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Using Online-Chat Technology to Shape the Self-Storage Customer Experience

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Even if your self-storage website is superb, customers may still have questions. To provide the information they need and experience they desire, offer them an additional communication method via online chat. Here’s an overview of options, training and best practices for using this technology.

When it comes to gathering information, most people like to use websites these days, and we all appreciate how far they’ve come. But no matter how amazing, easy-to-use and intuitive your self-storage facility website is, customers are still going to have questions from time to time. Giving them a way to get assistance right there, where they are, is key to your service experience.

Sure, you can put a “Call now for pricing” button on your page, but how great would it be if there was also a form the customer could complete to receive a return call or email within minutes? Even better, what if there were a link to an online-chat feature, so they could communicate with a company representative right then and there?

Online chat is an easy, affordable way to handle customer service right from your website. Let’s explore the options, needs and opportunities around this technology.

Live vs. AI-Powered

Your self-storage customers will use chat to make many kinds of requests. Sometimes, they’re just looking for information; other times, they’re looking for onsite support. For example, you might get inquiries like:

  • I’d like to rent a unit, but I have a question.
  • Is there a hand truck I can use?
  • Is there a form I need to complete when moving out of my unit?

There are two options for offering chat on your self-storage website: live, which uses human customer-service representatives, and a model powered by artificial intelligence (AI), in which all the responses are pre-recorded. An AI version provides basic customer service, while a live chat agent offers a true customer experience.

For example, consider the above question regarding the hand truck. An AI chat tool operates on keywords. In this case, any inquiry that includes the words “hand truck” would serve up an automated response such as, “We offer hand trucks, carts and dollies for your use while on site. They’re located in the vestibule near unit 100.” This is an excellent use of an AI feature. It gets the customer most of what they need with zero human interaction.

On the other hand, a live agent might respond with something like, “Absolutely! There are hand trucks, appliance dollies and large flat carts available near the front of our building, in the vestibule near unit 100. You’re welcome to use them as long as you’re here! We have several, so take all the time you need. We’re looking forward to having you! Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

With AI, the customer gets most of the answer, but not all of it. Should they press for additional details, they’ll quickly realize they’re dealing with a bot providing recorded responses. This isn’t to say AI isn’t valuable. It’s come a long way and it will continue to evolve. Also, be aware that, for now at least, your search terms and canned responses must initially be built by a person.

Of course, customers could get all of this information by simply calling your self-storage facility, but given the choice, lots of customers simply prefer online chat. The best thing we can do as operators is offer potential and current tenants multiple methods of communicating with us so they can use the one that’s most comfortable for them. This makes your company easy to do business with, and though it may not be something they think about consciously, customers who feel at ease will be happier about renting with you.

Staff Training

If you’re going the live-chat route, your customer-service representatives will need training, just as they would if they were answering the phone. Anyone taking online inquiries should be empowered with the same information as your office or call-center staff. They should be able to assist chatters who have questions about unit sizes, price, features and promotions, as well as all other requests current tenants might make.

It’s also important that your team understands the difference between a phone and chat conversation. The etiquette isn’t the same. For example, when you call someone on the phone, do you just hang up as soon as they answer your question? Not likely. But with chat, it’s common for a customer to abruptly hit the “close” button on the window once they have the answer they need. The person handling the inquiry can’t be sure when they’ll lose the customer, so they must provide thorough, detailed information at every step.

Live-chat operators should also be speedy. When you’re on the phone, you can use filler questions and small talk to pass the time with the customer while looking for the necessary information or waiting for your computer to catch up. With chat, you must be able to access what the customer needs quickly and type fast enough to provide it in a timely manner. We’ve all been there … Sometimes texting, instant messaging or live chatting feels like it takes forever! All you see is ellipses to indicate the other person is typing a response that never seems to come.

Live-chat reps must also be able to type with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Though this method of written communication is much less formal, it’s still a business message and should be treated accordingly.

Follow-Up

Even if you offer online chat on your self-storage website, it’s smart to also use a “Contact Us” or “Request a Quote” form as a backup, especially if you aren’t using AI and can’t staff your chat around the clock. And you still need someone who can handle phone inquiries, as some customers will reach out via form to request a callback. You need to follow up on those inquiries quickly, as customers using this method are likely contacting multiple facilities. The first one to respond often wins the business.

As a self-storage operator, you can’t be all things to all people. However, if you put yourself in front of your target market and communicate in the way that makes the most sense to customers, you’ll become their first choice and they’ll remain loyal to you. Adding an online-chat feature to your website can create the ultimate customer experience.

Shannon Charbonneau is director of client relations for XPS Solutions, a Richardson, Texas-based call center that specializes in self-storage. Shannon has been with the company since 2011 and worked with a diverse clientele, from first-time owners to large operators with hundreds of locations. She uses what she learns from customers to help shape the services offered by XPS product developers, software engineers, call-center staff and quality management. For more information, call 877.977.8721. You can also follow Shannon on LinkedIn.

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