The Customer as God

That’s the headline on a two page article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. It boils down to the fact that retailers, and others, are winning the marketing battle by giving customers more choices, and making it easier for them to purchase them. Its called Vendor Relationship Management or VRM. Rather than work for the supplier and ‘capture’ customers and lock them in to a certain way of buying – buy a camera from Ebay and find a lens advertised the next time you log on to Google – VRM builds vendors that fit your needs, not the other way around.

When you acquire Apps today, they are isolated is what techies call “silos”. That is, they restrict the reach of the app to a certain product or service like Travelocity or Priceline. With VRM, you will be able to work across many ‘silos’ at once, showing your value as an independent customer to the entire marketplace. The article points out that

Choosing among ATT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you’d like to live under house arrest.

So what does all this have to do with parking. I have been thinking about the parker as a customer, not a car, or something to fill a space. How do we as the parking industry reach customers, not parkers?

We don’t seem to think much about it. We consider technology, revenue control, sustainability, cost control, rate setting, market based pricing, and a myriad more such topics at our trade events, but do we talk about customers, and how we interact with them?

I think it’s a mind set. People have to park. They have no choice. So we provide parking space, like providing air or water.  We must breath and drink to survive, so the customers appear as if by magic and we sell them a product.  It’s the same with parking.

But do we consider the people who park on our streets, in our garages, or on our surface lots as customers?  We try to “change their habits” with rate structures and rules. We use programs to put them where we want them to park. We use technology to force them into certain spaces. But do we offer choices. Do we provide a product that fits their needs, rather than ours?

We have gone to great lengths to remove personal service from parking. Everything from automated fee collection to automated garages. Take the personal touch out. Remove the staff. Let people find their own space. Are we creating our own ‘silos.’  Apps tell us where to park, but do they include all the possibilities, or only those that purchase their service. If a city provides an app, like SFPark, for instance, does it include all parking choices, or only those that are owned by the city. I think we know the answer.

Bloggers don’t aren’t supposed to have answers, but to ask questions. That’s what this post is about. This is one of those famous paradigm shifts — moving to considering the people we do business with each day as customers.  How do we serve them?  How do we keep them? We have made them sheep and placed them in our silos. If we take a different approach, they will begin to look at us as they look at Nordstroms, Lowes, or  Wal-Mart. Companies with great service that set the standards in their industry.

If we begin to show that parking is a part of a journey and involve the destination, the route traveled, and various side spots along the way, the information we provide empowers the customer. It gives them choices, and enables them to make decisions that fit their lifestyle. We don’t know when a customer gets into the car to drive to our parking lot just who is in the car with her. Maybe the kids are along and it would be great to know what ‘kid friendly’ places are on the way. Or perhaps mom and dad are in the back seat and would like to be dropped off at a park or center that caters to seniors. Perhaps the car is dirty, or needs gas, or maybe the driver is hungry.The world is our oyster.


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One Response to The Customer as God

  1. Mike Ayoub says:

    The Customer is Not the Enemy:
    For many years I have had to remind my employees that the customer is not the enemy. A bad customer is still a customer. Being in the parking business we mainly function as bill collectors. Enforcement is what we do. We make people pay for parking. Most people don’t want to pay for parking and actually resent it, so we have an uphill battle to begin with when it comes to creating a good image for our business.
    So we all need to constantly remind ourselves that the customer pays our bills. The customer provides our paycheck. We have to always look for ways to create good will. Whenever we have the chance to be gracious, kind or helpful we need to do our best to make the customer happy. When a monthly customer leaves his lights on or leaves his window down or has a flat tire, we need to look up the permit number or license plate and call the customer to let him know that we are out there taking care of the lot or garage and that we care about what happens to his vehicle. When we create good will we put money in our pockets. When we create bad will we take money out of our pockets. When we do something nice for the customers such as giving them a discount or forgiving a debt they will become better customers and they will spread the word that we are a good company.
    The reverse is true as well, as in the case of booting or towing, although they are sometimes a necessary evil. It’s almost always better to give the customer the chance to pay us instead of the wrecker or booting company. They remember things like that and will come back and park with us again. The reverse is also true. If they have a bad experience with us, even if it’s their own fault, they might never park with us again. They might never come back to our town again. This applies to every single customer but especially to customers who buy multiple parking spaces from us such as large companies. This applies to every aspect of our operation not just on the lot or in the garage. We have to be careful how we treat the customer in the office, on the phone and on emails and it applies to every level of employee. So remember next time you are faced with the choice of being nice or being mean: the customer is not the enemy.

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