Self-storage technology has evolved at a tremendous pace, allowing facility operators to boost profitability while improving the customer experience. Many recent innovations have been born out of necessity, as industry competition and user expectations intensify. As a result, remote-management capabilities are becoming more common. In fact, they’ve really kicked into high gear during the coronavirus pandemic. To remain open and adapt to customer needs, many operators are using automation for the first time.
These advancements are surely here to stay. Regardless of how your self-storage facility currently operates, there’s a place for technology. Many operators are finding success with a fully unmanned model, but most who are leveraging remote-management capabilities are using a semi-manned setup. This might include a regional manager who’s responsible for any in-person requirements across several facilities. Even fully staffed sites are now incorporating some form of automation to improve efficiency and give staff more time to perform key business tasks, no matter where the job—or life—takes them.
Benefits and Challenges
A primary benefit of remote management is flexible work arrangements for self-storage owners and employees. With cloud-based technology, operators can effectively perform key functions from afar via the internet. You can now keep your thumb on the health and activity of your facility from anywhere in the world! Today’s access control and property-management software provide constant oversight to ensure operational efficiency and a positive customer experience while offsetting the burden of having staff constantly visible and accessible, even when there are no customers around.
Regardless of your business model, customers expect a smooth interaction with your business and a convenient onsite experience. Of course, they also expect their items to be safe and protected. Thankfully, tools like kiosks, two-way audio and video, and mobile-based access control open lots of opportunities. You can continue to offer real-time interaction between a remote manager or agent and customer, so even if your facility isn’t physically staffed, the prospect or tenant can get assistance as if it were.
Just keep surprises to a minimum. As you incorporate remote solutions that impact how people interact with your self-storage business, make sure you effectively communicate the steps you’ve taken and tools you use, so they feel they and their belongings are safe, even though they may not see any employees on the property.
Despite precautions, any remote-management solution opens the door to potentially poor experiences that could typically be resolved efficiently via onsite staff. When technology doesn’t perform as intended, it can quickly cause customer frustration. For these reasons, it’s absolutely critical that you have fallback measures in place so users can get the help they need. If you can’t offer immediate assistance via audio or video, or a call center, make sure you have someone who can get to the property quickly.
To achieve a positive customer experience without onsite staff, you must have excellent web connectivity. You’ll need high-speed internet to run many of the cloud-enabled elements required by remote functions. Standard business speeds of 25 Mbps for download and 3 Mbps for upload should do the trick. You must also have strong cell reception on the property or offer courtesy equipment customers can use to communicate directly with a facility manager, such as a phone or kiosk.
Two Key Phases of Interaction
When managing a self-storage facility remotely, there are two phases of the customer experience you must consider: pre-rental engagement and onsite visitation. Prospects no longer drive down the road and pull into the first storage facility they see. Now, everyone begins their search online. Fortunately, this trend can help more than it hurts, but you have to treat each phase of interaction as seriously from afar as you would in person.
First, make sure your online profiles, such as those for Google My Business and social media, are accurate and complete; and pay attention to your online reviews. In many cases, these are the first places a potential customer interacts with your facility. You also need to consider marketing campaigns that focus on search ranking (paid and organic) and ensure you have a conversion-enabled website that integrates with your property-management software.
Though consumers have largely acclimated to online transactions, self-storage is still a business of storing physical goods in a physical space. To minimize frustration and confusion during the rental process, communication is critical. When you’re managing your facility remotely, the most significant challenge is getting the customer through that first facility visit.
Before the tenant arrives on site, they should have a clear idea of what to expect. This includes how to access the property and their unit, how to finalize their lease, where and how to pick up their lock (if it isn’t digital), and how to get answers to any lingering questions they have. Using technology tools that ease the onboarding process and even simulate in-person care helps create a smooth rental process. Consider using kiosks, two-way video or audio feeds, and electronic locks to facilitate communication and access. With these tools, you can welcome tenants to the property just as a live manager would, using a single remote employee or even a call center; plus, customers can easily get into the property, complete their contract, enter their unit and more.
The Ongoing Experience
Though a remotely managed self-storage operation clears its biggest hurdle once a tenant has completed the rental and successfully moved into their unit, the customer experience is ongoing. Your lines of communication and engagement should be always open. If you make it as convenient as possible to access the property, pay bills, ask questions, etc., tenants will continue to rent with you.
Let the technology you leverage create a mutually beneficial relationship. Tenants will love the convenience of amenities like mobile access and unit-activity notifications, while features such as digital payments and electronic overlocks will ease the operational burdens of the business. Of course, there will be challenges along the way, but by working with trusted vendors and local integrators, you can minimize disruption and downtime. The right professionals will help ensure your operation runs smoothly even when you and your staff are off site.
Remote working is here to stay. Fortunately, the self-storage industry has evolved well in advance to support this trend, and facility operators can implement technology one step at a time. Regardless of the size of your business, getting strategic with a remote configuration will help you maximize efficiency and minimize potential risks.
Chadwick Macferran is director of marketing at PTI Security Systems, a global provider of access-control technology solutions for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.523.9504; email [email protected].