The future is here now. The internet is here to stay and it has already permanently changed the way consumers shop for products and services. How many times over the last year has a customer contemplated purchasing an item in a bricks and mortar store such as Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, or Barnes and Noble only to be overheard saying “I wonder how much it costs on Amazon” or “I wonder what the reviews say?”. There are smart phone applications available that will allow a customer to scan a bar code on an item and the application will then pull up a review of that particular item. How about using the internet to find a good restaurant, AC repair company, or a great dry cleaner? Remember in most everything, especially business, perception is reality. How do your facility’s customers perceive your self-storage facility on the internet? Do customers like the services provided at the facility? Do they rave about your facility’s great mangers? Do they talk about how clean your self- storage facility looked? One of the most important questions as a self-storage operator is, do you even know what potential and current customers are saying about your facility? If you don’t know, stop reading this article right now. Go to Google.com, Yelp.com, Merchantcircle.com, and Citysearch.com. Then search for your facility. These sites will give a self-storage operator a very good idea of how customers value your facility’s services and what they are saying on the internet, which in essence, is now the world’s largest billboard. To read a great blog on how powerful the internet can be in self-storage, read The Power of Viral Media: Angry Customers Armed With New Weapons, by Teri Lanza.
It wasn’t long ago that in order to connect with a current or potential customer a self-storage operator would be limited to three distinct options, communicate with the customer over the telephone, wait for the customer to visit the facility, or send a letter to the customer. Technology has changed customer communication forever. Today, the communication options available to self-storage facilities are limitless. Telephone calls, personal visits, letters, emails, text messages, instant messaging, video conferencing, web sites, and social media are just a few ways to keep in contact with customers. Does your self-storage facility have customers that are overseas in the military or maybe a few customers that are disabled and can’t visit your facility on a regular basis? Why not speak with them face to face with Skype? Google just launched a new service within Google+, Google’s new social media platform, called hangouts. Why not hold a hangout with some of your customers? Did one of your customer’s disappear? Try searching for them on Facebook. Quite often a customer will update their Facebook status before they update their friends and family directly. Do you want to announce a new product or service at your self-storage facility? Update your website, social media accounts, and email your current customers. Remember, one of the issues customers have with any business or service is the feeling that they are not important or that the business or service takes them for granted. With the tools available today, none of your customers should feel that way.
Finally, the impact of increased data storage will have a huge impact on customer service. On the surface this sounds like a very odd component of customer service. Think about this in terms of having the ability to be better organized. So often, a self-storage facility has things coming in from all directions. For example, a customer in unit 101 has an issue with their bill, an invoice from a utility company is late because it was lost, a vendor is supposed to come out and give a bid to repair an A/C unit, the facility gate has come off track, and you need to pick up milk on the way home. On top of this potential customers would like a tour of your facility. How does a self-storage facility handle it all? First, start by installing online management software. Not only can the accounting for unit 101 be checked quickly, but accurately, and from any internet based device. Second, use an electronic based calendar that syncs to a smart phone. This will keep vendors on time and allow time to schedule that customer tour. Third, have an online based contact list, so the gate vendor can be called immediately to fix the facility’s gate. Fourth, consider using a cloud based storage system for invoices. When that utility invoice comes to the facility, scan it into the cloud based storage system. The invoice will never be lost and is accessible from the internet. Last, use an online note taking program, such as Evernote, which can be accessible from your smart phone. Evernote is great for lists. That milk you need will be on your grocery list, so you don’t have to remember it.
Technology will never replace good customer service. No piece of technology can replace having great managers at a self-storage facility. No piece of technology will automatically keep a self-storage facility clean or bring out a cup of coffee to a customer on a cold day. What technology can do is help supplement customer service so that it can be provided in an accurate and timely manner. Take the time to stream line some of your operations with technology and it will only increase the level of customer service a self-storage can provide.