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Self-Storage Contactless Case Study: Examining Technology Use by One of the Industry’s Largest Operators

The pandemic spurred many self-storage operators toward technology that allows for contactless business transactions, certainly among the industry’s largest players. James Hafen, senior vice president of product development for Extra Space Storage, explains how this real estate investment trust pivoted to deliver this solution to its customers.

May 24, 2022

3 Min Read
Self-Storage Contactless Case Study

When your self-storage portfolio includes hundreds of locations across the United States, implementing a large-scale operational change takes time, patience and practice. Real estate investment trust Extra Space Storage Inc. was already active when it came to rolling out contactless technology at its 2,000-plus sites; but the pandemic sped up the timeline, and the company quickly adapted to meet customer demand. James Hafen, senior vice president of product development, explains the process and challenges, plus benefits delivered to the business and its customers.

When and why did you decide to offer contactless self-storage?

Online leasing was something that was on our roadmap for a long time but was not a top priority due to limited customer demand for the product. Obviously, when COVID-19 became a concern in March 2020, that demand changed immediately. We moved quickly to implement a solution and were able to launch an online leasing platform a couple of months later. For us, contactless renting was about ensuring we were responding to customer demand and needs, especially in the changing dynamics presented by the pandemic.

An Extra Space self-storage facility in Chicago


An Extra Space facility in Chicago

 

What were some challenges and how did you overcome them?

One challenge was just the speed required to get a product launched. It required collaboration between a lot of our teams including product, IT, operations, marketing and others. It’s a real pride point for us that we were able to rally together and scope, build and launch online leasing to our customers in record time.

We launched the online leasing tool in mid-2020, but that doesn’t mean the work stops there for us. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the process and create a better customer experience. Making the tool extremely mobile-friendly, ensuring the lease is simple but clear in a virtual environment, and having a smooth signing process were all challenges we improved over time.

We were well-positioned to execute on our Rapid Rental program given years of digital transformation that had already reshaped much of our operating technology. The urgency of the situation was really the biggest challenge. We needed to execute quickly and in a new work orientation where everyone was suddenly remote working from home. Not only was the product released in record time, it was an exceptionally good product—not just a bare bones implementation. The collaborative effort was so exceptional that Rapid Rental was a recipient of the “CIO 100 Award” in 2020.

Using a mobile app to open a self-storage facility gate


Using a mobile app to open the facility gate

 

What have been the benefits and drawbacks to your staff and customers?

Of our customers, more than 20% of them are now leasing online. Surveys from this group show a 96% customer-satisfaction rating for the experience. We’ve found that some people prefer to lease online, while many still prefer to sign a lease in the store, and others like the option to call our call center and go through the leasing process over the phone.

An important component of our strategy is to meet the customer in the channel they prefer with a unified experience across the channels. This does create more complexity for our team, as store employees help customers who’ve had different entry points to leasing; but they’re incredible, and the store managers have been able to pivot really smoothly to the change.

What advice would you offer to fellow operators who’d like to make the switch?

Make sure you are really thinking through the full customer experience, from the search for storage to calling to ask questions to the rental process to arriving on site and getting into a unit. It needs to be seamless process for them, which will take a lot of collaboration.

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