Using Technology & Focused Collaboration to Improve the Customer Experience


Using Technology & Focused Collaboration to Improve the Customer Experience

This article is an adaptation of the trio’s 2020 IPMI Virtual Conference on-demand session.

As many colleagues know, running campus parking operations at a major university can be quite a daunting challenge, having to navigate politics and competing interests. However, with the right combination of inter-departmental collaboration, technology and focusing on the relationship with the customer to create a win/win, we’ve been able to achieve our goals of improving the parking experience for students, faculty, staff and visitors, while also strengthening our bottom line. This thinking begins with our strategic plan that focuses on our team, our customers and our desire to drive innovation in our department. 

Changes in our operations not only impacted our department’s customers, but also those of other entities within the University.

In 2012, our department did not even take credit cards for parking transactions. We knew we needed to lay out a roadmap, with key decisions, to leverage technology and step into the 21st century. After that first step, we made several great leaps by upgrading our parking management software to T2, selling permits online, replacing our outdated PARCS system with TIBA equipment and dropping gates 24/7, ultimately taking better control of our parking assets across campus. 

Without the ability to understand and influence who was parking where and when, it was exceedingly difficult to ensure parking availability and equity, in terms of sharing the operational costs between our monthly permitted customers and transient visitors. In fact, we were a bit concerned that when we dropped our gates that there would be a groundswell of grumbles from transient parkers about having to pay for parking that they previously never had. The truth is, we actually received compliments and praise because our permit holders, who previously may have been displaced, were finding more availability across campus. And, those transient parkers adapted quickly, with little pushback.

Furthermore, before we transitioned to 24/7 operations, our analysis showed that more than 90 percent of all costs related to deck operations and maintenance were being borne by our monthly permit holders. Transient use was extensive, putting increased wear and tear on the decks, yet these customers were paying very little to park in the decks. 24/7 operations gave us the opportunity to make cost sharing more reflective of actual use.

There were other challenges with moving to 24/7 operations. And while no change comes without its challenges, it did come with a silver lining, in that the additional compliance helped our departments provide more structure and direction to their guests and visitors for where to park when they came to campus. Prior to the change, many departments would frustrate their guests by giving them incorrect instructions about parking options, which led to poor first and last experiences on campus. 

Of course, none of these changes could be made without the endorsement of campus leadership. It turned out to be relatively easy due to our previous success in rollouts and preparation for this particular one. One key to our success was having a good understanding of customer concerns, potential objections and having prepared solutions as a part of our game plan. For example, Penn State’s Berkey Creamery draws a significant number of visitors to campus. When we engaged with the Berkey Creamery leadership they shared their desire to prorate the first hour of parking into 15-minute increments for their customers, which we did. Finding this solution and others, as well as gaining consensus among our internal customers, the approval process was relatively smooth.

If going 24/7 was the catalyst for change, technology was the key enabler to our success. It really began with our new PARCS equipment. We’ve also introduced a mobile payment solution, as well as partnering with Parker Technology to provide a customer experience platform complete with two-way video intercoms. We knew that delivering a better customer experience demanded that we find ways to get more done without adding staff, which we knew would be difficult to source for overnight and weekend hours. 

We also knew that automation had the potential to confuse our customers, and with the gates down, we needed to figure out how to provide the help our customers needed at all hours when they encountered payment issues, equipment malfunctions or the like. That’s where the customer experience platform really helped us accomplish that goal. 

Changes in our operations not only impacted our department’s customers, but also those of other entities within the University.

The platform gave us the ability to centralize all intercom help calls to our office during the week. We then turned to a parking focused call center to take our calls on the weekends and during major holidays, allowing our staff to go home and be with their families. 

Because every intercom call is logged with an issue and a resolution, we have insight into the myriad of ways our customers are getting confused and can address the issues with solutions, like better signage and improved wayfinding. For example, after deploying the platform, we learned that between .9 percent-1.1 percent of the total number of gate lifts resulted in an intercom call and 80 percent of those calls came as a result of the customer experiencing an issue that was not related to equipment failure. 

While 1.1 percent may not sound like a large number, that still amounted to more than 27,415 calls for help from our parking customers who didn’t come to the campus to park, they came to the campus to for another reason. 

Changes in our operations not only impacted our department’s customers, but also those of other entities within the University. And, one of those entities most affected was intercollegiate athletics (ICA). As a Big Ten school, ICA is a large and very important customer with whom Transportation Services had a strained relationship in years past. When we say large, we’re talking about 31 sports with 800+ student athletes in multiple facilities spread across campus.

And while the relationship still can be challenging at times, it is no longer strained. Our ability to set aside our own agendas and collaboratively focus on the parking customer’s experience has improved the process for everyone involved.

ICA events and customers were a part of the parking puzzle, but not the whole puzzle, and our ability to open lines of communication and point to a bigger picture helped. Supporting this endeavor was our recommendation for ICA to provide a single point of contact for every team, a parking liaison. 

Having one person to talk to on both sides helped increase the flow and quality of information between ICA and our department, and they recognized the upside for their operations, as well. This moved the parking discussion from something no one wanted to talk about, to something we could collaborate on. It really helped us transform our relationship to a true partnership.

Our journey hasn’t been an easy one, it’s been fraught with operational challenges, along with challenging customers and colleagues, and there’s still quite a way to go. 

But, by coupling a strong roadmap with our desire to drive progress, partnering with companies who understand our customer focus and sprinkling some collaboration on a few difficult conversations, we believe we are squarely on a path to not only maintain our success on campus, but continue to raise the bar. 

Rob DeMayo is Director of Transportation Services at Penn State. He can be reached at Ryan Givens is the former Assoc. Director of Transportation Services at Penn State. He can be reached at Brian Wolff is President & CEO of Parker Technology. He can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Rob DeMayo, Ryan Givens and Brian Wolff
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