How to Leverage AI in Self Storage Today: A Comprehensive Guide
Let’s be honest, the self storage industry has never been at the forefront of the technological revolution. In many aspects it’s been slow to evolve, favouring traditional tried and tested approaches over signification transformation. But that’s changing, online bookings are well on their way to becoming the norm and smart entry system adoption is gaining speed — enabling a new generation of remotely managed facilities with automated move-in processes.
The catalyst behind these changes has been a desire to increase competitiveness by reducing costs, through automation, and to give the modern tech-savvy consumer the online purchasing experience they crave. An added bonus is that smaller self storage facilities are suddenly economically viable for the first time - because they don’t require a full-time staff presence - giving rise to a huge new wave of industry entrants.
The question is — what’s next? The answer you’re likely to hear is “Artificial intelligence”. But what does that actually mean? More importantly — can you leverage it today? And should you even bother? There are already benefits that can help you gain a competitive advantage, but there are pitfalls to avoid too.
This guide will help you cut through the hype and understand some of the AI tools available to you now (in September 2023), explain how you can use them, and give you the info you need to make up your own mind if they’re worth pursuing.
What is AI in 2023?
AI in 2023 is a simulation of human intelligence in machines, mostly interacted with via the internet. It’s not sentient, it’s only as intelligent as the information it has been fed. Still, this level of intelligence has resulted in a variety of new technologies and services which can be used to perform tasks that historically would have required a human.
Right now, Artificial Intelligence is best used as an assistant that can help you automate processes, solve problems, spot patterns and make decisions. With that in mind, let's have a look at some of the more obvious areas AI can help you with in your self storage business today:
Writing & Content Creation
When most people think of AI in 2023, they’re likely thinking about AI tools you can chat with. Things like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard, both of which will chat to you about pretty much anything in a remarkably human-like manner. This is because they’ve been trained on billions of words and pieces of content such as books, articles, and web pages.
This, and the programming behind them, gives these AI tools the ability to provide a well-written answer to pretty much anything that you can think of. It also makes them great at analysing any request you give them and providing you with something useful in seconds.
As a result of its ability to write so well, people have begun to use it for just that. There are already millions of blog articles and other web pages 100% written by AI based on just short human prompts. However, that doesn’t mean you should run away and ask a Chatbot to write 20 blog articles for you and post them on your website. In fact, you really shouldn’t.
Search engines prefer human-created content. They’re adapting to identify AI-generated content and pushing it down search results or not listing it at all. Even if search engines weren’t taking this stance, the content you create will be generic and unrelated to your business unless you give the AI a clear understanding of your self storage business upfront.
Despite this, I’d still recommend you consider using a tool like ChatGPT to help you write (like I have done throughout this guide). But to use it well you need to be prepared to write, as you’ll need to take what it produces for you apart and repurpose it in your own words.
In my opinion, developing the skill to write is well worth it. SEO is one of the best online acquisition channels for self storage as a needs-based business customers go searching for. The creation and publication of great content on your website should be a focus, regardless of whether you use AI to help or not.
If you do decide to use ChatGPT, what it can do is greatly speed up the creation of landing pages for key search terms tailored to your business and improve the content you already have on your website.
To learn how to correctly utilise ChatGPT for website content creation, read our guide on Leveraging AI for Self Storage Website Content. In it, we touch on how to use it to plan what content to write, how to write prompts which result in great content you can adapt for your website and more.
Similar to how ChatGPT has been trained on text, making it great at writing. Tools like Midjourney have been trained on hundreds of millions of images. The result is a similar experience where you can ask it to create an image for you with a short description, and it does it, usually in less than a minute. It can be hit-and-miss, but if you’re not looking for something too specific, the results can be uncannily realistic, and it may open up new marketing possibilities. So how should you use it?
You may be thinking about generating images of indoor storage units, shipping containers, or customers moving into a facility and uploading them onto your website.
However, you should think twice. While these would be better than nothing, actual photography of your facility on your website is vital. It helps the customer know you’re a real business, building trust and letting them see what to expect.
If you don’t have real photos on your website, I’d stop reading this now and go hire a great photographer first and get those shots uploaded ASAP. That will instantly level up the impression your website visitors have about your business.
Where AI-generated imagery makes more sense for self storage, is for engaging images you share in social media posts, or within blog posts. We already have dozens scattered across content on our own Stora website, and there’s a good chance if you looked at them, you wouldn’t even know.
For specifics on how to generate great images with Midjourney, check out our guide on Leveraging AI for Self Storage Images.
One thing that ChatGPT is proving to be perfect for is sifting through vast amounts of data that would normally take a human hours, and then providing insights in seconds. You can copy and paste data into it or upload a CSV and ask the AI questions about it. As with many of the applications of AI today, to make the most of it, you need to take the time to give it the right input. In this scenario, you’ll need to have a clear idea of what you could learn from the data provided, otherwise, you’re unlikely to glean much useful information from it.
The good news is the self storage industry is already a big fan of data. As a result, most self storage software will let you export it in a form that’s pretty much ready to be parsed by tools like ChatGPT (once anonymised). This one’s a no-brainer if you have access to good data and feel like you’re missing key insights.
To help, read our guide on Leveraging AI for Self Storage Data Analysis (coming soon) to see dozens of examples of data you can upload to ChatGPT to be analysed, and get inspiration for what questions to ask.
Customer Service and Sales
Customer service in self storage comes in various forms, be it a phone call, a walk-in to a reception or a support agent behind a chat interface on your website. They all ultimately do the same thing. They provide a customer, or potential customer, with the information they require in a given moment to help inform decisions and actions.
There is a place for AI to help in this realm, but as mentioned before, without a deep understanding of your business it’s unlikely to be able to provide your customers with much of use. If you wish to be in a position to utilise AI applications in your self storage business customer service, then there’s only one real place to start — you need to write.
If you invest today in writing (and maintaining) internal and customer-facing documentation about your business, then you have a ready-made data set for an AI system to ingest and utilise on your behalf. We firmly believe this is something you should be doing anyway, especially on your website for your customers. Regardless of whether an AI is regurgitating this information to visitors and customers or not, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Once you have it, you can start to leverage AI to do things that a human would usually do. For example, there are Help Center based Chatbots that will respond to customer requests on your website with the exact info they are asking for (assuming you’ve written that up), in the same way, AI-based voice technology is moving fast and a phone conversation with an AI-agent is already possible. The base for both applications is still the same. You need to write about your business to teach it what it needs to know.
To learn what kind of things you need to document and see how you could go about today utilising tools such as chatbots to automate your support, read our guide on Leveraging AI for Self Storage Customer Service (coming soon).
If you want to be on the cutting edge and leverage AI technology in your self storage business today, then there are plenty of benefits to be had already.
The Artificial Intelligence tools available in 2023 are well-placed to speed up and automate tasks, help you parse and act on your businesses' data, and increase your chances of acquiring customers. There will be lots more to come in the next few years, too, as we’re only at the beginning of this uncharted journey into an AI-enabled world.
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