Are You Prepared For The Phablet Age?

Bill Smith

I’m an early adopter. I love toys, especially electronic ones. For the past few years, my favorites have been made by Apple—my Macbook Pro, iPad, and iPhone. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve already picked up an iPhone 6. I think I showed great restraint by waiting until the second day of release to get one, though!

I’m having a blast playing with my new toy. The bigger screen is easier on this old man’s eyes, and it’s much easier for me to type on. But the thing that stands out mostly for me is how the advent of the phablet (a cross between a smartphone and a tablet) is going to change marketing. Smartphones are nothing more than portable computers, and today’s larger phones with massive screens make them that much more useful for Web browsing and emailing.

If your organization hasn’t adapted to the new world order of phablets, you need to. According to one study, one in three Internet users already does the bulk of his or her surfing via mobile technologies. Organizations that haven’t optimized their online content for mobile users are behind the times and in danger of being left in the dust by their competition.

This is particularly true for parking companies. After all, whose customers are more mobile? Drivers want quick and convenient access to information about parking programs, available parking spaces, and validation—not to mention mobile payment options. But the power of mobile networking goes beyond drivers. City managers, parking owners, and facility operators use their iPads and smart phones to access information about consulting firms, technology companies, and other suppliers.

Desktop computers are so 20th century. If you want to compete in today’s marketplace, your online content needs to be smartphone friendly. Welcome to The Phablet Age!

Get Out Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage

Bill Smith

When local papers are running editorials about parking, it’s generally not a good thing. Typically, it means that there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke. When you wave it away, there’s nothing there.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed, but they might not understand what goes into parking planning and why planning decisions are made. Do parking tickets seem too expensive? There’s probably a planning rationale behind the rates. Do the hours of meter operations seem inconvenient or time limits seem too short? There are reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why decisions are made.

Cities and towns typically don’t systematically market their parking operations. Sure, they may do outreach when there’s an issue, but by then it’s too late. They’ve lost control of the context of the discussion when people are complaining and newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about parking rules and regulations and what the municipal parking plan is designed to accomplish. Such a plan should include:

  • Media outreach: This includes distributing press releases, backgrounders, and other media materials designed to inform the press about key parking policies and the roles they play in public policies. Outreach should also include regular briefings with editors, reporters, and editorial writers to explain parking initiatives and answer questions from the media. IPI’s Parking Matters® program provides this handy resource on speaking about parking in positive terms.
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and other social media platforms provide direct access to the public and other stakeholders. Take advantage of these tools to keep the public informed of parking initiatives and what they are accomplishing.
  • Websites: By creating discrete websites designed to inform the public of parking regulations and initiatives, cities and towns can assure that accurate and timely information is available to the public.
  • Public meetings: Parking administrators should regularly engage business and community leaders to keep them informed of parking plans.

It’s not enough merely to communicate, however. Communications programs must be proactive rather than reactive. In addition to providing valuable information, communications programs should anticipate concerns and grievances and head them off before they become issues. They should also be used to communicate good news—and parking has lots of that to share.

Take a proactive approach to informing the public about your parking program. You’ll sleep easier when you don’t have to worry about seeing your name in tomorrow’s editorial.

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

For many years, the UK has seen a rise in so called cowboy parking squads. The parking squads issue official-looking £100 tickets, often to drivers just a few minutes late returning to their cars. Elderly and disabled people have been specifically targeted at hospitals and downtown stores.

After issuing what appear to be official penalty notices, the squads use threats to terrify motorists into paying up. In many cases, however, the tickets are issued unfairly and without legal authority. More worryingly perhaps is the fact that some hospital trusts are even taking a cut of up to 10 per cent of the parking firms’ profits.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles decided enough is enough and said rogue firms will not be tolerated. As a result, he launched a government investigation into how how these companies hit hundreds of thousands of drivers with £100 fines for minor infringements outside shops and fast-food chains.

Last week a popular daily newspaper, The Daily Mail, launched a campaign to encourage drivers to stand up to these parking cowboys

daily mail campaignThe newspaper informed readers as follows:

Want to send a message of defiance to the parking pirates? The Daily Mail is here to help. Simply print out the notice above and put it in a prominent place on your car windscreen or side window.

It tells the parking pirates that you’re on to their outrageous scam and won’t be tricked or bullied into paying bogus fines. And we can also send you a fantastic glossy sticker version—absolutely FREE.

Although their tactics may be adding fuel to the fire, I for one am glad that those giving the parking industry a bad name are finally being challenged. Cowboys, watch out—the sheriff is in town!

Raising Standards in the UK

Patrick headshot 2012 cropped

There is so much happening in the parking world at the moment that it’s hard to catch one’s breath.

The British government is pressing ahead with its plans for local authority parking, the Daily Mail has kicked off a summer offensive against the private parking sector, the Royal Mint is poised to launch a consultation on the new £1 coin, and Park Mark reaches the ripe old age of 10—to name but a few.

There is a link, though, between all these events, and it’s not just that they all have something to do with parking. They throw down a challenge to the parking profession in general and the British Parking Association (BPA) in particular to demonstrate our resilience in putting the other side of the argument and our commitment to drive standards in parking ever higher.

So we have successfully persuaded government not to ban CCTV outright but rather to allow its continued use in specific circumstances; we have shown through establishing Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) and renewing the Code of Practice on Parking on Private Land that Daily Mail readers who are recipients of parking tickets have an independent means of redress against those tickets; we are directly involved with the Mint prior to its formal consultation so we can shape and influence policy on behalf of our members; and through Park Mark, we can demonstrate we really are serious about raising standards and not just talking about raising standards.

We are going to talk more about raising standards though during the autumn as we try to engage with members on how to develop a Professionalism in Parking Award for all sectors to continue to drive those standards still higher. We need to demonstrate to government, media, and stakeholders that we can do it so we have the tools and the commitment to tackle future onslaughts in the future. That’s why lots of things happening is a good thing if at the end of them you come out on top.

I believe the parking profession can come out on top if it truly believes in raising standards in every part of its make up.

Our Changing Industry

Doug Holmes

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s song starts, “It was 20 years ago today,” but in my case, it was 45 years ago. I, along with several other young people, was selected by Rotary International to represent our respective countries through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, living for a year overseas and being immersed in an entirely different culture.

Fortunately, the country I went to—Sweden—was populated by friendly, outgoing, and caring people; I didn’t understand a lick of their language when I arrived on August 4, 1969. But in 45 years, there has not been a day I haven’t reflected on someone or a place or an event during that year.

How does that relate to the wonderful world of parking? After a 10-year career as a cop, I jumped into parking in 1986. It had to be easier than dealing with drunks, physical altercations, and the mind-numbing process of shift rotations and court days. Nine to five, Monday through Friday, with weekends and holidays off—how hard could it be?

For one thing, parking was a cash-rich environment; back then, there were few computer systems (I had a typewriter on my desk). Tracking that cash was a huge consumer of time. Anyone not inside of the industry had no concept of the dynamics of parking. It was generally an afterthought.

Modernization was slow to start. The highest-tech gadget available was the electronic single-space parking meter. Things such as multi-space parking meters, pay by space, pay on foot, etc., moved forward in Europe, but not here. Thankfully, in the last decade, there has been a revolution in parking technology.

I remember wanting to purchase a PARCS for our operation to link all three of our garages together. I wanted all remote devices hosted on a single network so that I could view real-time activity from my office across campus. Vendors looked at me as if I had a third eye before delivering a lecture on how that was not really what I needed.

Today, the applications of technology seem endless. It has created a new and evolving language we’re all learning. The social effects are astounding. Computer-driven lighting systems and new luminaires are reducing the consumption of electricity and positively affecting the environment.

New materials and construction techniques are extending the lifespans of parking decks. Everywhere we look, the technological revolution that was so long in coming is growing exponentially. GPS applications are locating open spaces for drivers, who pay for parking with their phones. Efficiencies in locating parking, of course, leads to a decrease in gasoline consumption and a reduction in pollution. All of this is good.

A complete change of culture is in swing. In other words, parking is shifting, and rather quickly. Like being plunged into the foreign land of Sweden many years ago, change can be painful or it can be exhilarating, vexatious or liberating.

Welcome to the brave new world of parking.

The Three Hardest Words to Say

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

What do you suppose are the three hardest words to say? You might guess, “I love you,” if you’re in a relationship but unsure if it’s the one, or it may be, “I just can’t,” if you’re perpetually volunteering. Some might even offer, “I am sorry,” which is one I’m often not the first to say. These are good choices, but what about, “I don’t know”?

I recently subscribed to the Freakonomics podcast by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the popular book by the same name. Levitt and Dubner suggest that admitting you don’t know something is about the hardest thing we, as adults, can admit. We are trained from childhood to offer a fabrication, lie, or untruth when we don’t know the answer to a particular question. Why is this so?

Not knowing something is often seen as a weakness. Information is power and when we admit we don’t know something, perhaps we are admitting we are inferior to someone who is better informed. We may feel our job is at risk, fear losing a sale or a client, or worse yet, form a poor self-image and lack confidence if we don’t know enough.

Like many of the ideas in their book, Levitt and Dubner offer a different way of thinking. Instead of making something up to protect our job, sale or image, how about we freely admit when we don’t know something and commit to finding out?

In the parking industry in particular, integrity and honesty are by far the most important characteristics we must possess. Our clients, customers, and business partners rely on us being truthful whether we’re a public institution, publicly traded, or privately held altogether. Without trust, we simply cannot build lasting relationships, honor our commitments, or care for resources that belong to someone else.

We must to be careful to only use, “I don’t know,” to a question whose answer we really shouldn’t be expected to know, and take responsibility to master our job or duties so we possess the knowledge and skill we need in our area of responsibility. Admitting ignorance and simultaneously having a desire to find out the answer shows integrity and a passion to learn and be resourceful. How about we turn the three hardest words into the seven easiest: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Oh, and make sure you do find out.

A Recipe to Reframe the Parking Matters® Conversation

Bridgette Brady

“You need to involve more planners in your associations,” said Gordon Price after his keynote address at the PIPTA conference in Seattle. I swear, I saw faces light up when he said it. Why? We were excited because Price, a renowned urban planner, former politician, and now writer and college instructor, had just acknowledge that what we do … matters.

During his keynote, Price offered a new way of communicating that Parking (and transportation) Matters and he did it without knowing that this is what we’ve been saying all along. He reframed the conversation about our role in creating urbanity and place by providing a recipe for transportation choice. He was no longer using plannerspeak, instead relating the topic to something we all love: food. It didn’t hurt that he was a little spicy–pardon the pun–with his choice of phrases, which kept the audience engaged.

My interpretation is this; you need a whole cup of human density in an area, a tablespoon each of mixed-use and proximity to services, with a couple pinches of good design to serve up a transportation choice. Thankfully, one choice is the car, which implies the need for parking. Of course, the other plated transportation choices are mass transit, active transportation, and sharing modes.

Price also offered a non-numeric equation for those who don’t go anywhere near a cookbook and the kitchen, using the same variables whereas TC (transportation choice) follows the equal sign. For those that prefer plannerspeak, he communicated further in the address that “form follows parking.”

Price hails from Vancouver, a city well known for smart land use and comprehensive transportation systems. His career as an urban planner and politician occurred in Vancouver, lending to his credibility as a subject matter expert. As a side note, he’s really funny too.

I truly hope that within the coming year, you are able to experience his keynote address because he gets it. He understands we need to be involved in planning for access to place. It might be odd to blog about a blog but just in case you are interested, Price’s is Price Tags.

How Premium Can a Parking Space Get?

Frank L. Giles

In the parking industry, timing and location make the difference between a 9 x 15-foot slab of concrete and a revenue-generating asset. Depending on the location and time, that slab of concrete can be worth $5 or $25 per day. Premium parking can generate demand that will push the price though the stratosphere. So, how premium can a parking space get? How much will someone pay to park his car in that perfect spot?

I recently heard about a parking space for sale in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood; asking price: $250,000. Yep, that’s a quarter of a million dollars for access to one parking space. In a place like Manhattan, parking is almost always at a premium. It’s the same conundrum that befell the first citizen to purchase a brand-new Model-T Ford: “So where do I put this thing?” Today, with triple the number of cars on the road than 50 years ago, the parking industry is still finding new and better answers to that question.

Premium parking is one way to make sure that those perfect parking spots get some amount of turnover and that the available spaces in a place like Manhattan are shared. Although $250,000 may be a bit on the high side, premium parking is dictated by time and location, and everyone has a shot at the perfect spot–if you can afford it.

Variable Pricing Spreads, but is it Right for Everyone?

Dave Feehan

Credit Professor Donald Shoup with spotting a nascent trend and injecting it into the world of parking. Variable pricing has become a concept and practice pioneered in San Francisco and being considered or implemented in a number of other cities. But according to a recent National Public Radio (NPR) report, variable pricing has also become the rage in other industries as well.

Take air travel for example. Prices vary, day to day and hour to hour. A ticket on the same flight might cost 40 to 50 percent more or less depending on the day of the week and hour of the day it is purchased. Prices also vary according to what services you require. Spirit Airlines is probably the biggest proponent (or offender, if you prefer): A bag that you carry on costs less than one you check, but its cost also varies with how, when, and where you check in.

Another industry that is seizing on variable pricing is sports. Buy a ticket in advance online and pay one price, but pay at the gate and, depending where you sit, you might pay five to 10 times as much. Teams are considering changing prices based on the attractiveness of the opponent, day of the week, and the success of the local team.

I think variable pricing is a great tool–in the right cities, in the right locations within those cities, and managed thoughtfully with both a short- and long-term perspective. That said, I still have reservations as to whether every city should adopt the practice. Where parking is scarce and where there are many affluent people who will pay just about anything for a safe, convenient parking space, variable pricing makes great sense. It also makes sense in terms of residential parking discounts, as Shoup recently proposed, and as a way of rewarding other behaviors such as driving small cars and hybrids.

But in cities and towns that are still struggling to revive their downtowns, where retail stores and restaurants are fragile, and where the culture is resistant, I would think long and hard before introducing a system that confuses local customers and may spell doom for struggling shops and diners.

Parking Manager Lemonade Stand

Jeff Petry

Last week, as part of an effort to solicit feedback on a proposed parking rate increase, I set up my parking manager lemonade lemonadestand at various locations in our downtown. The intent of the lemonade stand is to give parking customers an opportunity to provide feedback, face to face. It is a friendly, and perhaps unexpected, approach to engage everyday parking customers, right where they are.

The lemonade stand was set up for about six hours at three locations over the course of three days. Here is what I learned/observed:

Downtown Park Location (lunch time):

-      A consistent flow of vehicle and pedestrian customers at our weekday Farmers’ Market that included downtown employees, families, people in suites or workout clothes, all ages, bicyclists–a perfect mixture of downtown customers!

-      A street violin player playing pleasing background music that could be heard better in the lulls of the vehicle traffic.

-      A farmer’s market booth staff person was curious about the “competition” of a lemonade stand and was pleasantly surprised to the find the City of Eugene’s parking manager in his bowling shirt uniform talking to downtown customers!

-      No questions or concerns on the parking rate increase, just smiles.

Downtown Parking Garage (4:00 – 6:00 p.m.)

-      More smiles from customers heading home from work.

-      Biggest question – Why did you remove all the trash cans from this garage?

  • Note: We removed trash cans from this parking garage to minimize our custodial needs and due to trash studies showing it was used by people dumping their home garbage in our cans. As a follow up, we will place a few more trash cans on the ground floor retail entry areas.

-      One downtown employee delivered an envelope containing a letter signed by about a dozen people asking us to not increase rates.

-      General comments of no issues with the first monthly permit rate increase in seven years.

Another Downtown Parking Garage (7:00 – 9:00 a.m.)

-      General questions such as: Where is the bus station? Is there secure bike parking? Why are you here?

-      General comments of no issues with the first monthly permit rate increase in seven years.

-      Several people took photos in the lemonade stand to show their coworkers.

The lemonade stand augmented a communications strategy that incorporated mail and social media, and allowed the parking program to add a personal touch to parking management and talk to our everyday customers. It helps defray the emotion that is present in emailed feedback. It provides a visual token that customers will remember for months to come. And, most importantly, it humanizes our parking program.

So, would you like a glass of lemonade?

Are You Communicating Effectively?

Doug Holmes

Communication.  It is a wonderful thing in today’s electronic world … when it works.  It seems that the faster the modes of communication given us by technology, the greater the demand for even faster methods of communication.  Basically, though, it is a pretty simple set-up: a sender, a receiver and a message.

Unfortunately, a lot of interference can crop up between a sender and receiver.  Good communication requires a two-way delivery of information between the parties and understanding the information conveyed in both directions.  Texting or email is especially prey to this problem.  If you can’t see the face of or hear the vocal inflections of the person you are communicating with, a lot of message misinterpretation is possible.

The “reply” key can have a hugely negative effect.  Frequently, people hit reply or “reply all” (even worse) without checking the address field to see to whom the message is being sent.

There is a tendency to assume that once you hit send, the information in a message is immediately in the brain of the recipient.  Immediately. Bad assumption.  Rarely is any thought given to the possibility that the recipient did not check their inbox at all.  Horrors.  Could he have been on vacation?  In an all-day conference or training session?

An email server might send something screaming to your junk folder because it misidentified the message as spam.  I don’t know about you, but I do not go through my junk folder every few hours.

I know a lot of people who would prefer to answer a text message then check their voicemail and return a phone call.   I work the other way–I’ll respond to a voicemail almost immediately.  (I say almost because I am retired and nothing should be assumed to be immediate due to that status.)

What’s the point? If you are sending urgent, time-sensitive information in an electronic format and expect an immediate response, maybe it is better to pick up that old-fashioned device called a telephone and talk to the person on the other end.  Or, at least call to make sure your colleague got your message.

The Brain Surgeon on Your Team

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

My consulting focus these days is on operational best practices for university parking and transportation departments. This differs from strategic planning in that the emphasis is placed on evaluating daily operations and making recommendations that improve operational efficiencies and program effectiveness. When I’m working with clients, we focus on the use of technology, enforcement climate, revenues and expenses, parking allocation systems, permit distribution, and organizational structure. I’ve discovered a common trend in organizational structure that often distinguishes aspiring programs from those that consistently perform at a high level.

There are countless ways to structure a parking and transportation department. Some programs are aligned along an inside-outside model in which office activities are managed by one leader and while someone else manages field work. Some programs separate parking and transportation or alternatives to driving, while others align all program groups under one director. None of these are necessarily bad, but the best programs include key skill sets; those that don’t have them are challenged to make real progress. Two areas I advise my clients to add if they don’t already have them are information technology (IT) and transportation demand management (TDM). Changes in the use of technology and our growing need to offer alternatives to driving make the addition of these specialties a necessity.

Comparing professionals experienced in the use of parking technology or moving people from single-occupancy vehicles to alternative forms of transportation with industry generalists is like pitting brain or orthopedic surgeons against general-practice physicians. We need leaders with broad experience to be sure, but the demands placed on our IT systems and the skills required to effectively promote van pool, rideshare, and transit use require program specialists.

One needs to look no further than to programs such as those at the University of Washington, Texas A&M, or Colorado State University to see what’s possible with the right team of skills and experience. It hasn’t been by luck alone that these programs have flourished. Instead, leaders there have built their programs around highly skilled specialists in areas of strategic importance.

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.

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.”

Branding: The Real Deal or Fancy Packaging?

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

My kids received Kindle tablets for Christmas. Santa thought the devices might lead to more reading but so far, the kids have been trying
SPLogosout game after game (thankfully, only free ones so far). One game they like has you guess the name of a company from a partial image of its logo. That got me thinking about what makes a brand strong and recognizable even if a consumer never buys the product or service behind the logo.

I got my first lesson in effective parking branding in Portland, Ore., in the early ‘90s, when the Smart Park brand was created for the city’s public parking system. The brand was clean, bold, and simple, and accompanied by spokesperson Les Park, who was at your service. Most importantly, the brand conveyed friendliness, safety, and economy–exactly the attributes to overcome negative perceptions about downtown parking as being impersonal, unsafe, and expensive.

More recently, my company, Standard Parking, began the process of rebranding itself following its merger with Central Parking. Please forgive the unintended company plug, but it’s rare to be in a position to describe what goes into developing a company brand. I’m sharing some details in the hope that readers find the information useful.

Standard Parking Corporation changed its corporate name to SP Plus Corporation (though for the time being the company will continue to conduct its parking operations under its legacy brands). The visual centerpiece of the rebranding effort is a new SP+ logo that is fresh, colorful, and bold. Its elements preserve a connection with the legacy brands (SP in recognition of Standard Parking and a “+” symbol in Central Parking’s legacy gold color). The “+” highlights that the company is about more than just parking, having evolved into a team of operations specialists who link innovation with market-based expertise in parking, transportation, facility maintenance, event logistics, and security services. The company’s new commitment statement, “Innovation In Operation,” signifies a promise to apply innovative thinking in everything the company does.

There’s much more to an effective brand than a fancy logo. In order for a brand to stick, it must convey and deliver on its value proposition. Otherwise, it’s just slick packaging and empty promises.

 

Be Thankful for the Blockers

Isaiah Mouw

In the New York Times bestselling book, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior,  authors Ori and Rom Brafman explore the value of different roles in group dynamics. The book references a study in which family therapist David Kantor set up cameras throughout many rooms in different family homes. In every family he studied, members traded off playing one of four distinct roles:

  • Initiators: Have new ideas. Highly optimistic about new ideas/projects.
  • Blockers: Likely to question or block new ideas/projects.
  • Supporters: Side with either the initiator or the blocker.
  • Observers: Just observe. They don’t take sides but rather comment on the obvious.

These roles are not just found in families, but in almost every kind of group you can imagine. And as a manager, you may want to stack your team with lots of initiators and very few blockers. As the book finds, though, blockers are a very important part of group dynamics: they often save us from getting into trouble.

Maybe you were an initiator at your last operations meeting and had the brilliant idea to host a skateboarding competition in your garage, only to have the blocker shoot it down due to important safety and security issues. Blockers are so important that some companies pay people to fill the role. In a program designed by NASA, airline crews are trained to block a captain’s decision when he or she might skip certain safety procedures or make questionable decisions.

Early in my career, I managed an on-street operation that was approached by a television production company looking to follow our officers as they wrote tickets and dealt with the public. I was excited about this new idea–a reality show based on our parking operation! A producer and filming crew followed us around for several days filming the pilot. They liked what they saw and proceeded with their pitch to our board of directors. Luckily, blockers on the board shot down the idea.

“It’s a reality show. They’ll only focus on conflict, on the negative,” said one smart board director. He was blocking, and he was correct. We ended up not signing the contract, which I am quite thankful for now.

Be thankful for your blockers. They are an integral part of the decision-making process and often have probably saved you from making a big mistake, like the time you had the idea to let Hollywood blow up your garage for a new summer blockbuster movie (not, of course, that we know anyone who’d do that).

British Parking Challenges Continue

Patrick headshot 2012 cropped

There’s been no let up in the British government’s and member of Parliaments’ fixation with the parking sector.Car_BritFlag__163052918

Following various statements from Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and his new High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis about the impact of parking on the shopping centers of our towns and cities, the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee published its report in October.

I found the report a little lackluster to be honest, not really tackling the issues on which it received evidence and concluding somewhat meekly that government should do something about the perception that councils are using their parking enforcement powers to generate revenue.

There were some useful recommendations around the need for government to tackle foreign registered vehicles, to arbitrate on the conflict between the needs of the freight industry and the wider road using the public, and it stopped short of recommending that mobile closed-circuit television (CCTV) used for parking enforcement should be banned–something the communities and local government department has advocated.

But the way forward on these issues is at best muddled. Government will respond (probably early next year) to the Select Committee’s report. In the meanwhile the British Parking Association (BPA) has called for and is organizing a summit to try to drive some leadership into the debate so we can all better understand what it is that needs to be done to restore public confidence in local authority parking management and to set out the local authority case for properly and legitimately managing traffic and parking in their communities. Transport Minister Robert Goodwill (who replaced Norman Baker) has already agreed to attend.

The time is fast approaching when these particular chickens will come home to roost and local authority traffic and parking departments need to be part of the solution. So I wish you all a very happy holiday and ask you to prepare for resolution in the new year to get this sorted once and for all.

Not Teacher But Awakener

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

I was recently talking with a few colleagues and the discussion turned to the topic of mentors. The question of who our mentors were and why was thrown out on the table and brought about an interesting conversation. You won’t be surprised that qualities such as “driven,” “tough but fair,” and “had your back” were used to describe the people who served as our coaches, advisers, and guides. Ours were also experts in their professions, successful, and fiercely loyal to those invited under their wings.

As each person shared their stories, I couldn’t help but think how lucky one is to have a mentor and how important it is to one’s growth, maturation, and success. No one in our group picked anyone without integrity and character, or anyone who didn’t see being a mentor as an important role. Under the guidance of our mentors, we each awoke to our own potential and learned firsthand what qualities go into being successful in any pursuit.

I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors. One who comes to mind was a guy I  met in the military and served with in the Iraq war. He taught me how to look after people, was one of the most technically proficient people I have ever met, and there wasn’t a challenge he couldn’t overcome.

What about you? Have you thought about your mentor lately? What characteristics stand out about your mentor? Are you a mentor? And finally, have you thanked your mentor lately?

Talk is Cheap

Jeff_Pinyot

I know many parents who shelter their kids from real conversation, but they’re a great way for children to learn about life. My son Jonathan (JP) loves to learn about my business.

“Do you have investors? Do you have debt? Are we rich? Why are you always so grumpy?” Answers: Yes, yes, no, and because the answer to the third question is no.

Real life is the very best teacher. No college economics class can replace Life 101. My kids are used to every opportunity being a business opportunity. Driving through Birmingham, Ala., on spring break one year, my daughter said, “Dad, look at the awful yellow lights on that parking garage over there. You should meet with that owner and let him know that you could save him some money.” I met with the owner the next morning.

Will our family ever get rich from dad’s decision to quit a solid job of 24 years to start a lighting business? While our investors, my partners, and I believe the risk and investment will pay off, “rich” has a far deeper meaning. I am already rich in the support of my loving family and the sacrifices that they have made so I could reinvest my life into this business. We are rich in experiences.

I’ve always said, when the time is right, there will be a book. The book will be a “How To”, or a “How Not To” book. I am working on the chapters right now.

Be green, but don’t just hug a tree. Climb it!

 

Fall is Pedestrian Collision Season

Mark Wright

It might not feel like fall yet depending where you are, but noticeably earlier sunsets should be a signal to parking professionals that pedestrian collision season is just about here.

Pedestrian accidents occur year-round, of course, but the autumn months are particularly hazardous as pedestrians and drivers both adjust to the seasonal loss of late-day light. Parking areas are as vulnerable to this effect as roadways.

Here in my home-base of Montgomery County, Md., county officials reported a 34 percent increase in the number of pedestrian collisions in parking lots and garages in 2012. They also reported that parking lot and garage incidents accounted for 29 percent of all pedestrian collisions in the county that year.

The Montgomery County Police Department looked at the incident data for all pedestrian collisions occurring in parking lots/garages in calendar year 2012 and found that 94 percent occurred in parking lots (as opposed to garages), 74 percent were the driver’s fault, and 31 percent involved a vehicle backing out of a parking stall or travel lane.

Every jurisdiction is unique, certainly, and some have higher or lower numbers of pedestrian incidents in parking areas. Nonetheless, parking professionals just might be the best people to help prevent these sorts of injuries.

IPI is helping solve the problem early in drivers’ education through dissemination of its free publication, How to Park: A Must-read Manual for Teen Drivers, (downloadable at www.parking.org/teenparking), which was developed in conjunction with AAA and the AAA Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. Here’s a news release just distributed to teen and parenting media last week. If you’d like copies of the manual to distribute within your organization or community, contact Henry Wallmeyer at Wallmeyer@parking.org. You can even arrange to get copies printed with customized information and your logo on the back cover.

Are you teaming with pedestrian safety staff to address risks, educate drivers and pedestrians, add lighting, or take other steps to prevent accidents? Leave a comment below to share your efforts and lessons learned.

 

 

Greatness Hiding in Plain Sight

Isaiah Mouw

On a Friday morning in January 2007, commuters passing through the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D.C., were treated to one of the finest musical performances many would ever experience. Unfortunately, none of the commuters recognized it as being great.

Dressed as a common street performer, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell played in the Metro station as part of a Washington Post experiment. One of the world’s finest classical musicians played some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made–a $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius. What happened? Out of the nearly 2,000 people who passed Bell in a span of 43 minutes, only one man stopped to listen for a few minutes, one woman recognized him, and several children stopped to stare.

Just two days before this experiment, Bell sold out a Boston theater with an average ticket price of $100. But dressed in jeans and a baseball cap playing in an ordinary subway station, there were no rounds of applause, no cameras flashing, and no stopping to enjoy the beautiful music. The study raised several questions, including whether we recognize talent in an unexpected context, and the Washington Post story won a Pulitzer Prize.

At the 2013 IPI Conference and Expo, Roamy Valera, CAPP, was honored with the James M. Hunnicutt, CAPP, Parking Professional of the Year award. Roamy has done more for the parking industry than many of us will do in our lifetime, but what is amazing is that he started as a parking enforcement officer. A supervisor–Daniel Rosemond–saw something in Roamy and gave him a chance with a promotion. The rest, as they say, is history.

The next time you are looking for the next big thing, the next all-star manager, or the next creative marketer for your organization, don’t forgot to look around you. Don’t be like the Metro commuters who didn’t see the beauty or the greatness around them. Try looking within your organization and imagine what one of your employees could do in a different environment. Hiring within isn’t always the answer, but if you automatically dismiss someone within your organization who’s looking for a chance…you may just be passing on the future Parking Professional of the Year (which will accept nominations soon–which of your colleagues might fit the bill?)

 

 

 

 

 

WikiLots

Mark Wright

Mark Zuckerberg sent me a check the other day, enclosed in a thank-you card that read, “Thanks for your data. Here’s our royalty payment for its use. Keep up the good work. BTW, I’m wearing an Edward Snowden mask to this year’s FB company Halloween party. Bwaahaahaa.”

Then I awoke and realized it was all a dream. Nobody’s paying me for access to my personal information. Darn.

It was still early, so I went back to sleep.

Then Julian Assange texted me. His message read: “We believe everyone has a right to free parking. So, we’ve started a website called WikiLots, which will locate and aggregate your vehicle’s parked location 24/7, using data already being broadcast by your vehicle and augmented by fixed and mobile cameras (typically plate-reader-equipped police cars). WikiLots will set the world free, free, free…”

Then I awoke and realized it was all a nightmare. Nobody cares or tracks where I drive or park, do they? Nah.

In real life, I read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal (When Your Car Is Spying on You) in which Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., observes that Nissan plans to have affordable driverless vehicles on the market in 2020. Those vehicles, he says, will automatically share a lot of data about us.

“Nothing is stopping private operators from creating databases of plate numbers, faces, and identities — cross referenced by matching photos you and others post online on your Facebook profiles and elsewhere. These will be indexed by place of residence. Stores will know who you are the minute their cameras catch your plate arriving in their parking lots.”

That means a row full of occupied parking spaces is basically just data on a stick. It’s a yummy treat for any entity — corporate or government — with a sweet tooth for information about who we are, what we do, where we go and what we like.

What role should parking play as this new era of über-data dawns? Is the parking profession meant to promote its benefits or defend users against its excesses? Are parking pros destined to be proactive participants or passive bystanders in this trend?

It’s still early. Sleep is so tempting — yet suddenly so elusive.

 

Copybooks for All

Rachael Yoka

My kids started school a week ago (finally). It is of note that they resurfaced and re-striped the parking lot over the summer. This caused a certain amount of chaos, but it was a wise investment that will improve conditions in the long run. This post isn’t actually about that, though.

My kids have classes in history, english, math, and more. I am to provide a copybook for each distinct subject–a separate, individual copybook where my son and daughter will write useful information and things worth remembering about each subject.

Sadly, most of the time this is the case. Interdisciplinary explanations, connections, and impacts from one related subject to another (history and social studies, for example) go largely unexplained and unexplored at the elementary level, which I would argue is the best time to teach about those connections. Language and math and history and art and politics cannot be cleanly separated, and to do so leaves our kids at a disadvantage.

In the “real” world, do we operate differently?

Planners plan walkable (or drivable) cities.
Architects design green buildings and contractors build them.
Engineers create complete, green streets.
Parking and transportation professionals plan and operate assets to access said cities, buildings, and streets.

Few organizations, courses, or programs address not only these honorable endeavors, but also the complex relationships, synergies, and conflicts among them. Sustainability and smart growth can serve as that umbrella concept, but what more can we do?

To IPI’s credit, through its Parking Matters® program and other industry outreach efforts and alliances, inroads are being made so related professions take a more holistic approach that includes parking.

But we have much ground to cover. We do what we learn early in life.  We have learned to silo these “subjects.” I would rather be under the colorful umbrella that captures the nuances and relationships of the subjects we learn, and the work we do.

I, for one, would support a change in that paradigm, from Kindergarten all the way up to CAPP!