Hashtagging Parking

Jeff Petry

Hashtags (preceding a word with the # symbol, such as #parking) were popularized by Twitter many years ago and have since found 2013-10-11 20.12.52their way into more places on the internet and social media. Sites such as Instagram, Vine, and Facebook, use hashtags to quickly link photos, videos, and comments across all of their users. It’s easy and there is no naming convention–type #parking into your search engine (or follow the link) and view the images it returns. Hashtag your organization, city, or parking program in the search box to see what your customers are saying!

So, how do you hashtag your program? It is important to understand what is out there. I use the Flipboard app on my iPad to track hashtagged words across all social media sites. If we dig deep enough, I am pretty sure most of our parking programs will come up under #parkingtickets and #parkingmeter. The trick for us is to do things that people want to hashtag in a positive light.

For example, my program, Epark Eugene, experienced some issues with customers having trouble locating multi-space meters on a busy street. We partnered with our city’s public art program to hire a local artist to paint (and protective coat) five of our meter housings. The project’s goals were to make it easier to find parking by:

  • Adding color to everyday parking objects.
  • Incorporating art that is identifiable at 25 miles an hour.
  • Including the universally-accepted “P” image.

Success is measured by increased meter use, reduced citations, and social media mentions of the new art using hashtags. See the Instagram photo in this post? It worked!
2013-10-19 20.34.11

Another project that used hashtags and social media to build positive messages around parking tapped into the current zombie craze. Downtown Eugene has a 1976 era parking garage with heavy duty steel doors that present a prison look in our stairways and have not worked in decades. Our parking supervisor painted the doors bright red and hung a sign that read, “Close Gate In Case of Zombie Outbreak.” We get nothing but smiles from this cool sign in a parking garage in downtown Eugene.

Just when we were getting used to and printing QR codes, along comes another technology tool! This one is really easy, so hastag your parking program!

Openness and Innovation

L. Dennis Burns

How can parking be the same, and yet so different, in every community?

Whether the community is a downtown or a university or a medical campus (or any number of other specialized environments), its fundamental parking elements are essentially the same. Yet the dynamics of special operational considerations, economics, politics, social factors, historical context, and even individual personalities combine to create an almost infinite variety of unique combinations that make every parking program a case study in uniqueness.

Sometimes the defining characteristic can be a lack of management when small communities are just evolving to the point where growing demand is creating the need for basic parking management. Other programs are characterized by a hardening of the arteries and a lack of vision or innovation. Still others are choked by a fragmented or dysfunctional organizational structure. On a more positive note, we also have an increasing number of examples of programs that have evolved into well-developed and sophisticated access management programs in which a broad range of parking, transportation alternatives, planning, and economic development strategies are effectively integrated to help support and advance a community’s larger strategic goals.

After many years of evaluating parking programs all over the country, I have learned a few simple, but important lessons.

One of these is to value your first visit to a new place–you will never get a second chance to experience a place for the first time. If you are sensitive to this experience and pay close attention, these initial impressions can be quite valuable.

A second related lesson is to appreciate the unique elements of a new place. It is easy to get jaded by long experience and think you have seen it all. But staying open to new approaches and accepting that there are always new methods, different tactics, and creative new applications of old concepts is critical to staying fresh, perceptive, and creative.

All this reminds me of two old quotes: The first is, “Nothing is stronger than habit.” (Ovid) and the second is, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” (Albert Einstein).

Here’s to keeping an open mind. Cheers.

Great Customer Service. Really.

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Like all of you, I appreciate good customer service. It often drives my purchase decisions–and loyalty–far beyond any price consideration. This is especially true with the service businesses I engage, and that’s why I was pleased the first time I took my car to a nearby dealership. After finishing up the repair, they washed my car and returned it nice and clean. They have continued to do this every time I take my car there, whether it’s for a big job or something small like an oil change. I understand that the cost of this service is included in my bill but I don’t mind. It’s a small thing that, in addition to offering what I think is a fair price for quality service, keeps me coming back. That’s why my last trip was especially disappointing.

We had a repair done a few months ago and it turns out that the mechanics misdiagnosed the problem and replaced the wrong part. We brought it back a short time later, explained that the problem was still there, and deduced that the wrong thing had been replaced. After a little back and forth they agreed to replace the part free of charge. I considered that option the only reasonable solution, and was slightly put off by their initial suggestion that we pay for the second repair without any credit for the first. Sure, they offered to knock 15 percent off, but I wasn’t having anything of it. Later in the day they called to say the job was done and I was free to pick up my car … my dirty car. Apparently the “free” carwash is only provided when I open my wallet for something else first.

A company’s commitment to customer service must be complete and genuine. It can’t just happen when money is exchanged and it certainly can’t take place only when things go well. In fact, the time to double down on exceptional customer service is when things haven’t gone all that well. A company distinguishes itself from its competitors and shows its core values in the face of mistakes. You’re either completely about customer service or you aren’t, and customers will quickly figure out which is true and either give you their loyalty or take their dollars elsewhere.

 

 

 

Are You More Prepared Than a Congressman?

Shawn Conrad

The same day New York Congressman Michael Grimm physically threatened a news reporter following President Obama’s State of the Union Address, IPI conducted its annual Media Training seminar for 35 Certified Administrator of Public Parking (CAPP) candidates. This two-day course has been offered by IPI for more than 20 years, becoming more relevant as parking grows as a popular subject with many media outlets.

Parking professionals regularly find themselves sought-out by reporters seeking input on new management approaches or technology improvements. We live in a 24/7 new cycle, and everything big (and not-so-big) is newsworthy.  Cue the misbehaving teen pop singer.

IPI’s Media Training session began with the question, “How many of you think the media is on your side?”  Not one participant raised his hand. The instructors, not surprised by this reaction, leapt at the chance to showcase all of the ways a person being interviewed can get his messages across, showing our CAPP candidates how to tell their stories when the cameras arrive. Being prepared for an interview helps you not only get your message across, but also helps alleviate any anxiety you might have before the microphone is thrust in your face.

Every time a parking professional looks into a camera, clips on a microphone, or speaks at an event covered by reporters is a chance to get an organization’s message across. When you look and act confident and provide useful information to a reporter’s questions, you serve as an effective ambassador for the parking industry.

Contrary to popular belief, most reporters are just trying to get the story accurately and on time. They aren’t out there to ask “gotcha” questions or make you look uninformed. Preparation is key.

You’ll be glad to know that just as IPI offers education modules on technology, payment systems, and sustainability at state and regional meetings, thanks to our Parking Matters® committee, we are currently developing a media training module that should be ready in the fall. We’ll all benefit from having more parking ambassadors prepared to talk about all the positives in parking.

IPI’s Media Training seminars are conducted to a growing audience ever year. My hope is that you never find yourself asked questions that don’t pertain to the subject area you originally agreed to address. But if you do, media training will give you the skills to handle it on a much more appropriate and less risky way than a certain congressman from New York.

 

 

March Madness (In a Good Way)

Bridgette Brady

March is the start of conference season for the IPI Allied State and Regional Associations and unlike your March Madness brackets, these conferences are guaranteed winners.

The Mid-South Parking and Transportation Association (MSPTA) conference will be held in Chattanooga, Tenn., March 3-5. “A popular staple for our conference has been front-line customer service training,” comments Jennifer Tougas, MSPTA president. “Oftentimes, this leads to staff coming back to work with a greater appreciation of their role in the department and a greater understanding of why Parking Matters®.

The New England Parking Council (NEPC) is back in Boston this year. The NEPC’s conference will be held in the heart of Boston’s New Innovation District at the Seaport Hotel, March 11-12. NEPC hosted 240 parking professionals in Hartford last year, and they expect more in Boston.

The Texas Parking & Transportation Association (TPTA) will hold its conference at the South Shore Harbour Resort & Conference Center in League City, Texas, March 24-27. About 200 parking professionals will meet for this three-day conference that includes educational sessions, a golf outing, an evening event, vendor exhibits, and roundtable discussions.

Further supporting IPI’s partnership with the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), the Pacific Intermountain Parking and Transportation Association (PIPTA) will host its Transportation Summit in Salt Lake City with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of ACT (RMACT), April 10-11.

If you are looking for some southern hospitality, the Parking Association of Georgia’s (PAG) conference and tradeshow will focus on planning, mobility, and parking. PAG’s conference will be held at the Hilton Savannah Desoto Hotel in Savannah, Georgia, April 16-18.

If you haven’t attended an IPI Allied Association conference, you really need to. “Attending the Florida Parking Association (FPA) was a very emotional and amazing experience,” says Liliana Rambo, CAPP, chair of IPI’s Board of Directors. “The educational sessions were spectacular, the events were fun, and of course the food was delicious. Having the opportunity to talk, network and reunite with long-time friends and parking colleagues was priceless.”

For more information about your State and Regional Association, please visit http://www.parking.org/about-ipi/ipi-allied-associations

Elevator Pitch

Frank L. Giles

You get onto an elevator with a total stranger, you both say good morning to each other, and then he looks at you and asks, “So what do you do?” You now have 30 seconds to explain your job–Go!

Most of us know what an elevator pitch is: the 30-second speech we give when encountering someone who wants to know who we are and what we and our companies do. That’s usually easy enough, except this is the parking industry and explaining that bit alone is enough to eat up 30 seconds and then some. As parking professionals, I don’t think we can afford to wing it when it comes to our elevator pitches. In an industry as under-appreciated as parking, we have to have that speech locked and loaded.

One trick I use is to forgo my name and title until the very end. I start right off explaining my operation, and then go into how what I do might affect my new acquaintance or how the parking industry affects things like traffic, property value, and quality of life. If there is time, I’ll give my name and title (if they were really interested, they’ll ask anyway).

Of course, you have to tailor your own elevator pitch to suit you, but it’s something that requires proactive thought. Don’t be caught off-guard. The parking deck may be our office, but the elevator is our media room.

 

Have a great elevator speech? Send it to Kim Fernandez for a future feature article.

On a Mission

Bridgette Brady

When asked his profession, the brick layer responded to his son, “I build cities.” His conviction influenced the behavior of the boy, who grew up to be a very successful and highly-regarded leader in the apparel industry. His son committed to lead and engage employees through the development of a company vision that paralleled his father’s understanding of the importance of his profession.

I discovered this story while researching behaviors of effective leaders and it has resonated strongly with me since. The most effective leaders are able to translate the biggest of pictures into a strategic mission and actionable plans. It seems in this context, the big picture is the preface to the mission: It is the simplest way to communicate the importance of a profession. Mission statements are where we start for strategic planning, but do they communicate why we need a mission?

As access management professionals, we know what we do is important, that it matters, and that every single person is affected by our efforts every day. However, when I’m asked about my profession in casual conversation and reply with, “I provide transportation services at a university,” I get cricket noises and blank stares. I wonder if saying, “I move futures,” would frame a different conversation and pique interest. I then envision following up with my saying, “How, might you ask?” Assuming they hang around for the answer, I’d then go on with, “My department provides transportation services to an entire university–an organization dedicated to shaping futures.”

Whether for organizations, firms, or individuals, the big picture is different, demonstrating the diverse needs of our industry’s customers, constituents, and stakeholders. It also confirms that we are widely important in the grand scheme of things–in the big picture.

 

News Year’s Resolution: Customer Service

L. Dennis Burns

I recently read an article by Andreas von der Heydt entitled, “Improving and Exceeding at Customer Service. Really Exceeding at it!

I know it sounds like something so fundamental that it almost goes without saying, but as I reflect on 2013 and the colleagues and peers who inspired me, those who rose to the top of the list are the ones who really care. They care about responsiveness and exceed expectations (both their customers’ and their own). They embody the essence of caring about delivering quality in all they do, and that caring separates good professionals and companies from the best ones.

In his article, von der Heydt outlined several keys to creating and maintaining an exceptional customer service culture that struck a chord with me:

  • Offer a good and reliable product/service. Be willing to change or adjust it and perhaps even your business model if needed.
  • Put customer-focused thinking at the center of everything. Customer service is not a department. It´s an attitude and everybody´s job! It needs to be at the very core of every successful company´s DNA. Practice it every day.
  • Treat all your customers with the same high level of sincere respect and make your customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. Your job is to help make them successful.
  • Train, excite, and empower your staff. That means everyone–not just your customer service reps. Employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation.
  • Use leading technology. Tailor it to your unique business and customer needs. Customers define the systems and IT structure required to provide outstanding customer service.
  • Never stop learning and improving. Think ahead. Anticipate future needs and wants (and possible problems) of your customers. Always go a step further. Get constant feedback.

As Robert M. Pirsig said in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

Parking in the Middle

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

The girl from Ipanema goes parking!

On a cold and wet night a few weeks ago, I made my way to London’s Heathrow Airport to board a flight to São Paulo, Brazil for Expo Parking, organized in cooperation with Abrapark (the Brazilian Parking Association) and IPI.

I 100 percent admit that I was expecting it to be a very slow four days on the expo floor . How wrong I was! The story is in the numbers: thousands of feet of exhibition space, 100 exhibitors, and crowds of industry attendees.

The first thing that hit me upon landing in São Paulo was the sheer volume of cars on the road, and that this congestion lasts all day, every day. A short journey from Sao Paulo International Airport to my hotel should have taken 20 minutes; two and a half hours later, I was still stuck in traffic.

The main problem is that Brazil’s roads are not built for its current car ownership boom. In 2012, the number of cars on the road rose to a staggering 42.2 million. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending who you ask), present-day public transport is not a viable option.

These two problem areas formed the basis for discussions at the Third Brazilian Parking Conference, held during Expo Parking 2013 in São Paulo last month. The conference, organized by Abrapark, focused on urban mobility, and of course, parking was high on the agenda. The age old chicken-egg scenario was debated at length: do parking lots encourage car use? Needless to say, we did not reach a definitive conclusion.

After a few days of meetings and talking to people on the show floor, it soon became apparent that urban development is at the top of everyone’s agenda in both government and business circles. What I hadn’t realized was that parking is seen as an important ally in this development.

As of 2012, Brazil had 34 international airports, 458 shopping centers, and 661 sports stadiums and that number is on the increase–as is the number of parking spots needed! It was nice to see parking taking an advisory role in the quest to figure out what to do with all those cars.

 

Evolution

Dave Feehan

In parking, as in life, the best usually prevails–but not always.

When automobiles first came on the scene, gasoline-powered cars competed with electrics, steamers, and diesels. Eventually, gasoline won out, although electric-powered cars are more efficient and both steam- and diesel-powered engines produce more torque. Essentially, gasoline’s convenience that won the day.

Consider recorded music: We evolved from 8-tracks to cassettes, CDs, and now to iPods and cloud storage.

In video, VHS won out over Betamax, and Blu-ray defeated HD DVD. Was VHS better? Is Blu-ray really better? Some would argue that the defeated technologies were actually superior.

So, which technology will dominate the parking meter field in years to come? They all pretty much accept credit cards, so that’s a settled issue. But is pay-by-space, pay-and display, or pay-by-plate better? Are multi-space meters better than single-space? Will meters as we know them be made obsolete by pay-by-cell?

I asked a handful of IPI members I consider leading experts, and they pretty much all agreed that pay-by-cell is the single unifying technology that will dominate. But in the meantime, what should a city, parking authority, or private entity do to provide customers with the most efficient and customer-friendly–or at least the least annoying–form of parking meter?

Pay-and-display has the largest market share in the U.S. and Europe. Customers like the portability of pay-by-space; they’re buying time, not a particular space. The big drawback is that it makes pay-by-cell difficult. Pay-by-space has its proponents, but it can be tricky in cold-weather cities where snow makes for real problems. Pay-by-plate has made some inroads, but it too has problems in cold-weather cities and with U.S. license plates that are not always linear.

The jury is still out. The gripes I hear from customers are not so much related to which type of meter, but to meters that seem to take forever to process information and print receipts, screens that are difficult to read or are poorly placed, and kiosks that are badly signed or hidden by other street elements. A well-designed meter that is easy to read, fast to process, and conveniently located–and that accepts pay-by-cell–is still the best choice.