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Thinking it Through

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During a recent frontline training session, the group discussion focused on a common frustration we experience in our challenging world of customer service. You know the scenario: An infuriated customer yells out something like, “How was I supposed to know I couldn’t park there?!? I didn’t see any signs!! What a racket! You need to make it clear if you expect people to follow the rules!”

Sound familiar? You may have experienced a saltier version, but you get the point. When you hear a complaint like this, do you think, “Are they blind or just slow?? Who issued this person a driver’s license? The sign is obvious!!” Your assumptions about this individual’s failure to grasp the obvious could be justified … but what if it’s not?  Are we forgetting how it feels to be unfamiliar with a setting, trying to take everything in while safely maneuvering the car? Even with a passenger to help with navigation, we sometimes miss the obvious.

I shared a personal story with the group about being out of town at a parking conference. I was driving three of my parking colleagues out to dinner one evening. While Google had directed us to the restaurant, finding an open parking place remained a challenge.  I circled the area, finally finding open spaces down a small hill near the ocean. We laughed about how long it took four parking professionals to figure out the pay station equipment used in the lot. With that transaction successfully completed, we trotted off to dinner.

After a leisurely meal, we returned down the hill to the car, to now find it behind a locked gate. I felt an immediate wave of panic, as we were many miles from our hotel. How was I supposed to know the area closed at a certain hour?? Where were the signs?? Looking up … right there, on a tall post (you know, adjacent to the gate) was the sign. In my haste to make it to the restaurant on time, I missed it all. The sign, the gate, everything. Luckily, a very nice parking officer came to our rescue, opening the gate and saving the evening from ruin. (Note: He did not find the humor in my witty story about four parking professionals missing the obvious signs, but that’s another story.)

Here’s my point: Situations like this can happen to any of us. Keep your assumptions in check. Try to be empathetic. While something may seem obvious to us, we can’t assume everyone else shares our perception. The motivations and personal experience of our customers isn’t always clear. The enforcement of rules is necessary, but it doesn’t have to include passing personal judgment. Take opportunities to look at situations from the customer’s viewpoint. Could markings be clearer or does the area need maintenance? Don’t miss an opportunity to decide if a customer complaint may actually indicate a bigger issue that you may be able to improve.

Rudeness: The New Normal

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If you’ve been reading or watching the news over the last few days, you’ve undoubtedly heard about a female ESPN reporter’s comments and bad behavior directed at a towing company’s employee. In a nutshell, the car was reportedly towed for being left overnight in a restaurant parking lot. In an edited video of the interaction, we see the agitated reporter apparently berate and demean a female tow company employee, even after being advised that she is being videotaped.

Here’s my assessment of the incident: Nothing new or surprising to see here.

In all segments of the parking industry, this sort of belligerent acting out happens hundreds—if not thousands—of times each day. The difference here is that the “bad actor” happens to be a minor celebrity so it’s become buzzworthy. There is significant debate taking place regarding the fact that the video has obviously been edited and we have no idea what was really said by the tow company employee. If we set all of the “who-said-what-first” debate aside, it comes down to the greater issues of widespread intolerance, entitlement, and disrespect. Unabashed rudeness is the new norm.

During the last decade, I have had the privilege of providing training for frontline parking and transportation staff across North America.  Without exception, stories similar to the ESPN reporter’s behavior—and far worse—are shared by participants in each and every course. I’m always amazed by these stories detailing the utter lack of personal responsibility and human decency, but frankly, I’m also no longer surprised by it. A perfect example of this everyday lack of civility can be viewed by reading any of the online comments (on both sides of the issue) posted in relation to the ESPN reporter’s behavior. Many are equally as disrespectful as the reporter’s videoed comments, laced with assumptions, accusations, and intolerance.

As parking professionals, it’s critical for all of us to see past the bad behaviors we encounter. Being able to rise above condescending attitudes is a learned behavior, as this does not come naturally for most of us. We should strive to never let the bad behavior and statements of others keep us from doing and saying the right things. This can be a tall order when a customer wants to take issue with who they perceive you are or what your skill set or motivations might be.

The details surrounding the ESPN reporter’s towing incident have been broadcast globally. The situation offers each of us a timely opportunity to sit down with staff to discuss methods and techniques to successfully and professionally handle these inevitable difficult customer interactions.