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August 8, 2023
Disclaimer: This post was not written by AI. Unless I’m an unwitting digital construct programmed to believe he’s human. But then, why would I be so tired?
AI, or artificial intelligence, is everywhere you look these days.
Every tech company on the planet is powering their services with new, cutting-edge AI innovations - but what does this actually mean?
Join StoragePug as we break down what artificial intelligence can and can’t do for your storage facility!
The term “AI” gets thrown around a lot, partly because it’s the hot topic right now and partly because it’s not very well defined. There is no legal standard defining what’s AI and what isn’t - just like “natural” in the grocery store, it means whatever the seller decides it means!
Storage operators don’t often have time to dive deep into every new feature, but they don’t want to get left behind either.
Online rentals were an unnecessary vanity not long ago. Now, it’s hard to fill up a facility without that option.
In this article, we’ll go over the newest, shiniest tech and break down whether or not you need to worry about it yet.
One good definition of AI is “a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds.” Using this, AI is simply a machine that can do stuff we thought only humans could do.
Often, the term is applied to machine learning, in which the machine is programmed to go and find patterns, rather than having the patterns built into the code.
For example, a machine learning algorithm may be taught how to move chess pieces on a digital board, but not which moves to play. Instead, it’s taught to try all moves and then assign value to those that lead to victory. The AI does this trillions of times, and by the end it knows better than any human which chess moves win the game.
Lots of different technologies fall under the modern “AI” umbrella, but most of them have to do with broad-based pattern recognition.
One reason these machine learning AIs are booming right now is that the amount of data they have access to has exploded too. There are more web pages than people on earth, and the big AI names, like ChatGPT, have access to all of them.
Finally, the machines have as many examples of language as they do of good chess moves.
When analysts say “big data,” they usually mean quantities of data that are too large for our old software to deal with - certainly too big for humans to handle.
These massive collections of information can be incredibly useful for businesses, but we need machines paired with human analysts to derive useful insights from them.
Self storage businesses use big data analytics to understand the behavior of their customer base, predict what will happen next, and make decisions based on this information.
Big data can help target marketing initiatives, such as Google or Facebook ad campaigns targeting people who might be interested in renting a storage unit. Big data can also help manage rates by tracking rate changes across the internet.
Big data can enable your software to suggest relevant amenities to your customer - moving boxes or a climate-controlled unit - by understanding which customers tend to buy what under which circumstances.
AI chatbots, kiosks, and dynamic pricing all rely on big data aggregation to understand the needs of a customer.
Those technologies aren’t the exciting ones today, though. We’ve been able to do this sort of thing for years, even if the actual use cases have been shifting.
No, the excitement comes from generative AI.
This includes ChatGPT and its competitors, such as Google’s Bard, and it inclues art-creating AI such as DALL-E, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and others.
Generative AI can do things that computers haven’t been able to do. Stuff we assumed only people could do - like creating art.
Really, this is almost an inversion of the Big Data analytics. Instead of pulling patterns out of data, it takes the patterns it learned and creates data that fits the pattern!
Still, it takes huge numbers of human input to determine what we mean when we ask it for a picture of “a bird.”
The machine tries millions of iterations and tests them against the patterns it has learned. Then the algorithm asks actual people to say “yes, that looks like a bird,” or “no, that’s clearly a nightmare a bird once had.”
The chat-based ones can pull information from across the internet to answer your questions in a similar way - putting words in the order it has learned humans want it to. You’ll get “hallucinations” because sometimes the algorithm decides to give you what it thinks you want; it’s hard to program truth.
Of course, the versions of DALL-E or ChatGPT that we see have already been through these trainings, so they sound and look fantastic, magical… even human.
The technology is without a doubt impressive, but is it really going to transform the economy? Are we on the cusp of colonizing the solar system - and if so, will we need storage facilities there?
Self storage operators are finding ways to utilize new technology, but for the moment the AI revolution is only making our existing tech better, rather than changing the landscape.
Lots of companies have started using generative AI like ChatGPT to write content for them - including when they build websites.
StoragePug does not use AI in our content process, either for our own blog (hi) or for the websites we build for our clients. Sure, we’ve played around with ChatGPT and sometimes use it to brainstorm blog titles and the like, but all the content on our websites was written by a real person.
Because Google and other search engines don’t love AI-written content. AI content doesn’t rank as highly on search engines, because AI content does not have Authority, Experience, and Expertise, three massively important ranking factors.
Generative AI scrapes other sources for information, and the search engine can’t track those sources. On the other hand, posts written by authors with an extensive history of providing valuable insights on a topic - or at the very least humans who may have experience with the topic - are a source in themselves.
You know those annoying “prove you’re not a robot” tests that you have to do to log in to websites sometimes? Basically, Google’s robots are giving those tests to AI-generated content and finding them wanting.
Ironic, I know, but good for us human writers! (Which is the most “he’s probably a robot” sentence I’ve ever written
Here are a few technologies to keep your eye on when you’re improving your storage facility!
What are chatbots in self storage? ChatGPT and its competitors are the next evolution in chatbots and autocomplete.
These are supercharged versions of the program in your phone that suggests the next word in a text message. Not only can the algorithms predict what word comes next in a sentence, they can predict what sentence comes next in a paragraph.
Chatbots can answer questions, form complete “thoughts,” and communicate with customers.
Are self storage chatbots useful?
Yes! Self storage chatbots can be incredibly useful in the right context. They’re great for providing information to your customers that might otherwise require a manager. Instead, your manager can spend their time on other, more difficult tasks.
There are different levels of chatbot as well, ranging from simple ones that can answer common questions to machine-learning chatbots that can interact with your customers to better understand their queries.
For most self storage operators, the simple chatbots are good enough. People aren’t clicking into your site hoping for a conversation with a robot - they need answers to simple questions (do you have any 10x20 units available?) that a chatbot can easily find out for them.
Swivl is one popular option for self storage chatbots. These AI helpers can reduce the calls sent to a call center and help you improve conversion. They’re also always on, so customers can find help and rent units even when you’ve locked up the office and gone home.
What is self storage rate management?
Rate management is the practice of keeping your rates even with the market. Since the market is always fluctuating, it’s tricky to keep up with the changes!
Rate management software can adjust your rates constantly to keep them near what the market is looking for. That means instead of manually adjusting the price of your 5x5 every six months (or longer), your software can do it for you. A good algorithm can also adjust downwards if you’re not finding the demand you want.
Is rate management software useful?
If you’re running a single small facility, though, the cost of the software may not be worth the extra money it might be able to bring you. On the other hand, if you’re growing your business and haven’t already gotten a handle on rate management, AI rate software can make a big difference.
What is lien automation for self storage?
Automating self storage liens can make the entire process much easier and less expensive. While auctions can theoretically make you so money, it’s far more common to lose money on a delinquent tenant overall.
Automation software can help you recoup the lost money with the least possible effort. Be sure you choose an option that can integrate with your self storage software. If your lien automation program, such as AI Lean, can’t talk to your PMS, it won’t be nearly as effective.
Is lien automation useful?
Yes, but it shouldn’t be your first priority. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on liens and auctions, automating the process can free you up to take care of other tasks. If liens aren’t a big part of your business, then adding automation won’t bring as big a benefit.
Either way, lien automation is a time saver rather than a money maker. Still useful, but not the game-changer that is often promised with new tech.
How does AI surveillance work in self storage?
Video surveillance helps to deter thieves and vandals - and it can help you determine what happened on the property if something goes wrong. If someone backs into your storage unit, surveillance cameras can encourage the offender to make it right, rather than pretend it never happened.
AI can improve your surveillance capabilities by monitoring the cameras and detecting intruders, then alerting a video monitor to determine what to do.
This gives your surveillance a chance to actually prevent incidents, rather than just responding to them. Some systems have a way to give audio warnings to welcome visitors or can even alert the police - and having a human monitoring the system can help avoid false alarms.
Is AI surveillance useful?
Yes, if you have security problems or if your customers would want the amenity. Security is very important to self storage renters and if you upgrade to AI monitoring, you should let them know.
If you find yourself dealing with off-the-clock incidents often, AI software such as Blue Eye could help monitor the facility when you’re not there. Using AI surveillance during business hours isn’t as useful because it’s impossible to determine a valid customer from a thief just through the cameras.
If you’re open 24/7, the software won’t be as helpful.
At the moment, the biggest thing AI can do for your self storage business is improve the things you’re already doing - security, customer service, rate management, and auctions.
You can also utilize AI such as ChatGPT to make writing and maintaining a blog easier - but a self storage blog isn’t that useful for your website anyways.
That doesn’t mean that AI won’t revolutionize the industry, but at the moment it’s just enhancing, rather than changing, best practices. The same principles that have served you well will continue to do so - automate to provide a good customer experience, automate to save time, and don’t automate the parts that need a human touch.
Your customers have an important vote in how much you automate too - some communities will love new tech, while others would rather nothing change. Some AI options can be implemented entirely on your end, while others require customer buy-in.
You know your business best! AI is always evolving, and you can jump on the train whenever it makes sense for you.
Don’t worry about missing the boat.
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