Remote property management continues to gain steam among self-storage operators. In a decade or perhaps sooner, having onsite staff to handle sales and customer service could be a thing of the past for many facilities (if it isn’t already). Until then, it’s imperative to grasp the importance of an in-person customer experience (CX), regardless of what technology you may be using.
There can always be a rift between the human behaviors and circumstances that drive self-storage rentals and the tech tools you’ve adopted to meet customer expectations. Though you may have great resources at your disposal, you still need to assess how well they increase revenue or decrease expenses. If deployed technology doesn’t increase opportunities to secure a rental or build a connection with potential tenants, it isn’t driving the business.
In many cases, self-storage managers are still the main point of contact for prospects and tenants. It’s essential that they be available to provide assistance when necessary, though many spend a good portion of their shift managing tasks outside the office, such as ensuring proper maintenance and curb appeal. If they’re away from their desk, this creates a service gap that can be difficult to fill. Sure, you can use Ring doorbells, cell phones and other tools, but today’s consumers don’t want to wait around for help.
It seems staff accessibility is still key to closing self-storage rentals. And as industry demand slows in the coming months and years, the cost of lost opportunities will be higher than ever.
Synchronize Your Rental Channels
The good news is more and more customers are choosing to conduct business online and over the phone. The bad news is many self-storage operators who survived the pandemic by implementing contactless services have realized that conducting virtual business is more complicated than anticipated.
Your online platform may offer convenient rentals, but what kind of experience is your customer receiving? Thanks to companies like Amazon, consumer expectations continue to rise. Though you don’t need to compete with that retail giant, you can and should take a page from their playbook by imitating a similarly smooth and efficient sales process.
If you can ensure that your website, onsite staff and call center all work in tandem to achieve a common goal, it increases the likelihood that your renter will have a positive interaction with your company. This level of cooperation can be a constant, uphill battle, but with proper training and consistent coaching, you can continue to improve your CX.
For example, though customers who choose to do business with you online or over the phone often do so because they don’t have the time to stop by in person, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be contacted as part of your move-in process. Staff should follow up with any online rental or call-center reservation to ensure new tenants have all the information needed to make informed decisions. After all, those who rent in a hurry often don’t think of small details like unit location and amenities. A rapid follow-up can prevent confusion or miscommunication.
In addition, any self-storage units rented through your website or via the call center can be left unlocked with a free, unopened lock inside. Also leave your customer two sanitizing wipes and a tent card thanking them for their business.
Finally, your call-center agents (if you have them) should be equipped with enough facility knowledge to mimic being physically present at the property. They certainly shouldn’t lie about their physical location if asked, but if they’re actively engaged with helpful information about a site, the topic rarely arises.
Capitalize on Every Opportunity
The self-storage industry has experienced record performance in 2021 and 2022. Owners can pat themselves on the back for all the great decisions they made, but when everyone is enjoying the same level of success, it likely has more to do with the general market. The question to ask is whether remote-management models have worked because the technology has provided an equal or better CX, or because customers were simply forced to take whatever was available in this environment.
Only time will provide a definitive answer. Facility results over the next 12 months will depend on the balance between onsite rentals and the successful integration of technology to expand rental and access hours.
The fact that the onsite-manager model still has the capacity to outshine some remote strategies is a numbers game. As long as customers want to rent in person, self-storage operators should strive to meet their expectations. From a revenue-management perspective, the more opportunities you close, the higher you can push your rental rates and the less your conversion rate will decline. The trouble is your numbers can slide in the wrong direction if your rent per square foot is too low or your property isn’t large enough to support payroll expense.
This is another area in which technology can support in-person sales. An advanced revenue-management platform can give your facility managers easy ways to sell space. Though walk-ins aren’t guaranteed to rent with you, a high percentage are primed and ready to sign a lease. In these instances, the opportunity to upsell the customer into a larger or premium unit can be an easy revenue driver.
Imagine the impact on your top-line revenue if 15% of your monthly rentals started 10% higher than today’s going rate. Though there are online platforms that can upsell automatically, it’s still easier to do so successfully during an in-person rental.
Keep Improving Your CX
There are incremental ways to add value to the in-person self-storage sales experience. Start by taking an honest look at how long your office is truly open for walk-ins. I don’t mean your posted office hours, I mean the hours during which the door is unlocked and site staff is ready to serve customers.
The key to improvement is identifying and reducing the tedious tasks that take managers away from the office, even for just a few minutes at a time. For example, most spend at least part of their day adding or removing overlocks. While they may be out of the office for only 10 or 15 minutes, this can result in missed rentals. Evaluating, prioritizing and potentially eliminating these small jobs can be time well spent.
The technology train is approaching the station but hasn’t fully arrived. While you’re waiting, find ways to make doing business with you as easy as possible. This will increase your rental opportunities and success rate.
With signs of decreased consumer demand already evident, many self-storage operators will be scrambling to recapture lost occupancy. The good news is there are simple, inexpensive and incremental ways to overcome temporary drops and help you stand out from competitors. Among them is continuing to finesse your onsite sales strategies and rental experience to capitalize on every opportunity that comes your way.
Brian Davison is vice president of brokerage for Investment Real Estate Group of Cos., which brokers the sale of self-storage facilities in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. He’s an associate real estate broker, and a member of the national, Pennsylvania and Lancaster County Association of Realtors. To reach him, call 717.779.0804 or email [email protected].