Customer service still trumps technology in the parking industry


Customer service still trumps technology in the parking industry

 The Washington, DC, metropolitan area has a lot of parking facilities in a wide variety of sizes: from unstaffed open-air lots in not such great condition serving mom-and-pop stores and small strip malls, to multilevel garages with gates and a few staff, serving multi-use spaces.
They may have all the newest equipment and technology, but nothing surpasses a friendly, professional and helpful staff to deal with all the issues, large and small, that arise. Convenient locations, guaranteed price, flexible parking options to meet the customer’s schedule, parking near popular attractions and events – all of these conveniences (including a chilled bottle of water on a hot and humid summer’s day) have never trumped and can never trump superior customer service. 
Losing a parking ticket, as most of us have done, is the single most defining moment for staff and customers vis-à-vis their parking experience. A recent interaction with attendants in a garage demonstrated to me yet again the difference that can be made when owners and management respect staff and communicate to deal with a customer’s problem.  
Recently, I parked in a DC-area garage, and unknowingly I misplaced my ticket. Thankfully, I remembered paying for the parking with my credit card, and I had the receipt.  As happy as I was to find the receipt, my enthusiasm was dulled by a previous experience I had had with a parking attendant. 
In that instance, the attendant had been quite rude and attempted to get me to pay for the entire day. Even though the situation was resolved in my favor, the experience was irritating and memorable in a negative way, not the preferred outcome for any company.
So, with trepidation and a steel nerve, I went to the attendant, ready for a fight. In my strongest voice, I explained what had taken place and produced the receipt and credit card I had used to pay for the now-missing ticket. 
To my absolute surprise and happiness, the attendant defused me with the broadest smile and cheeriest voice. He treated me as if I had just given him a winning lottery ticket. He then confirmed the transaction and ushered me through the exit with the most genuine “Have a great day” that I have ever received.
 My one regret was that I didn’t get the attendant’s name. On a later day, I purposely went to the garage and asked for the attendant, as I really wanted to send a letter to his manager to congratulate him. I explained the circumstances, but the manager was unable to give me a name. 
As I related the story, the manager said it is a compliment that he has received on a daily basis from several customers about all his employees. With that said, the manager then introduced me to the Laz Parking way of customer service. 
It starts with hiring, motivating and training the right people, he said. Technology may be convenient for parking, but it doesn’t replace the hands-on service that a motivated, energized staff can provide. 
I applauded them and sent a warm note of thanks to management, praising their staff for turning what I thought would be a depressing situation into the experience of a lifetime, and a story that I repeat every time I get into a conversation about parking.
Great training and communications are crucial in every industry. In “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg discusses studies about self-discipline, habits and “triggers,” and how to change bad habits into good ones. Starbucks, for example, developed a manual and system for managers to help employees provide the best customer service. 
“This workbook is for you to imagine unpleasant situations, and write out a plan for responding,” the manager said. “One of the systems we use is called the ‘latte method.’ We ‘listen’ to the customer, ‘acknowledge’ their complaint, ‘take action’ by solving the problem, ‘thank’ them, and then ‘explain’ why the problem occurred.” 
At Starbucks, [Chairman and CEO Howard] “Schultz’s focus on employee training and customer service made it into one of the most successful companies in the world,” Duhigg writes. When Schultz handed over daily operations to other executives, the company started having problems. 
When he returned in 2008, “his priorities were restructuring the company’s training program to renew its focus on a variety of issues, including bolstering employees’ willpower and confidence,” Schultz told Duhigg in 2011. “Turnover has gone down. Customer satisfaction is up. … Starbucks has boosted revenues by more than $1.2 billion per year.” 
The design and construction of parking garages and integrative parking techniques have come a long way in terms of technology.  
For me, though, all the technology cannot surpass the importance of superior customer service, led by company ownership, management and staff, to ensure that the client enjoys an excellent parking experience each and every time. 
Contact Valerie Dulk-Jacobs, Regional Manager, World ATM., at
Article contributed by:
Valerie Dulk-Jacobs
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