When travelling locally and overseas I am always on the lookout for other service industries to see how they operate and how we can potentially use and adopt their best case practices into our industry and offering.
Market sectors like hotels, hire car and equipment rental companies seem to be the most closely aligned to self-storage. They all offer an asset or space for a potential customer to use on a short or long term basis. There is usually a contract, which is executed prior to the use of their asset or equipment, and their customers are mostly transient.
So what trends in these industries can we learn from in our operations?
Convenience: Consumers now have an expectation of automated payments for reoccurring services. This could be in the form of direct debit or automated billing from their credit card. Some customers will still prefer a manual payment via cheque or cash / card in person, however due to advancements in internet based transactions, throughout all service industries, customers are more likely to expect automated payments at your self-storage centre. On the plus side, automated payments will usually increase the length of stay for a client, so the costs associated with the setup of these systems, are likely to be quickly offset. Most self-storage software used in our industry will have some form of payment automation options, so if you are not offering automatic payments yet, you should consider implementing it now.
Time expectations: In modern society most of all feel like we are very busy and tend to get frustrated when completing menial tasks, like monotonous paperwork. Hotels and Hire Car companies have led the way in reducing the time taken to rent a hotel room or hire car. In both cases, providing you have given them your details prior to arrival, their clients have an expectation that the paperwork associated with these functions will only take a couple of minutes. Recently, when returning a hire car I was met by a service person in the parking area, gave them the car keys and was on my way in under 1 minute!
We can all appreciate that renting a hotel room or hire car for 24 hours is a very different proposition to being entrusted with another parties worldly possessions. However, as other industries use technology to reduce the time taken to complete their paperwork, our customers will expect the same from their self storage company. Features such as online move-ins and allowing clients to complete some of your paperwork online in the comfort of their home or office will usually reduce the time it takes on move-in day, thus hopefully meeting their time expectations.
Web based Pricing: When looking to rent a hotel room or a car we expect to find the price and availability of these services, regardless of your location in the world, prior to your arrival at the point of rental. In most cases we are provided and understand the options that are displayed and make a choice based on safety, quality, convenience, location and value.
Self-storage is no different and your customers are looking online at your business and services everyday judging these factors. Therefore, do they expect you to have your pricing shown? There is no definitive answer to this question as we all differ as operators and all of our customers have differing expectations and demands.
Some points to contemplate before offering web based pricing… Do your customers know how much space they need? Will they simply not call you if you do not show the price? Will they over quote or under quote themselves using your space calculator or lose patience with it altogether? Does having web based pricing make management of your location more efficient?
These are all valid questions and depending on which side of the fence you sit on, it is up to you to make a reasonable business decision about how you choose to run your facility and offer your services. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the time will come when our potential clients will expect to see our pricing online, as we do now when renting a hotel room or car.
It is an exciting time to be in business and an exciting time in the self-storage industry. Technological advancements do make our lives, in most cases, more efficient. However, these advancements have shifted the expectation of consumers and their tolerance levels for outdated systems. With this in mind, take the time to look at your business and ask yourself if you think you could align some of your current processes closer to the expectations of your customers. Potentially, take the time to ask the question to see where there was a difference between what they expected and what they received from you and your company.