In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, self-storage operators have been forced to rethink their business strategies. Technology, which was already becoming a core industry asset and market differentiator, is rapidly becoming an essential component of any resilient business. It's more important than ever for facility operators to ensure they're providing a safe, sustainable experience for customers and employees.
Understandably, your tenants now favor self-service and contactless alternatives. One of the best ways to win their loyalty is to create a frictionless customer experience (CX), which means they should be able to rent, pay for or access their units when and how they want, regardless of any challenges your operation may experience. To do so, you must leverage technology.
Four Core Areas
Most self-storage operators pivoted quickly to meet the challenges of COVID-19, but those who leveraged technology early to allow contactless rentals will find themselves better equipped to thrive in the uncertain times ahead. Self-service and other smart tools won’t only reduce the need for in-person interaction, they’ll support operational strategies, even when you’re required to work remotely.
As you evaluate your operation for ways to create a contactless experience, consider how you’ll keep your operation running if employees can’t be on site. There are four core areas you must address:
- The ability to rent units virtually
- Easily accessible and remote customer service
- The ability to collect and remit payments virtually
- Consistent facility access and security
Contactless solutions improve consumer convenience, allowing self-storage customers to rent units from the comfort of their Web-enabled devices. For facility operators, they reduce the time and cost associated with following up on reservations, and often allow you to reach a larger pool of prospects.
Remember, the buyer journey starts long before someone decides to rent. It’s important to optimize your Web presence so prospects can find your facility online. When they’re ready to rent, you must provide a reliable means for them to do so, whether your office is open or not. Thankfully, many self-storage software programs enable online rentals, so customers can select a unit, sign the lease and pay for the space at their convenience. Offering rentals around the clock means you won’t ever miss out on potential business.
Even before the pandemic, self-serve alternatives to person-to-person interaction were increasingly preferred by customers. There are now several tools in the self-storage industry that can and should play a role in providing easy, instant, accessible service to customers. One of the most popular is the kiosk, which offers all the features and functionality of live manager, plus greater accessibility, a smoother CX and a drastic reduction in risk for staff and tenants. This is particularly true as video conferencing comes into wider use, allowing customers to speak face-to-face with a storage expert at any time. This enables you to provide the same level of personalized service without the risk of in-person interaction.
There are several keys to successful kiosk implementation. When planning installation, consider placement, lighting and environment to make the technology stand out and ensure customers can be comfortable while using it. Promotion is equally essential and should include signage, ongoing marketing and staff engagement. All are critical to encourage customer adoption, though staff buy-in is arguably the most important factor. It’s crucial that your employees view the technology as a resource rather than as their replacement.
Make sure that whatever kiosk solution you choose will integrate easily with your property-management software to pull rental rates, unit availability and other property details in real time. To support a frictionless CX, it should offer live support to assist with customer issues and questions. Finally, when your ability to be on property comes into question, a cloud-based solution that doesn’t require onsite computer access is essential.
Call centers and virtual managers offer a human element to contactless rentals. With the technological infrastructure already in place to support remote staff, they can quickly scale up or down in response to call volume. They can reduce staffing overhead and provide improved service levels and quality control, plus yield access to advanced data analytics and technology at reduced costs. Finally, they offer greater flexibility and limited disruption in uncertain circumstances.
Before you engage a partner, learn as much as you can about the companies in the market and the features they offer. Consider the cost, type and scope of services offered, location and language services, communication skills, quality, track record of performance, references, and cultural fit.
Now that you’ve made it easy for tenants to rent units and get assistance with self-serve options, it’s important to make it equally simple for them to pay their bill, which will reduce your accounts receivable. Invest in technology that allow customers to enroll in autopay during the rental process. Also, consider how they’ll be able to pay with cash, check or credit card when your office is closed. It’s important to allow customers the flexibility to engage with your facility in the manner they prefer, whether it’s via an online payment system or a kiosk that accepts all forms of payment.
When evaluating solutions, ensure your preferred tool can integrate with your property-management software. The user interface should be simple and easy, and the software should support notifications and payments for multiple units and bilingual tenants. It should also provide adequate reporting to meet your operational needs. There are even automated collections services available that can scan your management software for past-due tenants and send payment reminders via text messaging.
As with any new procedure, it’s essential to communicate early and often with your tenants about how to best utilize these new tools to simplify their interactions with your operation. Stressing these benefits is key to adoption.
Access and Security
The rapid evolution of industry technology offers still more options to enhance the CX. The advent of the cloud and integrated ecosystems that eliminate the need for human-to-human or even human-to-computer interaction, such as Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything, have opened a world of possibilities to improve site access, monitoring and security.
Contact-free rentals are really just the tip of the iceberg. Cloud-based access-control solutions are likely the most recognized piece of this puzzle, offering remote facility-management capabilities, unprecedented insight into tenant behavior, and new opportunities to evaluate and enhance customer interactions. They integrate with your rental solutions to automatically generate a unique gate-access code, provide it instantly to the tenant, and offer hands-free entry to the facility via mobile app. They also offer advanced encryption to provide better site security.
As you evaluate options, look for those that provide a central control center to quickly view and respond to changes at all your properties. Those that support real-time alerts, robust reporting and mobile access will increase your operational resiliency and support an enhanced CX.
IoT platforms provide the foundation to further streamline your virtual operations. For example, smart security tools come with remote monitoring and real-time incident alerts to detect and intercept crime. You can even build a custom environment suited to your individual needs. This might include smart thermostats that can be monitored and adjusted remotely, sensors that can alert you if a gate malfunctions or a tenant is locked in or out, office analytics to track foot traffic, and more.
As we look forward, it's important to not only consider isolated facility improvements to provide contact-free self-storage rentals but to re-evaluate your overall technology strategy. When implemented correctly, the insights and capabilities offered by today’s tools have the potential to ensure resiliency in the face of emergencies, increase employee productivity and revenue, reduce costs and liability, and enhance the CX for years to come.
Kimberly Robinson is the creative content manager for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of technology products and services including kiosks, a call center and access-control solutions. With more than 12 years in marketing and communications and two in the self-storage industry, she offers design, copywriting and content marketing expertise. Kimberly is responsible for the creation and dissemination of engaging content to create a superior brand experience for the company’s customers. To reach her, call 602.749.9370.