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Strike a Balance: Exploring Technology for Your Self-Storage Business

The key to offering technology at your self-storage facility is to strike the right balance so your customers of all ages feel comfortable. From the basics to advanced tech, it's time to explore your options.

Earlier this month I visited a doctor’s office. Since I was a new patient, there were plenty of forms to complete, and I expected this. What I didn’t anticipate was the receptionist handing a tablet to me to complete these forms. She had a stack in front of her, so no one had to wait their turn to use one. She also politely asked me if I was “comfortable” with the technology.

I plopped down in a chair feeling a bit surprised by their collection method and also impressed. Furthermore, the tablet was pre-loaded with much of my information, such as my name, date of birth and mailing address. I still completed a few lines, then “signed” off on the form. It was quick and easy.

As I waited my turn, I watched others interact with the tablets. This doctor’s office is close to Sun City, a retirement community in Arizona, so most of the patients were older. A woman in her mid-60s sat across from me and completed her forms on the tablet rather swiftly. It obviously wasn’t her first time using the technology. Across the way, an office employee sat next to an elderly gentleman and guided him through the exercise. She held the device so he could see it, and asked him questions as she scrolled through the forms. Overall, it seems offering this form of tech was a success for the business, which caters to the Baby Boomer generation.

It’s often said that older generations simply can’t grasp new technology. My mother aside (you’ll understand if you follow my blogs), many actually do. A few days after my doctor visit, I saw an older woman on a video chat with her husband while she was at the grocery store. One of my aunts regularly posts on social media, texts all the time and uses her phone to answer e-mail and read the news. Her younger sister, by just 18 months, has a flip phone she only uses for conversations. That’s it!

I’m sure you know more than handful of people in their “golden years” who are whizzes at tech. You may even be one of them! As a self-storage operator, you shouldn’t shy from new technology simply because you think your “older” customers won’t be able to use it. Chances are there’ll be a large percentage who can and actually seek services such as self-serve kiosks, online billpay and other automated services. There will also be those—young and old—who prefer to talk to a manager face-to-face, tour the property from a golf cart and sign a paper lease. What you need to do is find the correct balance so you can cater to people of all ages.

Fortunately, technology comes in countless forms and various user-experience levels. Many operators now offer the basics, such as online reservations and payments, and some even provide digital rental agreements. Another easy-to-use tech many are embracing is text messaging. Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days and knows how to text. Communicating with your customers via text is effective and quick. You can let existing tenants know about specials on retail products, market your referral program, follow up with a prospect, or remind customers about a past-due payment.

A more advanced platform some operators are now incorporating into their operation is voice-enabled technology. No doubt you’ve heard about Alexa, Siri and “OK Google.” While many think these systems are just for streaming music, they also have applications that can help storage operators perform tasks, collaborate and gain insight into the business.

We recently asked several operators how they’re using technology, the challenges they faced during implementation and how they trained staff to use the platforms. While they’re incorporating technology in a variety of ways, they all agree it has become an integral part of their operations and helped them gain a competitive edge.

While I doubt that was the intent at my doctor’s office (maybe it was), in the self-storage industry, gaining a competitive edge is critical. Operators can no longer rely on the “my tenants won’t understand it” or “my customer demographic isn’t interested” lines. They will, and they are.

If you’re looking for more insight on technology, be sure to the check out the March print issue of ISS, which is hitting mailboxes this week. Inside, you’ll find plenty of articles exploring how technology is shaping the self-storage industry. This includes all facets of the business, from operations to marketing to customer service. Or join us at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo, April 1-4, at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Our dedicated Technology Track includes seven seminars that’ll help you find your “tech” balance.

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