It’s a common refrain in today’s world of commerce, but it always warrants repeating: The businessperson who ignores the importance of technology does so at his or her own peril.
Some level of resistance is, of course, understandable. Both the complexity of new technology and the pace at which it evolves make it a tough nut to crack. Today it seems only the most proficient of experts can truly understand technology in all its complexity.
But don’t think this gives the self-storage operator a pass! Despite the difficulty it presents, reaping the potential rewards makes the effort and cost worthwhile—provided it’s done strategically. And don’t forget: Your competition is working on this as well.
Here’s a quick summary of 10 emerging trends in technology that directly affect the self-storage industry, albeit with some overlap. After reading each description, feel free to do a Google search to gain more background, so you can put these ideas into action.
Management software – A self-storage facility has a lot of moving parts. The latest in management software offers a consolidated platform to monitor and manage the many functions of your location. Features include automated billing and collections, marketing tools, ability to monitor security safeguards, and a host of analytic displays that share data on cash flow and delinquency rates in real time. There’s also a customer portal where clients can log on, manage their accounts, and send messages to staff.
Call Center Interface – This innovation is aimed squarely at gaining and keeping customer loyalty. The label is a bit misleading as call centers today can offer capabilities such as email response, texting, and chat service. They’re staffed 24/7, which allows for suburb customer convenience. According to Robert Chiti, president and CEO of OpenTech Alliance, “These technologies are making a big impact on the performance of the self-storage operators that use them, providing more rentals and happier customers. There will be a big gap between the operators that have invested in giving consumers what they want and operators that still think carrying a cell phone on their hip is the answer.”
Kiosks – Remember when bank ATMs first made their appearance? Today’s self-storage kiosks make those look like preschooler toys. High-end models can sign up new clients, sell tenant insurance, offer virtual tours, and even make a digital recording of each customer interaction for review later—all 24/7. Kiosks can also enhance security by creating biometrics, controlling facility access, and accepting customer payments with real-time account updating. A particularly good line is the INSOMNIAC series offered by OpenTech Alliance.
Online Renting – For customers who prefer the convenience and personal security of doing business from their home, OpenTech Alliance also offers a web version of their kiosk called INSOMNIAC Online. The latter offers many of the same services, including 24/7 customer convenience and online rentals. It also offers significant cost savings as OpenTech only charges when a customer actually books a rental.
Advanced Hardware Integrations – Have you heard of a new term in high tech called “The Internet of Things”? Basically, it’s where virtually all devices with a common purpose all “talk to each other”; that is, exchange data in a meaningful way and in real time. In the self-storage industry, this might mean that comprehensive software will allow the access keypad to check a customer’s account status, causing the system to update the activity log, which activates surveillance protocols to maintain proper security. Storage Commander, offers products that are especially sophisticated in this area.
Live Chat Website Feature – This concept takes the interactive element to the next level by bringing together a website and the live nature of a call center. As soon as a prospect logs on, he/she is instantly greeted by an onscreen expert familiar with the world of self-storage and the particulars of your facility. The representative can answer any type of question, set up a new rental, and even issue access codes. OpenTech Alliance is a pioneer in this field.
Cloud Technology – Since its debut several years ago, cloud computing has ironed out many of its early problems. Bandwidth limitations and security concerns are a thing of the past, enabling self-storage operators to join a host of other industries in this new frontier of computing and data storage. Tom Garden, president of Syrosoft, points out a huge advantage when he says, “The obvious benefits to large accounts is that real-time reporting by groups is now available and manpower savings along with timely information make for a great value and revenue enhancement.”
Call Tracking Software – OpenTech Alliance makes a good case for using a call center when it reports that 40 percent of calls routed directly to a facility’s office typically go unanswered. But if you do chose to work with a call center, you naturally want the best bang for your buck. The sophisticated call tracking software used today records all calls, monitors call answer times, and produces a number of useful metrics, including wait times, and operator performance in booking new rentals. Make sure the center you choose uses the latest toys.
Mobile Technology – Obviously, managers and employees can’t be everywhere, and tenants can be anywhere. Scalable mobile technology can prove to be a handy tool for both. For the owner, a surprisingly low-tech solution, analog two-way radios, can make a big place a great deal smaller and the boss more accessible. Just be sure to purchase a high quality, powerful set. For the customer, Kevin Kerr of Empower Software Technologies cites a few recent breakthroughs. “They include basic enhancements such as mobile-friendly websites equipped with payment and rental options, plus mobile apps for your gate systems that can allow status change with the press of a button.”
The Future – Kerr points out that taken together, today’s technology offers “an overwhelmingly powerful combination that can increase efficiency dramatically while simplifying the rental process for tenants”. He sees the immediate future as a time of consolidation and to grow comfortable with all the new capabilities of the new technologies. He explains that “the technology is just waiting for owners and operators to evolve their operation and begin exploring other options readily available.” He infers that a new generation of technology is on the horizon, but that we need to grow into what we have first.
When assessing the place of your business in the ever deepening sea of high tech, remember that not every device or software platform used in your office needs to be the latest and greatest. Technology should be seen as an investment, and it’s in the self-storage manager’s best interest to maximize the return on that investment. So running the second most recent edition of Microsoft Office or dictating memos through a 2014 copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking certainly won’t reduce your staff’s efficiency or its effectiveness.
Paul Vachon is a freelance writer and editor based in Detroit. He is the author of four books and has contributed to publications such as Pacific Standard, Preservation, HOUR Detroit, Michigan History, and Costco Connection.