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Human Element of Tech

In September of this year, my husband and I traveled throughout Europe and as travel can never be fail proof, one of our trains between cities was cancelled due to a strike. My husband was quick to rebook our travel but it meant that we wouldn’t be arriving in Venice, Italy until close to Midnight. Once we arrived, weighted down by our heavy luggage, we made the trek over canals and small alley ways from the train station to our hotel for the weekend. Earlier in the day we had been sent a code to enter the lobby upon arrival so we had an expectation of entrance access once we arrived and after the long, frustrating day of travel I was ready to take a hot shower and crawl in bed. Yet when we finally made it to our destination and punched in our code, the set up in the lobby awoke me from my travel trance. There beyond the door in the 40.17 San Marco Hotel was the manager greeting us via a two way video set up.

The set up was a simplistic version of exactly what we are seeing sweeping through the U.S. Self Storage market in virtual management and two way video software. My initial shock wore off quickly, as I realized and accepted once again that we are not the only market, country, or business that is utilizing smart two-way video software to interact with customers. But still, I was pretty blown away! I asked the manager where he was and how long they’ve been utilizing this software which was a basic computer hooked up to Skype auto answer.

The manager told me, via his two way video set-up, that they oversee multiple hotels throughout Venice and the surrounding area and lost many of their staff through the pandemic due to the lack of available work as a result of the loss of tourism in their country. Being a business owner willing to think outside the box, he set up the computers and auto-skype with a small camera in the lobby and began overseeing and greeting all his guests in real-time. This hotel manager 5,000 miles away from our family operated self-storage facility was proving the concept of high tech and high touch works exactly as it is intended to. Seeing this concept in its most basic form being utilized in one of the biggest tourist attraction cities in the world as a means to cope with the same problems and frustrations we faced back home in our self-storage operation was all the affirmation I needed to know that the human element of technology is the future of our industry.

As an operator of self-storage, finding innovative and forward thinking ways to interact with our tenants across multiple sites utilizing one manager was at the forefront of my mind when I came into the business in the summer of 2021. The technology was readily available, but working to perfect and refine it’s utilization in the daily operation became my mission as the Director of Operations for 4 facilities with one store manager, who was at the time, myself. I understood from my daily interactions with our tenants that they appreciated and sought out human interaction whether that was in the office or over the phone. During this timeframe, we had been utilizing self-service kiosks at our unmanned facilities and were still receiving an influx of customer communication calls from these sites for service. As the single touchpoint for over 1000 tenants, this constant desire for human interaction was overwhelming and inefficient.

It was clear that our business model was outdated and the aftermath of the pandemic’s push toward technological advanced solutions lingered as I worked closely with the owner to create an automated model that addressed three operational ideals: During Business Hours, After Business Hours, and Anytime/Anywhere. This breakdown allowed our team to focus directly on sourcing solutions that would translate to our target audience. The most dominant of our solutions proved to be the one that capitlized on the integration of the human element, our two way video software, which hosts the platform for remote managers to greet on-site tenants and future customers in real time through an admin panel and smart cameras. This became our holy grail, the ‘During Business Hours’ solution.

Outside of providing incredible customer service and promoting authentic interactions with our sites, this software has thus created the opportunity for other owners in the industry to scale quickly and efficiently without the headache of staffing and low retention rates. This is achievable because our platform grants the owner the ability to hire at a higher threshold and create an opportunity for a well-rounded and equipped individual to stay and grow within the business. The new blueprint for a store manager includes the opportunity to work on other components of the business, while filling the day with operational needs due to the higher volume of stores in their control. Our model for using this software is rooted in the idea that during business hours anyone who comes onto any of our sites is greeted by a manager, albeit virtually. The technology platform we created has allowed us to provide tenants the assurance that we are there if help if needed, immediate and personal assistance is available if warranted, and the ultimate safety of being recognized as a buyer and renter with eyes on the facility at all times.

The human element of our technology has been the unique selling point of our specific self-storage business model and has created a level of convenience and trust in our tenants. Incorporating a way for the tenants and future tenants to interact one-on-one with a virtual manager via the two way video software killed two birds with one stone. First, the convenience and appeal of a high-tech operation and second, the comfort and familiarity of a personal rental experience that isn’t completely automated. It is our personal experience that the aftermath of the pandemic has left an insatiable need in many consumers to interact with other humans to process and handle individual wants and needs in the consumerism market and through our technology company, KISS Solutions, we sought out the best and most effective ways to address these asks in the self-storage asset class.

As an owner and operator myself, my number one piece of advice for anyone in this space looking to expand, searching for consistent and reliable staff, working to lower expenses in payroll for 2023, or simply interested in creating a space that has competitive elements in contrast to neighboring sites is this: change now before you must. If the hotel managers in Venice, Italy can do it, so can you.
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