Magazine

Two-Way Video Makes for A Friendlier POF System

By John Van Horn

Denison Parking had a problem. They needed to advance the concepts of pay-on-foot and automation to their customers and clients. The problem: POF devices are sometimes perceived to be cold and impersonal, maybe a bit intimidating to customers and downright unfriendly in the eyes of Denison's clients.
The benefits of POF were obvious. The reduction in labor costs would pay for the new technology quickly and enable the operator to upgrade its personnel on-site. The operation would run more smoothly, and the facility owner would have a healthier bottom line.
Intercoms are fine, but impersonal. So the question was how to make the system friendlier to the folks who came into Indianapolis from smaller surrounding communities where they raise the corn and beef that feed the nation communities.
The solution was to install a system that put the customer service representative in front of the parker, even when that person was six blocks (or in some cases, six states) away. Install a CCTV system that was integral to the POF, and have color LCD screens at the POF and exit station.
There is an internal camera on the POF and a large color screen at eye level. The screen has instructional information for the user. If the user needs assistance, he can not only hear the customer service rep, but also see a real-time live image on the LCD display.
"This makes the conversation much more personal and effective," said John Hedge, the Denison's manager who oversees the three garages that have the system installed. "Our customers feel much more comfortable dealing with a real person than with just a voice over an intercom. A face and a smile can disarm most of the frustration in learning new technologies.
"I can watch the customer and help them, sometimes when they don't know I'm there," Hedge said. "Once I noticed a woman paying by credit card. She placed the card and her exit ticket in her wallet, which she then placed in her handbag. When she got to the exit, she hit the help button and told me that the POF had kept her exit ticket.
"I smiled and told her to look in her wallet, which was in her black purse. She hesitated, but then when I asked her a second time, she did look in her pocketbook, and sure enough, there was the exit ticket. Needless to say, she was amazed and will most likely remember to look next time before calling for help. I also think that her being able to see me and realize that there was a person helping her made a difference."
The three parking facilities equipped with the video system, located throughout downtown Indianapolis, are run from one central location. They are connected by the Internet using a high-speed T-1 connection.
"We started with a DSL line," said Ken Evens of Evens Time, the company that installed the system. "It was too slow. The pictures were jerky, and looked a bit like 'Max Headroom.' The T-1 makes the video look like it's hard-wired. Now, it's virtually studio quality."
Since the video system is Internet-based, it makes no difference where the central control station is located. According to Mark Pratt, Denison's President, it plans additional sites in Indianapolis and in other cities where the 100-location company has customers.
"We can run them all out of one place with one person per shift," Pratt said. "The benefits to us and our customers are tremendous, but the biggest plus is to the parker. They feel comfortable with the technology, and accept it more quickly."
The reduction in the number of staff at each location has enabled Denison to invest more in the people who perform the customer service task at the central location.
"We can afford to pay these folks more and get a person who is technically savvy and also personable," Pratt said. "The ability to see the people they are helping gives the CSR a feeling of ownership. Also, since they know the customer can see them, they are always on their toes. The two-way video helps everyone.
"The video system has totally changed the way we operate," Pratt said. "We can now be proactive. Take the case of the woman that John mentioned, the one with the black purse. Had he not seen what she had done, and then been able to be seen by her, the situation could have easily deteriorated. It was, however, a win for everyone."
The images are recorded on a DVR and the operator can quickly "reverse" the video and see just what the person did at the POF or exit lane, if they didn't happen to be paying attention. The recording also comes in handy in the event of any dispute.
Evens said the system was relatively easy to install. "There were a few quirks to be worked out in the beginning, what with IP addresses and the Internet to resolve. But we worked well with the manufacturer (WPS), and the system went in extremely smoothly."
The central station has three large flat-screen displays. One is reserved for incoming requests. A second has four rotating pictures so the operator can get an overview of the entire operation. And the third is used to review individual transactions if there is a need to "go back" and see what has happened in a particular event.
"Another great feature," noted Hedge, "is the fact that I can forward the alarms to my cellphone. If we have a problem, say, at 3 a.m. and we have no one at the command center, I can get the call at home, and then call up the video on my home computer. I can then talk to the parker over the phone and see them on the computer. This enables us to provide service even at those times when having a CSR actually at the central station is not reasonable."
Hedge also noted that, if desired, the building administration can watch activity on the system from their offices by logging on to the Internet and, with proper addresses and passwords, see exactly what the CSR sees in the central station.
The system also includes real-time credit card processing. These appear on the central station's screen. If a card is rejected, the CSR can know it almost before the customer. They can then take proactive action and help defuse the situation.
"We like the design," said Evens. "The bar code tickets are scanned with a stationary scanner; there is no transport mechanism. Also, the credit card reader is like the one you find at a gas station. There is no transport there, either. This makes for reliability and very easy maintenance."

For more information, contact the manufacturer, WPS, at www.wps-na.com. Mark Pratt can be reached at mpratt@denisonparking.com.

Article Abstract from August, 2006




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