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The Lost Ticket: But How Does it End?

campbell crop Capture

I think of myself as an optimist. Keeping that in mind, let’s say I recently “created the opportunity” to fully experience the effect of losing my airport parking ticket/gate coupon. Perhaps a few of you have experienced that same sense of dread when you’ve frantically searched for that confounded date/time-stamped ticket to no avail. In my case, I returned to the airport after midnight with no attendant on duty, and no way to pay the $72 parking fee I rightfully owed. No, my only immediate option was to pay out the lost ticket fee … of $350.00. Pretty steep punishment for being disorganized. Having said that, I know the rules and why they exist, so I paid the full fee, whimpered a little (or a lot), and figured I’d call the parking management company the next day to explain my plight.

As I placed the call to the airport parking office, there were two thoughts going through my mind:

  1. This must happen a lot. There’s likely an appeal process for forgetful morons like me.
  2. No matter the outcome, this customer service contact is going to become a story to use during future customer service training sessions. Whether it’s a going to be a good story or a bad story has yet to be determined.

I called the number and immediately went to voicemail. The friendly, outgoing message from the parking supervisor informed me that she would call back within the hour. (Oh yes, I would be timing it.) Sure enough, within 10 minutes, I had a return call. I began my explanation with an apology for my error as well as a clear assumption that there would be a process by which I could receive a partial refund. Without hesitation, the parking supervisor told me not to worry, this kind of thing happens frequently. When I told her that I had not yet located my ticket, she further assured me that there was a simple process to verify my actual parking use at the airport and once that could be confirmed, she assured me that a refund would be processed. During the entire call, her voice tone was friendly and understanding. Everything about this interaction alleviated my concerns and confirmed that there was a caring, knowledgeable parking professional on the job.

After our business conversation concluded, I let her know that I was also in the parking industry and commended her for how well she handled this customer service interaction. “Wendy” went on to tell me that she’s been in the parking service industry for more than 23 years and she loves what she does for a living. She feels good about being able to help people with their parking issues and concerns. I told her that feeling came through loud and clear.

Needless to say, I’m adding this to the list of good stories to be told during future trainings.

Choice or Convenience?

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

A friend of mine from the U.K. parking fraternity was recently asked to create a presentation on the topic of “Parking: A Matter of Choice or Convenience?Among the areas he would be looking at was why, given a choice, would anyone actively choose to park in your car park? He called me as he knew that I regularly looked through our survey responses/customer feedback and perhaps I might be able supply some useful anecdotes and sound bites.

So I embarked on my fact-finding mission and began to dig deep into our parking data … luckily for me, he only needed U.K. stats! What I found surprised me.

When it comes to parking, the most commonly asked question is about how much it will cost, with an overwhelming 80 percent of all motorists using our site requesting this information when booking a parking space.

The next most frequently asked question when booking a parking spot is, perhaps unsurprisingly, about the exact address and zipcode, with 70 percent of motorists wanting this information to enter into navigating devices.

My research also revealed the top 10 most requested cities when it comes to motorists looking for somewhere to park, and perhaps rather surprisingly, it’s not the capital (London) in first place! The North of the U.K. leads the top of the chart with Leeds as the most popular request, followed closely by York, with Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton rounding out the top five. In fact, London ranked sixth for most requested cities!

Top 10 Parking Requests, 2014-2015

  1. Price.
  2. Zipcode.
  3. Opening hours.
  4. Height restrictions.
  5. Safety info ( e.g. does it have CCTV, is it secure etc).
  6. Toilets.
  7. Handicapped parking info.
  8. Parent and child spaces.
  9. Motorcycle spaces.
  10. Payment info (coins, credit cards, pay by mobile).

On a lighter note, I also stumbled across the following data:

  • One-third of U.K. drivers forget where their cars were parked. And it appears to be a battle of the sexes: 24 percent of men and 32 percent of women admit to not knowing where their cars were left.
  • Motorists living in Wales may have some of the best driving roads around but have the worst luck remembering where they’ve left their cars—nearly 40 percent say they had trouble finding their cars in a car park.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, motorists in London reported the least trouble, with only 18 percent having forgotten where they left their cars.
  • When it comes to age, motorists age 55-64 were most likely to forget where they had parked, their car followed by 18-24 year-olds.

I wonder how the Brits compare to the other parkers around the world.


Valet: Just Do It!

Frank L. Giles

I recently had a chance to work a full shift as a valet. I don’t mean manage the operation or supervise a valet team—I mean park and pull cars for customers Sport shoes isolated on whitebefore making that mad dash back to the station. Gettin’ back to maroots! Needless to say, the experience was both exhilarating and exhausting. I thought I was out of shape before, but now I know.

What I gained from the experience other than some sore muscles was a healthy respect for the athletic component of valet. I even think they should have their own shoe. Imagine for a second, an inconspicuous all-black running shoe complete with arch support and traction. It could simply be called “The Valet.” I would buy a pair. I fact, it might be a good way to insure complete uniformity of the operation.

So how about it Nike or Reebok, why not take advantage of this untapped market of parking athletes? Just be sure to send me my cut.

Cleveland Clinic CARES About Parking Symposium: Oct. 28-29

2015 symposium logo

We invite you to join us for the 3rd Annual Cleveland Clinic CARES About Parking Symposium,held in cooperation with the International Parking Institute (IPI) and Parking Solutions, Inc. This year’s event will take place October 28 and 29 at the InterContinental Hotel and Convention Center located on the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus in Cleveland, Ohio.2015 symposium logo

What began in 2013 as the award winning Cleveland Clinic Parking Services Team sharing its innovative CARES model (Customer Experience, Available Parking, Responsible Finance, Engaged Employees, Sustainable Business), has transformed into a highly interactive event where healthcare professionals from all over the world come together and network, initiate dynamic discussions, share best practices, and more.

This year’s theme is Driving ForwardUsing Technology, Data, and Best Practices to Improve Your Transportation and Parking Operations. Hospitals and parking organizations from all over the country will be attending and sharing their best practices and lessons learned related to this year’s theme.

Here are a few of this year’s highlights:

  • Keynote speaker: Gordon M. Snow, Cleveland Clinic Chief of Protective Services.
  • Guest speakers include representatives from:
    • IPI’s Technology Committee.
    • The Cleveland Clinic.
    • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
    • Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
    • Lehigh Valley Health Network.
    • Oregon Health & Science University.
    • More to be announced soon.
    • Topics will include Cyber Security Threats, Valet Successes, Valet Parking Technology, Transportation Management Planning, Commute Trip Reduction Laws, Alternative Modes of Transportation, Patient Experience, Shuttle Bus Conversion from Diesel Fuel to Natural Gas, Managing Employee Expectations, Ambassador Services, Shuttle Bus Technology, License Plate Recognition, and Inventory Management, and more!
      • The parking services team at the Cleveland Clinic Parking Services operates 44,000 spaces, 11 garages, 116 surface lots, 50,000 internal customers and 24 valet locations. They were awarded the 2013 Silver Award from the Partnership for Excellence (Malcom Baldridge State Level Program). This award is the nations highest honor for performance excellence through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. The mission of Cleveland Clinic Parking Services is to provide safe and convenient parking while constantly seeking innovations that enhance quality and service, operating fiscally responsible, and contributing to a healthy environment.

We are very excited about this year’s event and hope you can join us. Please visit to learn more and register for the event.

Contact me directly at or 614.453.1507 with any questions.


Guest Blogger Jeremy Robinson is marketing manager with Parking Solutions, Inc.

Labor Day, Smiles, and Flies


Merriam-Webster provides several definitions for the word “labor,” including “the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by entrepreneurs for profits,” and “an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages.”

As Labor Day approaches in the U.S., I think of the workers in our society and especially frontline staff. Restaurant servers, hotel housekeepers, flight attendants, valet drivers, bellmen, ticket takers, toll booth workers—these are all folks I encounter in my work and in my personal life. They work hard, often for less-than-great wages, and some rely on tips. These workers usually go unnoticed—they’re part of the scenery—until we have an emotional reaction, whether negative or positive.

We definitely remember when we have a negative experience. Like when the gate agent changes your seat assignment even though you paid for a window seat wingfront. The reason given is that it’s a small aircraft and they have to evenly distribute the weight. There is no apology for the inconvenience or offer to refund the seat assignment charge. That can leave a bad taste in your mouth for flying in general but particularly for that air carrier, right?

Similarly, we also remember when we have an excellent customer service experience. The frazzled and overwhelmed restaurant hostess who seats your party of five in a better table because she remembers you from lunch earlier in the day. The shopkeeper who strikes up a conversation with you because she can tell you’re not from the area and she wants to be sure you feel welcome in her city.

It’s easy to have the attitude, “Well that’s their job; they are in customer service.” Yes, of course it would be wonderful if all frontline workers were cheery at all times. They may not realize just how much their demeanor can affect the perception of the company by the end user.

But it is our responsibility as customers to realize these are hard workers who deserve respect, kindness, and patience. The old saying that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar is true and goes both ways. A smile and kind word can go a long way to better someone’s day. (For the record, I never understood why anyone wanted to attract flies, but I digress…)

So as Labor Day plans likely include travel, eating out, and gathering with friends and family, be sure to be kind to those who are working on the long weekend.

Just Listen

Jeff Petry

The main parking line rings at my desk and I grab the calls when my co-worker, Heidi, is away. Our parking calls are the norm–where to purchase a parking permit, how to pay for a parking ticket, or inquiring whether a permit is available at an address in our residential permit program. Two of today’s phone calls, however, were cause for reflection and a reminder to just listen and enjoy every day:

  • Confused about jurisdictions: A resident called to complain about a vehicle stored on the street. We always lead with going to our website to report the stored vehicle to educate the public that this option is available any time and the information feeds directly into our officers’ smartphones to respond to the complaint. The resident was good with going online to fill out the information for stored vehicles. He had a second question, however, about a vehicle parked at the end of his cul de sac. My parking sensors immediately perked up, sensing that this may be a private road where the city does not have the authority to enforce the parking code. I checked the address in our geographic information system (GIS) database and sure enough, it was a private road; the development’s staff will have to address the issue.  Resident was not happy with this jurisdiction-shifting response but it was a private road. Since I was in the GIS database, I double checked the jurisdiction of the first complaint of a stored vehicle. Sure enough, the road segment was county managed and the city has no authority to enforce the parking code. Resident was not happy, again. The phone call concluded with a typical set of comments about government, jurisdictions, and overall confusion. This phone call has re-energized me to engage the county staff to see if an intergovernmental agreement can reached whereby the city can enforce storage/abandoned vehicle complaints on county property located within the City of Eugene’s boundaries in effort to better serve our community.
  • Survival Story: My second phone call was about 20 minutes long.  We enforce the storage on the street code on a complaint basis throughout the city. A woman had received our notice and needed to move her vehicle within 72 hours. She was upset that she was picked on because other vehicles on her street that don’t move were not issued the same warning. She asked why? Before I could respond, she began to elaborate: Her husband shot her in the head several years ago, she is trying to get by on disability, and her dog is being treated for cancer. Wow! After a big pause, I explained the program was complaint-based. She was satisfied with the response. I then noted that she was an inspiration and a survivor and I hoped she could enjoy the sunlight of this day. Listening to hear story and sharing my true admiration for her determination seemed to shift the conversation away from parking negativity to end on a truly positive note.

These two phone calls reaffirmed that parking can create a better community by removing confusion of government layers and that sometimes, it’s our job to just listen and provide positive affirmation of our individual community members.

Customer Disservice: A True Tale


Once upon a time, there was an insurance company that courted a family for its business. “We’re guided by values,” the company said. “We’re grounded in outstanding service, financial expertise, high morals, and genuine concern for your well-being.” The family was charmed and the two enjoyed a lovely relationship for several generations.

After a long and happy life, one of the family members passed away and his descendants contacted the company, which offered its deepest condolences and immediately processed all of the accounts except one. A family member reached out about that last issue and spoke with a very nice gentleman, who sent forms that were filled out according to his direction and submitted … and returned to the family three weeks later for a technical mistake.

Now, this technical problem ran contrary to what the man on the phone had said and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so a member of the family called again, was told the original form was the wrong one, and that a new form would come by mail. That form, sadly, never arrived, and so the family member called again.

And again.

And again.

Believe it or not, she called seven different times, spoke with seven different people, and got seven different answers as to what she should do about the policy-in-limbo; one of the answers was, “I don’t even know why they sent you to me—I don’t work in that department.” None of these answers had anything to do with a second form.

Finally, the family member lost her patience and called a higher-up at the company, who gave her yet another answer—this one involving jumping through several flaming hoops that no one else had mentioned. The family member voiced her frustration and suggested perhaps more training or a better manual was warranted in the service department, as eight different answers to eight different calls on one question seemed excessive.

“We don’t have a training problem,” huffed the director. So the family member shook her head, thanked the director for her time, hung up, and called back to speak with someone one step up the corporate ladder, who didn’t return calls for two days. That led to a call to someone just one rung beneath the very top of the company’s pyramid. That person was (finally) both authorized to take action on the initial problem (the ninth time being the charm, of course) and surprised her customer service people, through no fault of their own, couldn’t do their jobs. No one, she said, had ever reached out to tell her.

The moral of the story: Customer service training really matters. Are you sure yours is working?

Automated Customer Service

Frank L. Giles

The parking industry seems to be moving at the speed of light. That means fast everything, mobile everything, and automated everything! So what about customer service? What about the gentle greeting of a human cashier? Is it possible to get a top-notch customer service experience at a fully automated parking facility, or is there a tradeoff we must expect when ushering in this new age of hi-tech parking? I believe the former. I believe that the smart parking professional will be able to meet the customer with warmth and gratitude via our new futuristic doodads, but we may have to meet them before they get to the facility.

First of all, there is the obvious stuff. Make sure your customers can reach you. If the customer is paying for parking through a third party on their cell phone or just using their monthly access card to swipe through, it should never be a chore to contact management or get assistance whenever needed (yes, this means day or night). Even if they don’t need to contact you at the moment, it’s comforting to know they can, so contact info should be obvious on any platform.

Secondly give perks. A rewards program, coupons for local retailers, or simply offering safety tips or nuggets of wisdom that change daily, monthly, or by the season will create a connection with the parker The better the connection, the better the customer service.

Finally, respond quickly. When a parker needs to contact management or press that little call button, they are already distressed and as we know, each minute translates to an hour for someone waiting for an answer from parking. These are just some small things we can do so that even when our facility is space-aged, our customer service is still down to earth.

How do you offer top-notch customer service? Comment and let us know.

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.

Three Cheers for Empowered Customer Service


During the past few days, I’ve experienced three examples of stellar customer service that made me remember just how important these interactions are in solidifying relationships and building reputation.

  1. Yesterday I needed a media list for a news release I was distributing and I was in a real time crunch. My login didn’t work, which was odd, but the company I work with—Vocus—was recently acquired by Cision, so I figured there might be a glitch. When I called the helpline, we tried to troubleshoot to no avail, but the customer support rep—I’m sure outside his comfort zone and in a real leap of faith—set me up a new account for the day with login and password (this is a database service that costs several thousand dollars a year) so I could access the information I needed and solve my immediate need. Phew!
  2. I uploaded the 20-page CAPP Graduation ceremony program to a printer’s site. Everything was timed perfectly so the programs will be printed in time to ship to the IPI office before our truck leaves for the IPI Conference & Expo in Las Vegas later this month. Hours later, I got an email that they’d halted production because they flagged a problem during the art check.  Problem is, it wasn’t a problem, the graphic files are fine, but I was out of the office for a meeting and by the time I could call, I’d lost a day, meaning that expedited (more expensive) shipping will be required to meet the delivery date. The customer service rep, seeing the due date, voluntarily told me they just upgraded the turnaround time at no extra charge to be sure the programs arrive at their destination on time. Sweet!
  3. At a restaurant in Washington, D.C., we order a bottle of wine, but the waitress returns to inform us that it is unavailable. None of my group is a wine snob but this is a special dinner and the wine requested is reasonably priced; to order something similar requires a significant leap in cost. Without missing a beat, the waitress immediately suggests a suitable alternative but it’s nearly double the cost! No surprise there. But wait! She offers the higher-priced bottle for the same cost as the bottle we originally requested. Wow! Later, we ask the waitress if she is an owner of the restaurant since that’s not a switch waitstaff can generally make and we are surprised that she is not. Clearly, the culture at this establishment is to please patrons and staff is empowered to do so.

In IPI’s Parking Matters® program, where we are working to advance the parking profession by improving perceptions of parking, we talk about how this industry has evolved in terms of technology, a focus on sustainability, being integral to planning better communities, and also in terms of being a service industry. And in service industries, customer service is paramount.

Framed on the wall in the exam room at my local veterinarian’s offices is an adaptation of a classic customer service creed, often attributed to L.L. Bean, but probably tracing further back in various iterations:

LLBeanCustomers are the most important persons to this company.
Customers are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.
Customers are not an interruption of our work, they are the purpose of it.
We are not doing a favor by serving customers.
Customers are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.

It always makes me feel good to read that. And I encourage companies to make these principles part of their culture. Often new customers are treated royally and existing customers are taken for granted. I was so delighted to receive a simple, one-page letter from a vendor recently that included a 20 percent off code for my next order and thanking me for being such a steady customer.

An internet search for “empowering customer service representatives” is a good starting point for those who want more ideas and guidance on this topic.

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.

Happy Parking


What if we could make the world a little brighter… a little happier… one person at a time?  I subscribe to a magazine called Live Happy:

Live Happy magazine is serious about happiness.

Weaving the science of positive psychology through inspiring features, relatable stories, and sage advice, we help people discover their personal journey of happiness in life, at work and at home.
I was on their website last week because I heard about the International Day of Happiness, which falls on March 20 this year. They have issued a challenge—the #HappyActs Challenge—to see how many “happy acts” we can complete by the International Day of Happiness.  A happy act might be offering to mow your neighbor’s lawn, running some errands for an elderly person, complimenting a coworker, or paying for the order of the person behind you in the coffee shop line.

In the parking industry, we all have opportunities to brighten someone’s day. Exceptional customer service can go a long way to ease a driver’s perceived pain of paying for parking or receiving a parking ticket, etc. Smile when you speak to your customer. Send a handwritten thank-you note to the person who took your meeting. Hand out a gift card for a cup of coffee when issuing that parking permit.

Live Happy will donate a dollar to Big Brothers Big Sisters for every person who accepts the #HappyActs challenge by clicking through and signing up. (As if you needed more incentive to do something awesome!)  You’re encouraged to share your #HappyActs on social media! Spread the smiles!!

Do you accept?


Attendant to Detail

Shawn Conrad

Chivalry and customer service are alive and well in the parking industry. Everyone remembers when we are treated extra-special by someone at a hotel or restaurant or by our auto mechanic.

I’ll never forget the time one of our annual meeting attendees was too sick to fly home and tried to recover in a hotel room. The maid, too, noticed that this person was not feeling well, went out and bought a small teddy bear, an assortment of herbal teas, and a get-well card, and placed it near the customer’s pillow. What a wonderful gesture—it’s probably is an indication that this maid’s manager or hotel owner empowered employees to do things that might make guests’ hotel stays memorable.

The other day, I pulled my car into a very full office garage. Before long, an attendant walked over and at first, motioned that there might be a space available down one of the far lanes. As the last syllable came out of his mouth, he said, “follow me.” Off the attendant went running down a very long aisle, stood in front of an open space, and moved me in. As you can imagine, I felt very special and thanked this gentleman for his help.

The attendant’s excellent service made me feel the same way I do when I go to a big-box hardware store looking for a specific item. When asking a store clerk to help me find it, most will say, “it’s in aisle __,” before leaving me to find the item for myself. Other times, a clerk will walk with me to the aisle and point out the part I need. It’s one thing to say there is an available parking space or that the store sells an item but it’s up to you to find it, and another to go out of their way to find it for you. That’s service!

Maybe in the future all parking customers will be directed to an available space by a parking guidance system. But until then, it’s nice to know someone goes the extra mile to provide exceptional customer service. How about your organization? Are your employees providing services that set you apart from others?

Do you have an example of one of your co-workers going above and beyond just doing their job? Please share!

Using Social Media to Assess Your Parking Identity

Bruce Barclay

A question I ask myself from time to time is how the traveling public views the airport’s parking and shuttle service? Is it merely a means to an end or is it viewed as a valuable component to the overall airport experience? As Salt Lake Airport’s parking manager, I believe we are a valuable asset, but with only a few options to gauge customer feedback we are left with a customer service conundrum.

Guest satisfaction surveys and comments to our webmaster via email are the traditional methods for feedback, but customers don’t always care to respond in this fashion and their voice is not heard. They may share their experience with relatives and friends, but not directly with us. We wanted to be able to hear firsthand from our customers to better measure our level of service, and address the areas where we may fall short.

Last May, Salt Lake City International Airport added a public relations and marketing manager to the staff. One area of responsibility she was tasked with was developing our social media programs, which hadn’t been done due to staff constraints. She began to tweet important information regarding the availability of space in our garage, which fills up weekly, along with information regarding our upcoming terminal redevelopment project. Within a few weeks, our social media platform grew and gained momentum.

In just a few short months, our Facebook followers have grown to more than 13,000, and we have more than 2,500 followers on Twitter. Although we know those are not huge numbers, the increase over such a short time has been dramatic. Even more impressive is the fact we are now getting timely feedback from the public, especially as it relates to parking and shuttle services. The messages received have given us greater clarity on the level of service we provide on a daily basis, and allow us to share passenger experiences with employees and their supervisors. Just as importantly, we can easily respond to all social media communication—positive and negative—in an expeditious fashion. By establishing a foundation of communication with the Salt Lake community, we are quickly finding out what our identity is, and how we are perceived by the traveling public.

So…what’s your identity? Comment below.

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.




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.”

How Does Your Call System Stack Up?

Helen Sullivan

An early mentor of mine said the most important person in any organization is the receptionist. Just as the parking garage is the first impression of a driving destination, the first impression for someone calling a business is the person (or robot) answering the phone. And we all know how infuriating that can be.

I love the instant call-back systems at and, among others. In the customer service sections of their websites, just type in your phone number and within about 10 seconds, a customer service rep is ringing you back.

Calling a doctor’s office recently to schedule an appointment, I became mired in a hopeless loop in a system that simply was flawed. There was no way to the right place due to a glitch that kept landing at the main menu. (Speaking of doctor’s offices, does everyone really need to take lunch and shut phones down from 12 to 1 p.m., just when most working people have the chance to squeeze in a call to make an appointment?)

Try calling your own business. Does the phone system work? How’s the hold music? Does a real person respond? If not, why? Does everyone take lunch at the same time, abandoning phone customers to voicemail?

If your after-hours voicemail message says your office opens at 9:00 a.m., guess what a customer who hears it at 9:05 thinks? I love the approach at Nordstrom: Their doors always open about 10 minutes before their posted store hours begin. Things are quite different at competitive retail outlets where early-bird shoppers often wait outside locked doors past opening time.

I recently read about a real estate company that increased business dramatically just by having the receptionist add a positive comment about the agent with whom a caller would be connected. As in, “I’m going to connect you with John Doe. John is this region’s most experienced commercial real estate agent. I know he’ll have answers for you.”

Frustration with phone call holding is such a prevalent problem, new services are cropping up to address it. Free apps like FastCustomer and LucyPhone will wait on hold for you and ring back when a rep gets on the line. If you try it, let us know.

Parking and Surgeons

Isaiah Mouw

A recent medical study published in the British Medical Journal Open concluded that patients place as much importance on finding a parking space as their surgeon’s clinical ability. Let that sink in for a moment.

The study concluded that factors such as the parking experience, food quality, and cleanliness of the hospital are as important to the patients as the clinical skills of the surgeon. Researcher Colin Howie, a senior orthopedic consultant at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said, “The clinical skills of the surgeon were on a par with a parking space.” In other words, parking matters a great deal in hospital environments.

The hospitals found that patient (customer) satisfaction depended on issues outside of the surgery they were having. We in parking are not too surprised by the results of this survey as this customer service principle is true in almost every realm of parking sectors. A hotel guest’s valet parking experience at a five-star hotel will influence the guest’s customer satisfaction at that hotel and the hotel’s five-star rating. The first thing a visitor to a city must do is park. That parking transaction, whether on the street, in a garage, with a phone, or at a meter, will shape the visitor’s perception of that given city. The same goes for prospective students or parents of students visiting a university. Did the parents feel their child would be safe on that campus based on their parking garage experience? Parking is often a critical and powerful factor in a customer’s overall experience–not just their parking experience.

When our youngest son was born, he needed surgery. Boston Children’s Hospital had a world-renowned surgeon known for his work with the type of procedure our child needed. For us, this surgeon’s ability was infinitely more important to us than our parking experience or the cafeteria food. That being said, we will always remember the excellent customer service shown by the staff at the hospital. If you asked someone for help locating a certain place in the hospital, they didn’t just give you directions–they walked you there. The parking staff was also friendly and the parking garage used a kid-friendly, creative wayfinding system with pictures of animals. Children loved it and parents loved having help remembering where their car was.

The fact that hospital patients in this survey said that the parking experience was as important as the surgeon’s ability speaks volumes. Remember this and take pride in knowing that improving your parking services is usually going to help improve the customer’s overall day, not just their parking experience.







Making Difficult Customers Happy

Dave Feehan

Many parking professionals have found that some customers are, well, difficult. Sometimes it’s an individual who’s found an unauthorized car in his or her space. Sometimes it’s a corporate customer who isn’t happy with leasing arrangements for his or her employees.

Monika Jansen, writing in Grow SmartBiz offers five ways to turn difficult customers into marketing success stories. While I’m sure she wasn’t thinking about the parking business, I also think her five points are ones we should think about.

In the article, Jansen suggests:

  • Put a detailed plan together.
  • Never get defensive.
  • Thank them.
  • Get them involved.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.

Her suggestions reminded me of a program I put together a few years back while working with a downtown organization. That organization was worried about losing a number of office tenants who were threatening to leave because of frustrations with parking.

Here’s what we did:

First, we constructed a plan based on information from property owners. When they alerted us that a current tenant was planning to leave when their lease expired, we contacted the tenant directly and offered a customized parking plan.

Second, we avoided being defensive, always telling a positive story about our plans for the parking system.

Third, we always thanked the tenant–for letting us meet with them, for discussing their issues frankly, and for giving us a chance to make them happy.

Fourth, we got them involved in designing a solution to their problems.

And fifth, we always tried to look at things from their point of view, which often meant we had to understand the difference in cost between downtown and a suburban office park lease. When the topic of cost came up, we pointed out that they had to factor in the other costs–moving expenses, reprinting stationery and business cards, customers that might be lost as a result of the move, and difficulties for employees who didn’t own cars and relied on public transportation. Surprisingly, these were things they sometimes hadn’t considered, and they appreciated that we were looking to help them save money.

Our success rate with “difficult” customers was greater than 70 percent, and we found that many switched from difficult to happy and satisfied.

Being Human

Isaiah Mouw

Spend enough time in parking operations and you’re guaranteed to need to respond to a complaint. One way to grow from a good operation to a great one is re-thinking the way you do that. If your typical response is, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” you may be doing a bad job handling the situation, says author and business leader Daniel Pink. In an article from The Telegraph, Pink challenges us to “only speak like a human at work.”

We’ve all received emails that said, “We apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused you.” But is this how you respond when you are truly sorry? Can you imagine telling your spouse, “I apologize for any inconvenience this may have brought on you?” Jason Fried, author of ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever, tells of a day he saw a woman spill coffee on a stranger in a Chicago café. The spiller’s response was, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” That, Fried says, is how we react when we’re really sorry.

“When you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you’re owning,” he explains. “When you say ‘I apologize,’ you’re renting.”

A research study performed by behavioral economist Dan Ariely showed that when customers are treated rudely, they are more likely to act vengefully. For example, they may not tell the parking cashier the truth when they are given too much change. When customers are treated kindly (like human beings), they are more inclined to behave honorably.

Don’t go replying to complaints with, “My bad, dude,” but try letting your customers know you own the problem by speaking more like a human–by saying, “I’m sorry.” Parking automation and robotics are quickly taking over many facets of the parking industry. Do we really need them taking over our speech?

(If you feel like reading this blog post was a waste of your valuable time, I apologize for the inconvenience this might have caused you.)




Isaiah Mouw

In an article featured in The Telegraph, business guru Daniel Pink discusses the Buy One, Give One Away (BO-GOA) model made famous by TOMS shoes.  TOMS promise is simple: “With every pair you purchase TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One.”

BO-GOA , explains the article, “‘is a model where the consumer can continue to reap satisfaction as the shoe gets worn. Most other consumption causes a decrease in satisfaction, as products become obsolete and head towards landfill.’ As a result, the giveaways, though costly, increase customer satisfaction and deepen loyalty.” TOMS isn’t the only company to have successfully implemented a BO-GOA model: Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair sold, and Happy Blankie gives away a blanket to a needy child with every bedcover sold.

While giving a parking space to someone in need for every parking space purchased doesn’t seem practical, parking companies can implement goodwill practices that create customer satisfaction. For example, in April 2012, the Parking Authority of River City (PARC) spearheaded free parking for a special event in exchange for donations of non-perishable food or toiletry items. The donations were to be distributed to needy individuals and families. The results were astonishing. Hundreds of people donated items in exchange for free parking.

It seems to be popular consensus that no one enjoys paying for parking. But in Louisville, people paid for parking with donations that probably cost more than the usual parking charge because they knew they were helping someone in need. I bet the next time one of those customers has to choose between a PARC facility and a competitor, they’ll choose the PARC facility because they’ll remember their feel-good experience there. Similar to a BO-GOA model, this situation allows the customer to reap the satisfaction weeks after the parking transaction.

With immediate marketing benefits through free social media marketing, goodwill examples like these will help your organization set itself apart from the competitors while also helping someone in need.


The Emotional Cost of Parking

Wanda Brown

I had the distinct privilege of hearing Dr. Richard Mouw from Fullerton Theological Seminary speak on civility recently. The topic of discussion was how to disagree with respect and reverence. He relayed an experience he had while visiting a local store: driving around the lot, he finally found that coveted parking place. He didn’t realize there was a woman who had been waiting for that very space. As he pulled in, he watched her drive around to another space and felt very badly about his oversight. To correct his obvious error, he approached her to apologize and explain how awful he felt. She responded, “Just leave me alone! You have no idea what kind of day I have had.” He still apologized, and she finally turned around and said, “Thank you for your apology”.

Hearing the story, my mind raced back to parking in a hospital setting. How many times do we hear that there is great emotion attached to one parking space. To the user, that spot is access to a loved one who is sick or dying, or the space you return to after surgery. It confirmed for me what I already knew: Parking is emotional. It is more emotional than financial.

It is no wonder that with the inclusion of a wayfinding system in our newest structure, our patient satisfaction scores went off the chart. Those little green lights softly say to the user, “I’ve been waiting for you,” versus older structures that said, “Find me if you can.” What can we do as parking professionals to meet the emotional cost associated with our parking spaces and ease the sting and frustration that comes with it?

All Roads Lead to Technology


According to a new survey released today by the International Parking Institute (IPI), technology, sustainability, revenue-generation, and customer service are the top trends in the parking industry and the things most parking professionals are looking for.

The 2012 Emerging Trends in Parking Survey was released at the IPI Conference & Expo in Phoenix, Ariz., this morning. It showed that cashless, electronic, and automatic payment systems join apps that provide real-time information about parking rates and availability and wireless sensing devices that help improve traffic management as the top in-demand technologies in the industry.

More than one-third of respondents said that demand for sustainable services is a top trend, and that they’re talking about energy-efficient lighting, parking space guidance systems, automatic payment process, solar panels, renewable energy technology, and systems that accommodate electric vehicles and/or encourage alternative methods of travel. Technologies that help people find parking faster take cars off the road; an estimated 30 percent of people driving around cities at any time are looking for parking, wasting fuel and emitting carbons.

Survey participants also said that convincing urban planners, local governments, and architects to include parking professionals in their early planning processes is a priority; doing that, they said, would help prevent many design problems in final projects. And when asked where parking should be included as a course of study in academic institutions, nearly half of the survey participants said schools of urban study, followed by business or public policy schools.

The full survey can be accessed on IPI’s website.

The Conundrum of Paid Parking

Brett Wood

We are often asked about the implementation of paid parking within a community. Citizens, business owners, property owners, employees, and employers all want to know three things:

  • How will this affect business?
  • Who is going to be accountable for the system?
  • How do you measure success?

These are difficult questions to answer, but we find ourselves trying to answer them more and more. Every community reacts differently, and the success or failure of a parking system depends on everyone involved. Your community should consider these thoughts:

The community has to support implementation. You don’t have to believe in it, but if you want your business to succeed in the new environment, it’s imperative that you educate yourself, your employees, and your customers about the benefits and use of the system.

Forget about revenue. Paid parking shouldn’t be a cash grab for the general fund. For successful implementation, everyone has to understand that paid parking is about management, providing incentives to park away from premium spots, and encouraging prime spots to turn over.

Give something back. Provide some tangible benefit to the area through benefit districts that pay for transportation and community enhancements, and tell people you are doing it. Put a sticker on every meter that tells your customers where the money goes.

Ease up on the tickets. If you implement paid parking, focus on compliance. Ease up on citations. By educating your customers about how and where to park, violations should go down and revenue should be unchanged.

Market, market, market. Before you implement paid parking, start educating your customers about it. Pilot studies are a great way to test new technology before you buy. Don’t be afraid to try three or four vendors and equipment types. Test them all at one time. Ask people what they think.

Be flexible. Provide payment options. Don’t be afraid to raise or lower rates if you don’t find the balance you like. Go into the implementation with the mindset that year one is a trial, and include your stakeholders. Because they are using the system, and they are educating your customers.

Rx for Hospital Parking: Raise the Bar

Wanda Brown

Accessibility to healthcare services is the biggest concern of hospital parking professionals. Getting patrons to their appointments without parking stress is crucial. While maximizing operational efficiency through technological improvements is essential, parking professionals must also consider the effects on their customers as they consider implementation of new products. They can find the answer by examining companies such as Disney and Starbucks.

Ideally, patients and their families will be greeted with a smiling parking ambassador who is well prepared to educate them on the use of new equipment and provide directions to their hospital campus destinations. Customers will know they are valued because ambassadors have been trained to make each visit memorable. They are trained to know their customers, make them the priority for that moment, listen to what customers say, and be a valuable resource in handling parking issues quickly and sufficiently.

Unlike university campuses, where most customers are young and techno-savvy, hospitals have to plan for everything and everyone. Hospital patrons mirror the greater public and in creating a culture of care, parking professionals must consider all of their individual needs during every visit.

From the parking garage to the clinic appointment or visit, the customer should have a pleasant experience. Hospital parking professionals help with just that through the installation of way-finding systems, establishing cashiering stations, offering manned exit booths, and acting as parking ambassadors whose ultimate goal is to assist with the learning process.

Creating such an environment raises the bar for excellence in the parking experience. The parking professional knows that it takes the integration of both the human and technology factor to accomplish this. Has your operation raised its own bar? Comment below and share your story.