Technology is Fine – But People Make the Difference
To glean perspective on the importance of customer experience for the parking industry, Heidi Barker with Parker Technology spoke with Brandy Stanley, Parking Services Manager for City of Las Vegas
Consumers expect a high level of service from any business with which they interact, and parking is no exception. Recall the last time you had an issue with an online shopping order, airline ticket or hotel reservation. Were you satisfied to resolve it through an automated call system or web module, or did you really just want to talk to another human being? Many businesses have adopted human contact into their customer experience because they know it increases loyalty and profitability.
According to customer service expert Shep Hyken, “The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship building tool between a customer and a business; the human touch.” Talking to an empathetic person when you’re upset diffuses frustrating situations and restores faith in a brand. The same is true in your parking facilities. If a parking guest has an issue, genuinely resolving their problem with another human may be the key to saving that experience.
Working in so many different cities, did you see how customer service played into each and the importance of it over the years?
I have, yes. Customer service means different things to different people, of course, but it’s easily forgotten when you’re managing parking, because people have to park, so sometimes you forget to make it a good thing for the customer.
If you’re trying to win your customer base because you’re facing competition, obviously customer service can be a huge differentiator. But the other thing I’ve learned while working for cities, is that parking isn’t the only thing that’s important. One thing I like about working for cities is that it’s the whole customer experience. If you’re trying to get people to move to your city, or you’re trying to attract people to come downtown, you don’t care where they park, you just want them to have a good experience.
Just like with valeting, parking is your first and your last impression and it really makes a difference. It reflects upon the entire experience your customer has, whether they’re visiting a hotel that you’re valeting or whether they’re going to a shopping mall down the street. No matter where they go, their entire experience is colored by what happens when they park.
What are some effective ways for improving parking customer experience in the cities you’ve managed?
It’s changed a little bit, but I think in-person contact is the one thing that can make a huge difference. I know that the trend is to go away from staffing garages with people. However, I’ve been a bit slow to make that transition because there are certain instances where you really need to have a person. One of the things that is sort of a middle ground is the idea of video intercoms, because it provides a high level of automation, but also provides that personal contact, which I think is the biggest customer service differentiator.
What does ‘good’ look like in terms of call center customer service and delivering it excellently?
Number one is actually answering calls, which seems like a no-brainer, but based on our experience, apparently that’s a really difficult thing to do across the board. If someone rings the call button and then they get put on hold, or it rings and rings, right there before the call even gets answered, there’s a level of frustration. With call centers, it is easy for the operator on the other end to treat them like just another call, which is really the opposite of what we’re looking for in terms of personal contact. We’re looking for someone to make a connection, and if it’s somebody sitting in a call center that can’t see you and you can’t see them, and they’re just talking at you, it’s not a great experience.
What other customer experience solutions do you utilize besides video intercoms?
Great signage is really important, and lighting is even more so. A fresh coat of paint and a clean garage are also inviting. We have roving security in all of our lots and garages, which costs an arm and a leg, but it has cut down on vandalism substantially over the last year or so. But to be honest, our biggest customer service advantage is our people. Our enforcement officers tour every lot and every garage multiple times a day, and spend a good portion of their time talking to customers – answering questions, giving directions, educating, etc.
What was the process you went through towards finding these solutions?
Our number one goal is to find something that works. There’s an awful lot of stuff out there that doesn’t work. A product may sound great, and it may have great sales people and may be a good concept, but the bottom line is if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t add value. And like I said, there’s a shocking amount of stuff out there that doesn’t work. Then after that, it is how responsive the particular vendor is to your needs and your customers’ needs. Finding a partner that’s willing to grow and change with your organization is also very difficult to find.
Would you say that having a vendor’s goals and mindset align with yours is essential?
Yes, that is really important. One of the things that I get really frustrated with is as companies grow, they tend to lose sight of their customers. And this trend towards mergers and acquisitions is really awful from an end-user perspective. Anytime one of my vendors gets bought out or buys another company, I know that it’s going to be at least a year before we can get back on track with customer service and development.
If you could impart advice to other parking facility managers, what would you tell them for improving the customer experience?
The biggest thing is not underestimating the importance of in-person contact. Our city hall garage is fully automated, and the only time I get compliments on our customer service and how well we do is when one of our staff or one of our remote video intercom attendants has actually made personal contact. I don’t receive calls from anyone saying “Hey, it was really easy getting into your garage.” It’s obviously a goal of parking to make it hassle-free, but you don’t get compliments on that. You get compliments on how your staff interacts with your customers.
Brandy Stanley, Parking Services Manager for the City of Las Vegas, is known in the parking industry for her vast knowledge and penchant for innovation and can speak extensively on the importance of delivering a positive customer experience. Stanley has worked in parking for 27 years, 8 of those with the City of Las Vegas. Before Las Vegas, she worked for the city of Manchester, NH; however, she’s worked all over the country. She started her career in Seattle as a valet, then worked for Standard and Central (now SP+) managing parking operations in New Orleans, Miami, Richmond and Austin. She can be reached at bstanley@lasvegasnevada.
HEIDI BARKER is Director of Marketing for Parker Technology. She can be reached at email@example.com or visit www.helpmeparker.com.