Self-storage managers spend a significant amount of time every month on the dreaded collections process while owners are losing money because customers are late on payments.
Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance, which provides products and services for the self-storage industry, believes its new service offers a novel response to that nagging situation.
The company has purchased Hub Media Marketing’s TXTCollector SMS (short media messaging) software, which automates the collections process by sending text messages to self-storage tenants whose bills are overdue. OpenTech says the software makes it easy and secure for tenants to pay their bills via a mobile device with a few clicks, or they can call to speak to a storage counselor. OpenTech has rebranded the service as XpressCollect.
Managers spend an extraordinary amount of time on collections. It’s difficult.
— Self-storage consultant and operator Marc Goodin
“Texting is really a preferred method of communication,” said Robert Chiti, OpenTech’s president and CEO. Since most tenants always have their mobile devices with them, he said it’s an effective and secure way to send payment reminders and past-due notices. “We’re now offering a service that automates one of the things that managers hate doing the most,” he said.
Self-storage owner, consultant and author Marc Goodin agrees that the collections process is time-consuming and dreaded.
“Managers spend an extraordinary amount of time on collections,” he said. “It’s difficult. You have to keep it in order. You have to keep it relevant and on time. And that’s time taken away from marketing in what’s a very competitive market.”
New way to remind tenants
Chiti said text messages garner higher response rates than a manager’s calls, direct mail and email, and they do not irritate customers like automated “robo-calls” do.
“We’ve been watching this space for a while, and after looking at the solutions currently on the market, we felt this technology was the best,” Chiti said. “We’re excited to add it to our platform so it is available for the leading property management systems. We feel the combination of our technology and personal touch of our call center storage counselors will be a complete solution.”
Chiti thinks the software will serve other purposes for the self-storage industry, but he said it’s too early to discuss details.
“We bought the technology, but it’s not just about collections,” Chiti said. “We’re going to use the technology to create other innovative services, some of which will be at no cost to our customers.”
Goodin applauds OpenTech’s business savvy.
“They take stuff that’s working in other industries and bring it into the self-storage industry,” he said. “I’m looking forward to adding it to my self-storage properties because it’s a pretty neat system.”
How Does It Work?
Each day, XpressCollect automatically scans a facility’s property management system in search of past-due tenants. Delinquent accounts then are added to the XpressCollect queue, prompting an automatic payment reminder via text, with a link to make a payment. Once the link is clicked, the tenant either can process the payment online or call the storage facility to make a payment. If the message goes unanswered, the service automatically sends additional notifications, over a set period, in an effort to collect the past-due rent.
To launch the software, OpenTech is offering current customers a free XpressCollect trial until January 2015. After that, the monthly fee will be $39 for customers using another OpenTech product or service or $49 for the stand-alone service.
Proof Is in the Pudding
Emeryville, CA-based Devon Self Storage, which operates 55 facilities in 15 states, is seeing positive results with the XpressCollect software.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in payments,” Jim Mooney, Devon’s director of operations, said in September. “Last month alone, we collected $40,000 just by people hitting that text-to-pay button. That was up almost $10,000 from the month before.”
Mooney said the automation lets Devon reach a large number of tenants at one time. For example, he said, if you’ve got 300 past-due tenants and most of them have cellphones, on the morning that the first text goes out, “you just hit 90 percent of your past-due customers in one fell swoop and your manager didn’t have to make a single phone call.”
Mooney also said XpressCollect is less intrusive than phone calls, because it allows a tenant to respond at his or her convenience without being put on the spot.
However, Mooney added that it took time to develop the program, and now all Devon managers make sure they get mobile numbers for all new customers. Before rolling it out, Devon educated its tenants on the program, including sending a mass email that included a screen shot of what the text would look like.
“Anybody who goes into it thinking you’re going to find instantaneous results, that won’t happen unless it’s set up appropriately,” Mooney said.
Mooney’s company sends past-due text messages three times a month and still follows up with phone calls when necessary.
“We use it as a tool in addition to our normal process,” Mooney said. “It took a little bit to tweak it to make sure we got it to where we think it’s successful.”
Short and Sweet
Of course, Goodin said even good ideas and systems used without common sense or good judgment can cause problems.
“Messages certainly need to be brief and friendly. Otherwise, they could upset users,” he said. “Managers have to understand more is not always better. If there’s no response from two or three texts, it’s better to take the next step and call or mail them a reminder than bombard them with more text messages.”