By Christine DeBord
We all know how important it is to meet our customers where they are and to interact with them in the way they want to interact. That’s why we’re all hyper focused on SEO and AdWords to make sure our customers can find us online. But what happens when they do? Are we making it as easy as possible for customers to interact with us, and ultimately to rent from us? If you’re not allowing potential renters to text you, then the answer is probably “no”.
On the surface, forcing your customers to call you may not seem like a bad thing. You may want that personal touch point and interaction with your manager so he or she can highlight what makes your facility (and brand) unique. It’s certainly true that the phone can be a great sales tool, but it doesn’t have to be your only form of communication.
For many renters, a simple text could be a much easier way to contact you than a call. Most of your customers work the same hours as your office hours. During a busy work day, it may be difficult to find the time to call your store. It is likely far easier to fire off a quick text to ask a question such as:
- “Are your units humidity controlled?”
- “We’re moving to Atlanta in six weeks; will you have any 10-by-10s available then?”
- “Do you have covered RV spaces available from August to December?”
- “Do you have first floor space available for move in this weekend?”
These are all questions that are much more convenient for customers to ask via text. Not only is texting convenient for your renters, but it can also help cut down on your call center costs. If your manager is on another call or with a customer and misses an inquiry call, that call is likely forwarded to a call center, which costs you money, or it’s sent to voicemail or abandoned—and you lose the immediate touchpoint.
Texts work differently. You’re probably OK with a business texting you back within 30 minutes, but waiting on hold for someone to answer you call for 30 minutes is beyond frustrating. With text to email widgets, your manager can respond to inquiry texts from their company email address as soon as it’s convenient for them. That allows you to keep the touchpoint without the additional expense of call center intervention. In other words, it’s a win-win.
According to TextRequest, the average American sends and receives 94 text messages per day, and forward-thinking businesses are capitalizing on the shifting consumer preference for text notifications and interaction. Business Insider found that Apple handles about 200,000 text messages per second, and according to CNET, approximately 1.95 trillion text messages are sent through the mobile text message app giant “What’s App?” Alternatively, Morning Consult found that in 2018, 68 percent of survey respondents reported that they make less than four mobile phone calls per day.
The movement towards app and text interaction with businesses and away from phone calls is evident and obvious in light of the success of companies like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb. However, the shift away from consumer inquiry phone calls is much more far reaching. When is the last time you called to order a pizza? Today, many customers prefer shopping and ordering via mobile app or text message, and that preference becomes even more glaring when examining millennial behavior.
Millennials want to communicate via text. To prove this point, try calling a millennial. You will probably be sent to voicemail and get an immediate text back saying, “What’s up?” With the convenience of text, who can blame them? I even text my dentist to set up appointments. It’s so much easier for me to look at my calendar (that’s also on my phone), text the date and time that works best for me, receive a confirmation text back, quickly add the appointment on my calendar, and go on about my day. The alternative: The dentist calls me, and I ignore it because it’s a local, unknown number; they leave a voicemail and I forget to call them back. Even the experience of getting my car out of valet is markedly improved when I can text my claim ticket number as opposed to calling with it.
Us” Forms Aren’t Enough
Forms on your website can be a great way for potential renters to interact with you. If you don’t currently have an inquiry form on your website, I’d urge you to strongly consider adding one. While website forms are a great alternative contact method for those who prefer not to call, they aren’t without challenges. If you are going to include a contact form on your site, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls:
- Forms often require too much information. A common issue with website contact forms is they often require too much information and time from the submitter. If your form asks for name, phone number, email address, note, and more, a potential customer could be hesitant to provide that much personal information, and are likely move on to the next facility they find online.
- Uncertainty about how you’ll be contacted. If a form asks for both email and phone number, it’s often unclear if you can expect to receive a phone call or an email response. If it’s a phone call, that negates the point of the online form which is allowing people to receive information from your company without having to call directly. If the response comes via email, it can get buried in the submitter’s inbox.
Providing potential storage customers with a way to call you, email you, or text you allows the customer to decide how they’d like to hear back from you.
The beauty of text vs. email is that we read all of our texts. While we may not respond to every text we receive, we rarely—if ever—fail to read a text. Now, take a look at your personal email inbox. I’m willing to bet that there are a litany of unread messages cluttering it up (unless of course you’re hyper diligent with your filters—in which case, I’m jealous). Part of the reason for this is the brevity text messages mandate. Emails are frequently too verbose and contain so much information that we end up scanning them or not reading them at all. We also associate email with work, mass marketing, and spam. Texts feel more personal and easily manageable.
Phone Works Both Ways
While it’s certainly important to let customers reach you the way they feel most comfortable, text also provides a number of advantages for self-storage owner operators. To start, text messages are great for rental payment reminders. Storage owners can quickly and easily send mass text messages to renters each month and even provide links for mobile bill pay or even nudge them towards setting up autopay. With recent advances in smart locking and entry technology in self-storage, text messages can also be used to authenticate new renters, which then allows your customers to access gates, doors, elevators, and even their unit with their mobile device. If you’re renting units online today, this piece of technology allows you to fully automate the rental and move-in process outside of office hours on Sundays, all with a text message.
Many email providers offer an email to SMS service, and there are also a number of specialized SMS platforms dedicated to B2C texting services. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Message Media (messagemedia.com)
- ClickSend (clicksend.com)
At the end of the day, it all boils down to convenience. Your customers want a convenient way to contact your self-storage facility and you should want to provide them with it. Plus, let’s not forget about the conveniences it provides to property managers who must deal with delinquent tenants and customers who forget their access codes. So why not simplify your site’s communications with text messaging?
Christine DeBord is the director of marketing at Janus International, the leading global supplier of doors, hallways, and new technology for the self-storage industry. She’s been working in self-storage access control and new technology since 2015.