High-Tech vs. High-Touch: The Self-Catering Customer Service Experience


People are spoiled for choice these days. When they shop for a product or service, they are no longer limited by the options in their immediate area. All they have to do is connect to the internet and search!

Self-storage is usually a local purchase, but consumers still expect – and have – many options. Most cities offer multiple facilities. So how does a potential client choose? What will propel your business to the top of their list? The answer is the customer service experience, which begins the moment a person decides they need stocking and continues all the way until they are out of their unit and even beyond! The trick is to create one that meets most consumer expectations.

Lots of studies have been done to determine what self-storage customers really want, but usually convenience, proximity, and security top the list. Then it can vary. Some want to feel a personal connection with work and face-to-face communication with employees (high touch), while others do not want to interact with a human at all. They want everything to be self-service and automated (high tech). To be a market leader, you must deliver both.

Why both?

Most self-storage facilities already offer a combination of high-tech and high-touch service. Technology is playing an increasingly larger role in the industry, and even those operators who have tried to avoid it have had to adopt some level of automation during the coronavirus pandemic.

A business website is often the first interaction between a potential customer and your business, and it should contain more than just pretty pictures and vague information. A good site includes details, frequently asked questions, and a way to request a quote or rent a unit. If you’re smart, you use search engine optimization and digital advertising to ensure your work appears in every relevant search. You also link your website to your social media platforms, where you post regularly, and encourage each tenant to leave a review online. All of these interaction points involve technology. They work together to help the customer find you, choose you, and rent with you.

But no matter how great your website is or how strong your online presence is, there are times when a customer needs a personal touch. For example, if they are not sure what size unit they need, they will pick up the phone and call or stop and visit. They may want to ask the manager questions or take a site tour. We hope you have our staff available to help.

But what if they call you outside of business hours, or your manager is busy? You don’t want to miss an opportunity to rent. You may still be able to catch this action through a call center or kiosk. Now we are back to technology again!

Reading reviews online is a great way to see how customers think about self storage and what matters to them. Read those written for your business and your competitors. You’ll quickly notice that words like “customer service,” “communication,” “safe,” “clean,” and “easy to access” have a huge impact. Therefore, it makes sense to make these your process goals. To make sure that you can turn it in and get every possible rent, you must use all the tools available to you, both human and technological.

bridging the gap

At this point you might be thinking, “This sounds complicated. And expensive. And painful. We don’t need to change. Our customer service is good.” Is it really that though? If your facility operates exclusively on a functional, high-touch basis, you may turn off customers who prefer a self-service experience. If your site is fully automated without a human presence, it can be intimidating for customers who are not comfortable with technology. In this competitive market, can you really afford to lose Which Tenants?

Each self storage business is unique. Your team may include full-time or part-time employees who work on-site. You may have a manager who works on one property and remotely supervises another property. Maybe your team works from home and helps everyone with cameras, microphones, and intercoms. Whatever the case may be, you are likely to offer some level of direct and personal interaction. Head-to-head service is how self-storage got its start, and most operators are still embracing it, although perhaps to a lesser degree in the post-COVID world.

But again, technology is making great strides in the field of self-storage. Here are some of the ways in which the customer experience can be enhanced today:

Online rental. The consumer mindset about self storage is changing from “I need to see it up close to see if I want to rent there” to “I have a smartphone in my hand and can do it now.” Of course, there are options in between. Your goal is to help as many customers as possible using any logical methods. It may not be all things for all people, but the more options you offer, the more units you’ll rent and the more money you’ll make.

booth. A self-service kiosk in your foyer is a very popular and easy way to secure rentals when the staff is busy, the facility is closed, or the customer wants to avoid personal interaction. Today’s models are very sophisticated and can guide the customer through the entire process.

Mobile application. You’ve heard the saying, “There’s an app for that.” In self-storage, some companies create an app that allows customers to rent units, pay their bills, communicate with a site manager, and more. Other facilities use one that allows access at the facility gate or even the unit door.

unit calculator. Choosing a unit size can be challenging for customers, especially if they have never used self storage before. It’s one of the things that can drive the need for personal interaction. To help potential tenants, consider adding an interactive estimating tool to your website. Many web developers in this industry can create one for you. It should allow users to populate a virtual unit with commonly stored items and see how they fit, from all kinds of furniture to chests. You can also include presets for homes of different sizes.

The most profitable self-storage operators use high-tech, high-touch methods to provide the best possible customer experience throughout the entire rental cycle. Don’t leave money on the table. Create a winning combination of human and technical support, and watch your occupancy and profits soar!

Shannon Charbonneau is the Director of Customer Relations at XPS Solutions, a call center in Richardson, Texas that specializes in self-storage. Shannon has been with the company since 2011 and has worked with a diverse clientele, from first-time owners to large operators in hundreds of locations. It uses what it’s learned 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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