New storage industry market dynamics are driving innovative ways to leverage automation to improve both business efficiencies and enhance the customer rental experience. Field automation for storage facilities is a prime example where storage operators are implementing self-service kiosk networks to provide customers with convenient 24 X 7 on-demand facility rentals, payment, and independent lock purchasing services. While the cost savings and convenience benefits of 24 X 7 unattended facilities are clear, there are still occasions where questions arise, and on-demand service agents are needed. To provide insights for this technology trend enabling self-service storage models, KIOSK Information Systems (KIOSK) interviewed Chris Sang, CEO of ClairVista, which specializes in virtual customer service for storage facilities using a real-time video chat system for interactive engagement and remote support.
AG: With your experience and expertise in the arena of digital customer / service experience and self-service automation, what insights did you gain in 2020?
CS: 2020 established two notable trends. First, COVID-19 accelerated interest in virtual services across many industries. Virtual customer consultations eliminate personal contact concerns, save time, and are logistically more efficient for both customer and provider. Second, there is an increasing recognition that supplementing self-service, whether online or at a kiosk, with the opportunity to speak to a live, knowledgeable agent, can improve business results and the customer’s experience.
AG: What are you seeing in 2021 in relation to “new norms” and business challenges for storage operators?
CS: The self-storage business has become a commodity business. Customer purchase decisions are largely based on location and price, so operators need to add significant competitive differentiation. Meanwhile, low interest rates have incentivized the growth of storage facilities, with total storage square footage growing by 15% over the past five years, now exceeding 1.4 billion square feet. Combined with lower economic activity, rental rates are down about 4% as compared with last year. While this is likely to adjust with the shift as the economy improves, operators will still need to leverage technology options to provide more consistent and convenient service across locations and hours. With digital services paving the way for immediacy and personalization, it’s no surprise that self-service automation is an ideal channel to support the demands of the customer and the operator in an unattended facility.
AG: In the storage industry, how is the customer experience changing? And how can storage operators leverage technology to improve the customer experience?
CS: With virtual service technology, operators can cost-effectively provide superior customer service experience and gain competitive advantages. Customers can instantly connect to a live agent, at the moment of purchase decision or support needs, for face-to-face consultation. Virtual agents can also substantially reduce the need for onsite staff, reducing overall labor costs or enabling operators to reallocate staff to more value-add services.
Additionally, as Operators consider how to optimize their storage operational model and differentiate with a more personalized customer experience, it’s beneficial to consider how technology options can add value to the digital omnichannel strategy. For instance:
- Do your service delivery channels enable service continuity across your website, mobile application, and on-site kiosks?
- How can you drive demand to certain locations – as in, convert an online storage search to a specific geo-location?
- Can your on-site storage staffing consistently cover peak traffic and off-hours?
- To what extent can customers at on-site storage facilities get immediate storage service and support anytime?
With greater competition and even higher customer expectations, service differentiation is essential for growth. Pairing automated self-service kiosks with a video chat service center provides a winning combination to simultaneously optimize costs and service delivery. If you’d like to discuss your business goals or learn more, please feel free to contact us.
Interview author: Anne Guenther, Strategic Marketing Director
KIOSK Information Systems
Guest author: Chris Sang, Founder and CEO