When first entering the self-storage business, many owners think running a facility and turning a profit will be easier than it is. After all, our industry has unexpected hurdles to overcome. While the goal may be full occupancy with all customers paying the highest price, the challenge is how to serve tenants effectively while earning money and making life easier for staff.
A common debate is whether the customer experience is better enhanced with human interaction or a more technological approach. There are good arguments on both sides, but the best answer is that it depends on circumstances. You must understand the demographics of your renters. A self-storage facility in the middle of a big city might be fully automated with a plethora of technology, but a small site in a little town might not be able to pull that off as well. I would argue, though, that regardless of size and location, you can integrate technology to improve efficiency and provide exceptional service.
Though there are many technology products and services available for our business, what you choose to implement is less important than making sure they can all talk to, or integrate with, each other. Purchasing a bunch of cool or flashy gadgets might be fun at first, but they can become a huge headache and cause more problems than they’re worth, especially if they’re difficult to use or won’t work together. Let’s take a closer look at some key tech items self-storage operators should consider and the benefits of systems integration.
There are numerous products and services that can provide value to your business and make your life easier. Here are some to consider:
- Management software
- Cloud-based access control
- Mobile-friendly website
- Ability for tenants to rent units or purchase ancillary products/services online
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Merchant account to process electronic payments
- Call-center services
Figuring out which of these to use will depend on your operation, but if you purchase products and services from multiple vendors, it’s imperative that they can work together. Effective integration will create a more streamlined, efficient operation. If you obtain some or all of them from the same company, chances are they’ll integrate just fine.
Start by choosing a management software that’s designed for self-storage and has the tools you need. It should have the ability to integrate with other key systems such as access control, your website and your call center, all of which we’ll discuss in greater detail below. Here are some key features to look for in a program:
- Merchant-account capability for payment processing
- Ability to set up tenants with automatic billing
- Text and e-mail reminders for invoices, past-due notices, etc.
- Comprehensive reporting
- Electronic-signature capability for lease agreements
It’s important to have a clean, professionally designed self-storage website that looks good on all user devices. It should be easy for users to navigate and find information, including unit availability and pricing. But perhaps the most important features are the abilities to rent a unit or pay bills online, which require that your website to be linked to your management software. Some vendors combine software and website-design services as a package, which is fantastic because it ensures everything will be seamlessly integrated.
When a tenant rents online, he should be able to create a profile, pay his first bill and e-sign the lease agreement. He should also be able to purchase additional items, such as tenant insurance or a tenant-protection plan.
On an ongoing basis, tenants should be able to log into their online account to pay their bill, rent additional units, view payment history, access their lease agreement, etc. Any payments submitted or changes made to their account should be updated immediately and automatically in your management software. This integration ensures a seamless process and eliminates the need to manually enter or update information.
Of course, having a convenient, integrated website is only useful if people can find it. Web visibility and ranking highly in search engines is the function of SEO. Some software and website providers also offer SEO optimization. You can usually save money and increase efficiency by finding a company that bundles these products and services.
There’s nothing more frustrating for tenants than a dysfunctional access gate that keeps them locked in or out of your facility. This also wastes staff time in fixing the problem. A cloud-based, electronic gate system that integrates with your management software can help alleviate gate-related incidents. The integration allows you to control the gate directly within your software; and because it’s cloud-based, there’s no need to download the program onto desktop computers.
Cloud-based services enable real-time updates and can be controlled from any device, anywhere you have Internet connection. Cloud-based access control is relatively new to self-storage, so conduct thorough research to ensure your provider offers a solution that will integrate fully with your management software.
Despite all the technological options and conveniences available, some self-storage tenants still want to speak with a real person; but it can be difficult to answer every phone call. In some cases, managers may be performing other tasks, helping other customers or working elsewhere on the property. Staff hours can also be limited by budgetary constraints.
Missed calls cost you money, yet industry studies show that four out of 10 calls placed to storage facilities go unanswered. Call-center services have become increasingly popular because they’re a cost-effective way to ensure every call is answered, capitalizing on every potential rental and payment.
When researching call centers, it’s important to find one that’ll integrate with your management software. If the only thing the center can do is take a message and pass it along to you, it isn’t accomplishing much more than voicemail. It makes better sense to work with an integrated provider that can convert rentals and process payments. Integration works even better if the call center can ensure lease agreements are e-signed, assign gate codes and provide rental instructions.
Make a Plan
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to implementing technology, but putting a systems-integration plan in place can help improve efficiency and provide peace of mind, particularly for small, independent self-storage operators. Imagine being on vacation knowing every prospect will be able to go through the entire rental process effortlessly while you’re away, and current tenants can manage their accounts without any staff involvement. Today’s reality is employees, technology and services can all be effectively integrated to create a pleasant customer experience while achieving better productivity and profitability.
Christian Thurgood is chief communications officer for Easy Storage Solutions, a provider of Web-based management software and other technology for small to mid-sized self-storage facilities. His team has helped thousands of business owners automate their facilities and increase profitability and efficiency. For more information, call 888.958.5967; visit www.easystoragesolutions.com.