From the advent of the Internet to the evolution of the smartphone, there’s no denying that technology has permanently altered society and many industries, including self-storage. Any seasoned facility operator will tell you how different the business is today vs. just 10 years ago. To survive, your operation must have a digital component.
Implementing the right tools is the best way to grow your enterprise and meet the expectations of modern consumers. In fact, one could argue that digital strategy has quickly become one the most significant market differentiators. Following are some options that’ll help you get on the right path.
An Upgraded Website
Any discussion about digital technology needs to start with your website. Some of you set yours up five, 10 or 15 years ago and have ignored it since. Others are much more clued into the fact that it isn’t just a website; it’s the cornerstone of all your marketing efforts. A modern site that’s responsive and fast is indispensable because, at some point, almost every customer will interact with it.
How your website looks and functions is a reflection of your self-storage business. To the viewer, it conveys something about quality. You should hold your website to a high standard of usability and visual appeal, just as you hold your physical property to a high standard of cleanliness and safety. That doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated, however. A simple website can often be the most effective because it’s easy to navigate.
In addition to looking modern, your website needs to be fast. One of the biggest reasons users click away from a site is that it takes too long to load. Believe it or not, the bounce rate is only around two seconds! It also needs to be responsive, which means it’s just as appealing and usable when viewed on a mobile device as it is on a desktop computer. Search volume on smartphones has been increasing dramatically for years, which means most of your customers will open your website from a phone.
A great bonus to having an attractive, functional website is you can showcase customer reviews there, so prospects don’t have to track down your page on Google Maps or Yelp. Today’s consumers give reviews a lot of weight. Data suggests that 88 percent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family. One of the primary reasons Amazon became so successful is because it offers vast amounts of reviews for every product. Self-storage operators can harness that same success.
Another reason to modernize your website is to help Google better understand who you are and what you offer. Adding relevant content that highlights your features, benefits and service offerings will improve your search ranking. Think of your website as providing your online curb appeal. The better it is, the more rentals you’ll get.
When you’ve done all the hard work to lure self-storage prospects to your website, the last thing you want to do is lose them. Good lead-capture tools like pop-ups and discount sign-ups act like an online manager to help generate leads and close sales.
Think about it: If an interested customer walked into your office but wasn’t ready to rent, you’d most likely ask for his name and email. You’d probably give him a brochure. If he was on the fence, perhaps you’d even offer a discount. The bottom line is that when a potential renter is in front of you, you’ll do everything to turn him into a paying customer. At the very least, you want to capture his contact information so you can follow up.
Savvy operators are adding smart pop-ups and sign-up forms to their websites, so when someone “stops by,” they’re able to capture their info. They value every lead and contact because they know keeping potential customers in the queue helps maintain occupancy.
The next tool you need in your digital toolkit is an easy way for customers to rent self-storage units online. Make the experience as seamless and frictionless as possible. If a prospect is ready to buy, having the ability to quickly get into unit is a huge persuader. A recent study of our own sites found that 25 percent of rentals occur between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m.—in other words, after hours. In today’s climate, not offering the ability to rent online will result in losing customers who are motivated to pay and check that item off their to-do list.
To effectively offer online rentals, you’ll need a way to manage rental agreements. As soon as a new customer chooses a unit, there’s paperwork to do. For this, you can deploy an e-sign tool like DocuSign or HelloSign. As long as your contract is valid, e-sign is legal and safe. If you’re hesitant, consider that consumers have grown accustomed to this technology in other industries, from buying a house to renting a car. Not only will they expect it from you, they’ll demand it.
Once a customer rents a unit using your super-modern website and online rental tools, there are still a few steps to get him moved in. The following digital tools won’t only aid in that process, they’ll relieve your team of extra work and make life easier for the tenant.
Text messaging. Whatever they do with their email, people rarely ignore a text. Using a text-message service to request reviews or send bill reminders is a great way to cut through the digital noise. You’ll need tenants’ permission to use it, and then you should send messages sparingly; but as long as you text wisely, you can expect to see good response rates.
Autopay. Though it isn’t new, autopay is a must-have. Whatever property-management software you’re using, it inevitably includes an autopay feature that can automatically charge customers each month. Offering this option and encouraging tenants to opt in is an easy way to avoid delinquencies and the hassle of tracking down late payments.
Account management. Giving customers the opportunity to access and adjust their account through a digital dashboard is another convenient way to save time and eliminate headaches. If your tenants can log in to make changes to their billing and other contact information, that’s one less thing you have to do.
There are many more tools you could add to your self-storage digital arsenal, but these are some great ones with which to start. Finding the right balance can be tricky, so you’ll need to decide what’s best for your location and customers. Some users may be comfortable with a fully automated experience, while others may want to interact in person.
The use of technology in consumer buying behavior will only increase. Using the right tools within the scope of your business will make it easy for prospects to find you, rent a unit and enjoy a satisfying storage experience.
Tyler Anthony is marketing manager of StoragePug, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based software company that helps self storage operators attract new leads, convert them to paying tenants and rent units online. Prior to joining the company in 2020, he helped market and grow dozens of other businesses. He believes marketing should be honest, helpful and, above all, human. For more information, call 865.240.0295; email [email protected].