing and payment cycles could present a friction point if the customer had to to mail a check or interact with a facility employee to pay his rent. Of course, autopay and online payments are fairly common in self-storage these days, but mobile payments create another layer of convenience, enabling tenants to pay securely and seamlessly through their devices.

Site access. The elimination of friction is even more critical when it comes to site access, especially as the demand for touchless options skyrockets in the wake of COVID-19. Easy-to-use mobile apps give your tenants one-click access to facility gates, doors, elevators and units (if equipped with a smart lock), eliminating the need to physically interact with keypads or facility staff. Mobile apps also offer peace of mind by providing a record of unit activity with custom notifications. Even when they’re offsite, tenants enjoy constant visibility into their unit status.

Operator-Facing Benefits

It isn’t only self-storage tenants who are enjoying the benefits of mobile. This is now a key technology for self-storage owner and operator use, too. Whether you have a single location or many, it can provide several business advantages:

Payment processing. By empowering tenants to pay rent and set up automated payments, mobile technology reduces administrative burden. Apps also integrate with management-software solutions, streamlining the collection process. When it comes to delinquencies, they allow managers to instantly restrict or enable site access based on tenants' real-time payment status.

Site management. Mobile gives everyone the ability to open gates and doors, and view site activity from a mobile device. This allows the operator to instantly respond to access issues and requests, thereby easing his workload improving his customer experience. The technology also provides site data and notifications of unusual site activity or security issues.

Revenue management. Mobile improves revenue and financial management. With cloud-based technology, you can instantly create consolidated reports using data from multiple sites, and then distribute them as text, PDF or Excel files. And by sending automated rental-delinquency reminders via email or push notifications, mobile-payment tools increase revenue and cash flow. Even more, mobile revenue-management tools give you the ability to optimize rates based on occupancy and market conditions, adjusting them with confidence.

Efficiency. As competition intensifies, self-storage operations of all shapes and sizes are targeting efficiency as a driver of growth and profitability. Mobile helps in several ways. For example, by allowing staff to perform lock checks and other activities on their mobile devices. Mobile also facilitates the real-time flow of information, eliminating bottlenecks and streamlining communication.

Customer relationship management. Successful operations prioritize tenant relationships. The centralization of data in cloud-based management systems helps nurture those relationships by sending notices for things like birthdays, payment reminders, inquiry follow-ups and specials to tenants’ mobile devices.

Mobile technology plays a crucial role in an operator’s ability to compete in his market. A few years ago, the availability of a mobile app served as a point of competitive differentiation. But now, those capabilities are table stakes for tenants and operators. To achieve a competitive advantage, industry leaders are doubling down on mobile and implementing next-generation wireless technologies.

The Next Phase: Smart Connectivity

The emergence of smart devices and 5G wireless networks is driving mobile innovation and creating the potential for still greater competitive advantages. Rather than functioning independently, smart devices communicate with each other through a centralized management platform. The result is a smart-connected facility that generates data, insights and functionality vital to an operation's efficiency and profitability.

For example, suppose your facility is equipped with a surveillance system that includes smart cameras and sensors. Rather than viewing video footage after an event occurs, you can customize the system to detect specific threats in real time. When a security incident arises, you receive a notification on your mobile device, enabling you to view and respond instantly.

But security is just one area that can benefit from mobile functionality in a smart-connected facility. Smart thermostats, lights, locks and other devices enable mobile access for self-storage operators regardless of their location, allowing you to monitor and control your site from anywhere in the world.

The mobile device you carried in your pocket 10 years ago was vastly different from the smartphone you use today, but the revolution is just getting started. Consumers will rely on mobile technology for an even greater range of activities in the coming years. By integrating mobile functionality throughout your self-storage operation, you can better achieve significant advantages today and adequately prepare your business for the next wave of innovation.

Sarah Davis is a marketing and public-relations specialist for PTI Security Systems, a global provider of access-control technology solutions for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.523.9504; email sales@ptisecurity.com; visit www.ptisecurity.com.

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