This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Mini-Storage Messenger magazine.

After you've cleaned up the party confetti and tossed the empty champagne bottles, the new year is the perfect time to revisit company goals. But where is your self storage business headed in 2017? Because your goals are only as good as your knowledge of the industry, we took a closer look at technology trends for 2017. Check out these six trends that can help you shape your business strategy for 2017.

Planner with iPhone and Apple watch.

1. More emphasis on user experience

The customer experience no longer starts when a customer walks through your front door - it starts online. Research shows that nearly 70% of your customers already find you online. 2017 will mark the first year that more of your customers will access your website from a smartphone than a computer. This means it will be more important than ever for your business to provide a seamless, consistent experience online. Make sure your business appears consistent both online and at your physical storefront.

Your website, search engine results, online reviews and online business listings all work together to bring in new leads. Make sure your website, software, gate system, payment processing and facility marketing are well-integrated to provide the best possible customer experience. Also keep in mind that outdated, incorrect or missing business information will make it harder for them to find your business.

Think of it this way: Prospective tenants interact with your website as much or more than they interact with managers at your facility. They wouldn’t want to rent from a business with a bad manager, and they won’t want to rent from a business with a bad website, either.

Girl with brown hair in a bun.

2. Technology for millennials

The millennials are growing up, and they have credit cards. More and more millennial customers are going to be walking through your front door and renting a storage unit in 2017. Having digital tools available like text reminders, online move-ins, document e-sign, online bill payment, and gate access by phone helps drive digitally connected people like this to your business. This is especially important if your business is located in an area with a lot of college students. Many college students don’t use checkbooks, and they definitely don’t want to have to write a check every month to keep their stuff in storage.

Taking your business online and setting up rent reminders and monthly auto-pay makes it easier for all your customers to pay rent on time. Many people already have the majority of their bills set up to pay automatically. With our busy lives, it can be hard to remember to pay a paper bill that was sent through the mail. Taking rent payments online makes long-term storage rental much easier for your customers. Plus, doesn't sending a bill to your customers just remind them that they still have stuff in storage? You don't want to encourage your best tenants to move out, and setting up automatic payments can encourage renters to stay longer.

The hard truth is, companies that aren’t online don’t seem to exist in the eyes of young consumers. Make sure your website is reactive and mobile compatible so that it works great and looks excellent on your customers’ smartphones, tablets, iPads and mobile devices.

Macbook emitting a rainbow-glow in the dark.

3. Paperless operations

Going paperless used to be about going green, but now it’s about much more than that. Your customers expect your business to be digitally savvy and paperless. Nowadays your customers expect nearly everything to be accessible from their smartphone. The more they can do from their phone, the easier renting a storage unit will be for them. People can already do almost everything from their smartphones, like send certified emails, make bank transfers, pay their apartment rent, make mortgage or student loan payments, view bank statements and invoices, or scan and upload their receipts into pdfs. Make sure your business isn't falling behind your competition by going paperless.

Cloud storage is expected to become even more popular in 2017. Big storage apps like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive recently came out with new, free storage plans and budget paid plans. More of your customers are going to be using digital storage for their files, and your business should follow suit. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge to going paperless is making modern technology available. Make sure your business has the tech tools needed to be paperless for your customers. Management software that works on iPads, tablets and mobile devices is a must-have. Gate software that works with your smartphone is another important tool to have. Once the tech tools are in place, set a goal to get backlogged files into your digital archive by a certain date and file all new documents digitally. When you reach your goal of going paperless, all your old records will be easily searchable and accessible from anywhere.

An iPad sitting on a desk with a cup of coffee.

4. Unmanned properties

Along with the rise in self-service rental centers, unmanned properties are expected to grow in popularity in 2017. Self storage kiosks have been growing rapidly in urban areas. The kiosk trend started about 15 years ago and has been becoming more and more popular ever since. Think of it like an ATM for self storage. Businesses with self-serve kiosks are able to remain open, unmanned for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unmanned properties with kiosks allow customers to rent on their own time using an easy, automated process that takes just a few minutes. Some service kiosks (like those from Advanced Kiosks) are able to scan a renter's driver's license and fingerprint at move-in. This identifying information helps screen out customers who may become problem renters. It also gives unmanned facilities more information for after-hours security.

The trends for 2017 are all about allowing customers to serve themselves and do more from their smartphones and mobile devices. Because of this, online move-in, self-serve stations and automated kiosks are expected to continue to grow in popularity for years to come. Self storage facilities with interactive kiosks and online move-in make renting a unit easy for new customers. These tools also free up managers to do more high-level tasks like security management, lead tracking, and marketing. Self-serve tools make renting easy, and the convenience helps bring in more digitally savvy customers.

A girl looking out the window and texting.

5. Creative communication

For effective marketing communication in 2017, companies must embrace today’s reality: on the Internet of Things (where everything from your refrigerator to Facebook is seamlessly connected), information travels at the speed of light - and the road is crowded. Texting, certified email, social media, Facebook ads, and PPC ads are flooded with marketers and advertisers all making noise and trying to attract customers from their smartphones. To stand out, your communication has to be more clever than the competition. Marketing campaigns, contests and hashtags must be executed flawlessly or else people will tune you out.

For the new year, focus on creative and fun marketing ideas. Historical marketing campaigns (like catchy jingles and “call now!” incentives) don’t work well online. The more unique your content is, the better it will perform online. Create and share a video on your blog or Facebook page. Take inspiration from trending topics and blog about something relatable to self storage. Get creative with hashtags and join relevant conversations online. Go viral by sharing a heartwarming story or good work that your self storage business is doing in the community. The meat and potatoes of marketing in 2017 is creativity. Don’t be generic or your customers will never hear you over the noise of the crowd online.

An iPad with charts and reports.

6. Data, data, data

In the Internet age, everything you do as a company is trackable with data and analytics reporting. In 2017, companies will continue to make data-driven business decisions using advanced reporting and analytics. Social analytics are still widely underused by businesses. Using social analytics is a huge opportunity for facilities looking to grow and increase their marketing effectiveness. Even integrative products, like payment processing services, produce valuable analytics.

Your software should do the same. Look for reports with advanced lead-tracking and tenant tracking capability for valuable business analytics. Daily activity and income reports are also great tools to break down what your business is doing best, and what needs improvement. Use this wealth of information to grow your business and find your niche in the community.

Heading into the new year, self storage technology trends are centered around automation and self-service tools. Customers want to help themselves from their smartphones and use automated tools like online move-in and bill pay. Tech-savvy customers will have growing purchasing power in 2017, and convenience is ultra-important to them. Using these new technology trends, your self storage business can grow and reach new heights in 2017.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: How Voice Search Will Change Local SEO, What You Need to Know About the Google Possum Algorithm Update, and 5 Key Lessons for Smooth Tenant Move-ins.