The 1960s animated TV series “The Jetsons” showed us a future filled with flying cars and autonomous robots. While today’s technology hasn’t quite reached the level of space-age convenience portrayed in Orbit City, it continues to advance. When implemented effectively, it can help you run a more efficient self-storage operation, improve your customer experience (CX) and increase revenue potential.
Even with all the benefits and the “coolness factor,” many facility operators are reluctant to embrace today’s innovations. But to remain competitive in a tech-centric society, it’s essential to adopt new tools, including smart technologies. Used correctly, they can transform your business, enhancing rather than weakening your “personal touch” with customers. Read on to understand the options available and which could be right for your operation.
Questions to Ask
When considering the implementation of new technology, first ask yourself the following critical questions. When evaluating any of the below innovations for your self-storage operation, consider their ability to satisfy these criteria.
- Will it improve the CX? Self-storage is a retail business, and customers expect a good (frictionless) experience. How can new technology be used to enhance CX and build customer loyalty?
- Will it improve operational efficiency? As it becomes more costly to find the right type of employee to manage a self-storage operation, it’s important that new technology can make staff more efficient. This allows managers to concentrate on critical tasks such as renting units and providing great customer service.
- Will it provide a financial advantage? Can it help you rent more units? Will it reduce staffing costs, or provide data, or enable your revenue-management system to raise rents more often?
- Has it been proven? Is there data-backed evidence that demonstrates the quality of the product and the advantages to be gained from its use? As new technology emerges, data can take time to accrue. You should also consider the reputation of the provider and its commitment to quality and continuous improvement.
Internet of Everything
One of today’s biggest innovations is IoE, the Internet of Everything, which combines data, people, processes and things (Internet of Things or smart devices) into a single platform. Designed to work seamlessly, IoE can help you proactively run your site, integrate devices and enhance the CX, all while capturing and reporting actionable data to more effectively manage your operation. By integrating these elements, users can derive more value and insight than they would from fragmented or separate platforms.
In the self-storage industry, we juggle many silos of information. Valuable data is stored in a facility’s property-management system, website, access-control system, spreadsheets and other places. This segregation creates gaps, making it difficult to analyze data and make educated business decisions. An IoE platform has several benefits, with the biggest being consolidated data, which allows you to eliminate the silos.
This helps drive the second benefit of IoE: business intelligence, which gives you actionable insight that allows you to make better choices for operations, efficiency and revenue. A third benefit is the ability to monitor and control a smart device remotely, regardless of the manufacturer, allowing you to use the smart device that works best for your operation. The final advantage is the ability to receive alerts when something happens at the property, enabling quick response time, higher quality customer service, and the prevention of maintenance and security issues.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Another innovation gaining ground in self-storage is AI. This can be something as simple as an Amazon Alexa device in the office that provides language translation, enables the manager to open the front gate or allows him to check on the status of the property, such as who was the last person to enter.
Another way AI is leveraged in self-storage is through video analytics combined with existing CCTV or camera systems. These devices can evaluate the video image and immediately stream it to a virtual security team who can make a real-time decision on how to respond. Using AI is a proven way to increase efficiency, reduce liability and improve the CX.
Self-service is booming in all kinds of industries, from airlines to hotels to restaurants. Customers not only expect but have begun to demand these alternatives. Self-storage operators large and small are investing in self-service tools to reduce costs and provide a way for customers to do business with them outside of office hours. For example, real estate investment trust Life Storage Inc. has rolled out a product called “Rent Now,” which allows customers to rent directly from its website without the need to stop by the office. In a recent earnings call, it revealed that 10 percent of all its rentals are completed online.
You must consider the potential tenant who shows up with a rental truck at 7 p.m. in need of a unit. He won’t want to wait until the next day to accomplish his move-in. He’ll proceed to the next facility and give his business to one with self-serve options that meets his needs. To capture this renter, many operators have installed kiosks that allow a person to rent a unit any time of day.
Self-service options not only save money and contribute to the bottom line, when combined with the connected environment supported by the IoE, they provide a frictionless CX. What do I mean? Let’s say you’re a long-term customer of a company. You expect it to have your contact information and a record of your transactions instantly accessible. If you contact the company and its representative asks who you are or constantly asks you to provide the same information, that’s frustrating, causing friction.
Now, imagine you’re dealing with a company that has effectively implemented technology to provide a seamless user experience. For example, when you call, you hear, “Hi, Jon, how are you today? I see you’ve just bought a new widget. Do you have a question about the widget you just purchased, or is there something else I can help you with today?” It feels more personalized, improving customer satisfaction and, ultimately, loyalty.
Automated methods of managing self-storage unit access are creating industry buzz, including electronic locks, digital keys, apps and more. You’ll need to evaluate the return on investment for such a system and determine if the efficiency gained outweighs the expense. You can use various combinations of technology to control cost.
For example, you can install a fully automated system with electronic locks on every unit, or integrate an “old-fashioned” disc lock into a smart environment, creating a system that simply provides a manual unlock code when a customer rents or pays online or through a kiosk. If your access-control system is also integrated into the platform, this code could be provided via a text message when a customer enters the property.
Smart technology increases self-storage efficiency, reduces costs and provides a better CX. Though it isn’t yet at the level of the Jetsons, it’s being implemented by facility operators of all sizes to improve operation and increase revenue.
Jon Loftin is vice president and IOE (Internet of Everything) product owner for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of self-storage kiosks, call-center services and other technology. He has more than 25 years of hands-on experience in the storage industry, specializing in technology advancements, particularly for access control. For more information, call 800.481.7459; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.opentechalliance.com.