Self-storage, technology and an improved customer experience
Over the past decade, the self-storage sector has seen a surge in investment in technological innovation. Being able to run a self-storage unit remotely is something that concerns many self-storage providers today.
The use of technology can create a competitive advantage. On the one hand by increasing the customer experience of the tenant-customer (see below), on the other hand by saving costs for the owner-landlord after an initial investment. After all, technology goes hand in hand with automation, which in turn can lead to a reduction in personnel cost.
For self-storage providers who are just starting, it is obviously advisable to include technological gadgets in the planning and development phase. Providers who have been successfully operating in the sector for a while, should not make the mistake of thinking they can ignore innovation. Instead, their unique knowledge and experience allows them to to innovate in the best way possible.
Below we discuss four tools that have already been introduced in the self-storage world.
1. Mobile app
Figures from 2020 show that 89% of Belgians have a smartphone (source: Deloitte). Young and old therefore rely on the smartphone to help them in their daily lives. Just think about making payments, identifying yourself, checking the weather, buying a train ticket, etc. Mobile applications, apps, make all this even easier.
That is why an increasing number of self-storage operators offer an app. This way, tenants can manage their unit remotely. A key or access card becomes superfluous. With the app, tenants can also cancel or extend their unit. Reporting a problem by uploading a photo, for example, is also done via the app. Just like paying the rent and communicating with the staff of the storage.
Benefits for the operator? A well-functioning app improves the customer experience, which in turn has a positive effect on the retention rate. Through the app, interesting data can also be collected, for example on how often someone visits their unit or at what time they usually do so. An app can also have a positive effect on rent collection. A push notification via the app is often more efficient than an e-mail that gets lost in a crowded mailbox and is less threatening or inconvenient than a reminder on a smartphone.
2. Self-service kiosks
Self-service kiosks are already established in many sectors (think about buying a ticket for the train, placing an order at a popular fast-food chain or buying a ticket for the cinema). We also see them popping up more and more in self-storage facilities or just outside, at the entrance.
Signing the lease can be done by using the (outside) kiosk (for example in combination with an identity card reader). At the kiosk, tenants can open the facility gate or the door of their unit by using their personal access code. Do the units in your facility have a padlock and key? If so, there are also kiosks that can dispense and collect these. On the kiosk's LED screen, tenants can often also see a map of the facility showing the shortest route to their unit.
Similar to a mobile app, such kiosks can provide the option to renew, cancel or pay rent (for example, by scanning a QR code). The self-service kiosk also often functions as an intercom, with video. A tenant can contact the facility's staff via a video call. This means that the staff does not necessarily need to be present at the facility.
Kiosks are also usually accompanied by a software or management system that ensures that every action taken by the user is registered. Through this system, reports or databases can easily be run without requiring any action from an employee.
People are no longer surprised when they hear the term 'robot'. Robotics has also gradually made its appearance in the self-storage sector. In Europe, there are already some branches in France that work with robots. These robots function as self-service kiosks on wheels. The advantage over (stationary) kiosks is that robots can give tours and thus guide the tenant to his/her unit. Like the kiosk, the robot can provide a live connection to the store manager who can then answer questions from the tenant.
Robots can also be used for hygienic purposes. The coronavirus pandemic has made hygiene an absolute priority more than ever, also in a self-storage facility. In Thailand, for example, a self-storage facility uses a robot that uses ultraviolet radiation to destroy viruses and bacteria that are present on surfaces or in the air.
4. Biometric security
Security is a core value within the self-storage sector. Tenants pay to have their belongings safely stored. Surveillance cameras are already standard. Biometric security, on the other hand, is still rare. However, this type of security is practically impenetrable and is therefore the best solution for securing a unit. Biometric security can range from voice analysis to fingerprint or facial recognition. Nowadays, every new smartphone is equipped with this technology. Why not a self-storage (unit)? One thing to consider when installing biometric security is the possibility of someone other than the actual tenant having access to the unit. In some cases, this is indeed desirable, for example when a couple rents a unit.
Introducing technology correctly in your self-storage unit contributes to improving the customer experience of your tenant. After all, consumers want to be helped quickly and efficiently. An app, self-service kiosk or robot can provide this by, for example, answering to standard questions or automating the performance of frequent actions.
Does this mean that human interaction has become superfluous? No, it does not. Contrary to what many people may think, it is not a question of machine or man, but of machine and man. In order to be assisted efficiently, it is necessary that the (tenant) customer is well understood. If not, you risk a frustrated customer. A self-service kiosk or robot with a live video chat function, for example, can prevent this problem. Customers should feel that if the technology does not provide them with the answer they are looking for, they still have a person to turn to.
An important thing to keep in mind is that in a society where technology is increasingly becoming the norm, it is the human touch that makes the difference. Therefore, try to make your digital interaction with your tenant-customer as personal as possible. In the software of your app, kiosk or robot, for instance, provide a number of tenant profiles so you can categorize your tenant-customer and deliver information that is relevant to him or her. The data you collect through the use of technology will help you do this.
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