25 and Still Counting ... Where Has the Time Gone?
If memory serves me and "P.T. the Auditor" is correct, this is the 25th printing of "Comments From a Manager." Being a manager myself, I can appreciate the fact that we don't get many pats on the back for a job well done.
Well, folks, this time "Comments From a Manager" is going to pat that manager on his back for a job well done. Now it's time to look back at some of the better commentaries and see what was really being said.
"Comments From a Manager" was created when an article I had written was sent to one of the other parking magazines and returned because it didn't "fit their format." Anyway, some person who counts tickets for a living read the article and thought it was good. He suggested sending it to Parking Today. With some minor editing, the article was published.
Hopefully, this stroll down memory lane will either jog your memory on useful information or educate you on new material.
The first commentary was "Seven Hours to Fix a Flat" This one referenced a customer who shared an experience with me about how it had taken a garage seven hours to change her flat tire. While this commentary included a number of cases of the ball being dropped, two positives resulted. First, this particular parking entity created the correct customer service representative position and trained this individual as well. The second positive point was the enlightened look the manager had when I told him the story. The more I spoke, the larger his eyes became. I began to sense that he was actually learning a lot more than what was provided in textbooks and manuals. Suffice it to say that it doesn't take an advanced degree to run a parking operation; it simply takes ideology and theory techniques. Moral of the story: "Perhaps it takes a manager's comments to teach the parking industry.
Next, in "Service Truth and Word of Mouth," everyone learned that my wife and I had paid way too much for a Honda Odyssey minivan. Mind you, at the time, customers had to leave a $500 credit card deposit just to get on a waiting list to buy these vans. This commentary came about because an organization had a "lowest price offer"; however, the Odyssey and some other models were excluded from this offer. The problem was that the ad which I held in my hand did not state such exclusions. This incident made me think of the many different companies and organizations in the parking industry that make statements neither they nor their employees can, or will, back up. In the same respect, I also realized that many organizations in the parking industry exhibit honesty and integrity by standing behind their statements and promises.
On the other hand, those who do not practice good solid business dealings or simply "walk a gray line" (you know what I'm talking about -- the old double standard: write one set of principles and practice another) should take heed. Without hesitation, I wrote many letters explaining, in detail, my experience, which had created a nightmare of mistrust and disrespect. Keep in mind that eventually this negativity gains momentum to be in a position to harm the organization's most fragile commodity: its reputation. Word of mouth is an extremely effective source of news, so respect it and live it. As a follow-up, Honda of North America did require the dealer to make good on the ad, which resulted in my getting just what we had asked for: a fair deal. Take heed: This is just like the training videos state: "The customer always wins."
The next commentary, one of my favorites, related the parking industry to one of the most widely viewed shows in America: "Survivor." I realized that I had, in fact, been playing the survivor game in the parking industry for more than 13 years. Now, while my playing "the game" never earned me a place on David Letterman's "Top Ten List," it certainly afforded me the opportunity to relate to the approach of the show's final castaways (Richard, Rudy, Sue and Kelly). Let's recap those approaches.
First up was Sue, a female truck driver. Beware, there are a lot of "Sues" out there -- always claiming to be your friend while leaching onto the top people they believe have all the power and decision-making abilities. In the end, the Sue types do not plan or make adjustments for a sudden change in the food chain and ultimately get eaten up. Perhaps had Sue read "Who Moved My Cheese?" she would not have felt so comfortable. I believe the Sue types are best described by one of the other castaways who had been voted off: "In my neighborhood, she [Sue] would be known as a poor loser and a whiner. She needs to get over it."
Next there was Rudy, the ex-Navy Seal. Rudy was my favorite -- no frills, no frump, simply a straightforward, easy-going man of unquestionable integrity. Just imagine what the parking industry would be if everyone was like Rudy! Of course, you might also remember that Rudy made a few comments that some found offensive; however, in the end, he voted for someone whose personal life he adamantly opposed. When questioned as to his method of madness, Rudy simply replied: "I gave my word." The parking industry has a few Rudy types who maintain qualities of the highest standard. While most Rudy types end up in an organization's top five, usually above them are "snakes and rats" (as referenced by good old Sue).
Then there was Kelly, referred to as a "rat." The intent was to vote Kelly off well in advance of the final four survivors. However, Kelly had a goal. She knew her only chance of survival was to win each of the last "immunity challenges." Therefore, Kelly knew not only that her "cheese was being moved," but how to get to its new location long before the others. But rats are dangerous (sneaky, snide and fending only for themselves -- you know the kind).
Last was our "Snake": Richard. As stated by Sue: "The snake always eats the rat." Realistically, most "snakes" do end up at the top of an organization (of course, there are good snakes and there are bad snakes). Richard, however, was on a mission. He played it like a game, creating alliances, which ultimately won him the place of honor.
Keep in mind my method of madness for writing this article was somewhat philosophical, for it was meant to stimulate the brain cells around the word "remember." Remember -- that snakes are slimy, slithering and believable (lest we not forget Eve and the forbidden apple). That snakes are difficult to catch and make excellent politicians. (Are we all tuned into the same channel now?) Then again, most bad snakes have brief life spans. While the reason for their early demise has yet to be documented, I believe it is a result of their digestive processes. You see, when snakes eat, their prey becomes lodged in their throats and, ultimately, it is this long digestive process that finally kills them. Lesson to be learned: You can use people only so long.
Finishing out that first year was "Please Sweat the Small Stuff." This commentary contradicted the latest popular wisdom about not sweating the small stuff. I argued then, and will continue to remind everyone, that when it involves parking, it's all details and we must sweat them.
Let's face it folks: We only sell something between two painted lines. That sounds way too easy for me. What does your parking facility look like? It may be saying more than you realize. What kind of appearance do your cashiers present? Keep in mind the word "uniform" means "not varying in form" -- not two red shirts, two white shirts, and a green one, even if they all have the same logo on them.
Next is the signage. How clean and in what condition are the graphics in your facilities? Most I have visited seem to display a new or mint-condition sign with the facility rates, while the directional/informational signage is covered with dust or dirt or just faded from old age.
Finally, as the customer leaves the facility, once again all the details of appearance of the exit and the cashier come into play. I remember when I was a parking novice that the general manager of a large well-known hotel (where I ran the parking facility) wouldn't give me the time of day when I asked for help in the customer-service area. One day I blurted out: "While they are staying in your hotel, we here in the garage -- should they arrive by car -- have the opportunity to piss them off before they check into your hotel and then again after they check out. It was at that point that all garage attendants and cashiers were included in the hotel's employee customer-service training.
Speaking of details, how could I forget telephone skills? How do your employees answer the phone? Is it with a friendly, enthusiastic voice? Do they give information clearly and say thank you? Or do they sound more like a robot, talk too fast and become distracted by people or things around them?
You know, there is another small detail -- tracking the money. But that's what "PT the Auditor" is all about, and he knows way more about that subject
Keep in mind the old saying: "You can pay me now or pay me later." Well, when it comes to sweating the details in the parking industry, I would highly recommend that we change it just a tad. The new saying should be: "You can sweat the details now or sweat them later, with interest on top."
At this time, I would like to thank everyone who helps make these "Comments From a Manager" so great. Therefore, to you out there who know who you are: "Thanks again ... Couldn't have done it without you!"