Good Customer Service, or Collect Every Dime
October, 2009When is customer service “over the top,” and when should we break the law to prove a point? The boss was traveling the last couple of weeks and came across two issues that relate to parking and auditing. He asked me to expand on them
Traveling means airports and airports mean airport parking. If you read his blog, you know what’s coming.
The boss dropped off his car at 6 a.m. and flew to DC for a couple of quick meetings. He returned at 5 p.m. and found he had lost his ticket (not unusual; at his advanced age, he loses things a lot).
When he drove up to the exit and reported his dilemma, the cashier said, “No problem, when did you come in?” The boss reported that he had arrived at 6 a.m. the same day. “Where did you park, covered or uncovered?” Uncovered. “That will be $8.50.” Great customer service, but ...
There were no license plate recognition (LPR) cameras, no inventory system visible, and no one asked for any ID or plate number. Just good old honesty on the part of the cashier and the parker.
Airports are the place where license plate inventory got its start. Years ago, before LPR, attendants would drive or walk through the lot every night and record the plate numbers. Then a software program would place them in order with their entry dates, and the cashier could look them up on a list, compute the amount due, and collect the correct amount.
For those of you who are now confused, consider this. If the boss had come in a week before, he could have had exactly the same conversation and instead of paying $70 for his weeklong covered parking space, he could have paid $8.50 for his one-day stay in the cheap seats.
Perhaps more important, the cashier could make it a habit of ringing up a “lost” ticket whenever a car that was in more than, say, a week, came to the exit. Don’t do it every time; make it look fairly evenly spaced. Just tell the driver that the fee is $70. The driver will pay it knowing that it is correct, and then ring it up as a one-day lost ticket. Nothing could be easier. If this happened once a day, the loss is $22,000 a year.
License plate inventory has come a long way, baby, from those days of keying in license plate numbers upon exit. LPR and the associated inventory software make it simple to check every car and ensure that the ticket presented is from the correct car.
There is another dodge that may cause some pause.
The wife goes on a business trip. She is gone for two weeks. She parks in short-term parking and has a $280 fee. On her return, her husband, who happens to work near the airport, drives into the same lot and hands his parking ticket to her as she walks to her car. She uses his ticket to leave and pays nothing, saying she forget her briefcase and is within the 10-minute grace period. Her husband drives out and says he lost his ticket. He pays the one-day lost ticket rate. They end up cheating the operator out of $260.
This was at an airport where they do not take license plate numbers on entry but collect them by driving around at night, keying in or (using LPR) scanning in the numbers. The husband’s plate wasn’t in inventory, so it was assumed that he came in that day. Her ticket was only a few minutes old, so the system didn’t look up her license plate, since she couldn’t be in the database anyway.
Had airport parking checked her license number anyway, they would have gotten into one huge argument that they most likely would lose. She was holding a ticket with an entry time of just a few minutes earlier; they were holding a bunch of bits in their computer. Oh, they might win, but they would have a PR problem that would haunt them forever.
Solve the problem by taking the license plate number on entry (make sure a large part of the car can be seen). Then simply show the driver the picture and collect the money. This also protects the cashier. He or she now simply collects the money from the driver and makes change. Everything else is automated.
Is it OK to break the law to prove a point? The boss is waging a campaign to prove his 90/10 theory. That is, 90% of all parking citations never get written; that most people who don’t pay or overstay don’t get caught.
While on the trip to DC, he parked in front of the National Parking Association offices for an hour. He had no change, so he didn’t pay. He got no ticket. He has many other examples.
To prove his point, the boss is planning to “go bare” and not pay any on-street parking fees for the rest of the year and see just how many tickets he gets.
OK, he’s a bit of a fringie, but is this proper? He justifies it because he’s a “journalist” and doing a “test.” But is it the right thing to do? He can embarrass city enforcement staff. But will it help?
I’m conflicted. On one hand, if a city can’t get its act together, they deserve what they get, and if we learn something from the experiment, then good will come from it. However, lawlessness never solved a problem. We know that many people who purposely ignore parking rules get many tickets, some paying thousands a year in fines. Someone out there must be doing something right.
The boss tells me that it’s funny. If you simply are “running in to drop off your dry cleaning or don’t have a quarter for the meter,” there doesn’t seem to be any guilt involved. However, if you actively decide not to pay, acknowledging that you are breaking the law and do it anyway, years of learning right from wrong kick in and sleepless nights are just around the corner.
Glad I don’t have to worry about it. I pay for my parking.