It sounds like something from the future, but may be coming to a self storage facility near you…an electronic kiosk system to replace the manned front desk. Indeed this exists from place to place, but is it something that is going to end up being the norm?
Industry is very much dependent on using the cleverest blend of technology and human operators to satisfy a product demand. A process as systematic as running a self storage outlet has naturally attracted computer programmers to come up with the optimal solution to maximise efficiency, and many a facility is using software bespoke for the industry that can deal with bookings, as well as some of the management and maintenance task organisation pertaining to running a self storage outlet. However, does removing the human from the equation have any benefits, or is it just a step too far to have an almost completely automated computer system running the show for you?
The general premise of self storage kiosks is that customers can get access to or sign up for storage at any time, day or night, at any time of the year – which should mean less staff having to deal with new customers, less time spent on data entry, and more all-round business due to flexibility. It’s a bit like what banks have done with cashpoints and online banking, so that you can be in control of your finances at any time that you need to be. A self storage kiosk can greet a customer, advise on storage unit dimensions, present contract terms, take payment and provide access, logging all of the transactions on the facility’s management software.
It all sounds very brave new world, and I suppose it is, but will kiosks ever be a suitable replacement for a manned front desk? This all reminds me of the new fangled unmanned supermarket checkouts we are now frequently asked to use, leaving customers to effectively do their own buying and packing. Nice idea in theory, but until a customer gets the knack of it, you need an employee to handhold them through the process, when they may as well have had the checking out done for them in the tried and traditional manner all along. An important ingredient of retail is customer service, and if this is lacking or is too heavy on mechanical stand-off-ish-ness then that puts off some people. Customers, especially when entering a long contracted service, are going to want some discussion about what they are entering into with a real human surely, especially for something as tangible as storing their own property? Similarly, storage facility staff might want to have something of a glimpse of the person behind the name and employ some customer rapport, use some of their human discretion in carrying out the diligence checks, and if necessary negotiate or introduce the customer to other services provided by the company.
It seems kiosks can well serve a purpose for automating some of the elementary self storage front-end functions. But it is a trade-off being introducing extra speed and efficiency, for losing something at the interpersonal customer service level. It’s worth thinking about…
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