When it Comes to Parking at the University of Houston, Customer Service is Paramount

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When it Comes to Parking at the University of Houston, Customer Service is Paramount

Founded in 1927, the University of Houston is the flagship institution of the University of Houston System and, with over 47,000 students, it’s the third-largest university in Texas. Located in the sprawling metropolis of Houston, the university provides cutting-edge programs including undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, distance, and continuing education studies. Ranked among the best colleges in the United States, UH is home to award-winning faculty, innovative research centers, alumni who have become international leaders, and a diverse student population. UH is also well known for athletics, having won 17 NCAA team national championships. 

 

Advanced Technology

For a school with such a robust academic, artistic, and athletic life, parking is an important campus resource. Technology plays a huge role in the success of the university’s parking program, with advanced PARCS systems getting students, faculty, staff, and visitors in and out of parking garages quickly and easily, and parking guidance technology guiding drivers directly to available parking.

 

UH’s parking technology package is extraordinarily advanced. But as every university parking administrator knows, technology doesn’t always work as it’s supposed to. Parts break and things go wrong. Also, drivers sometimes have trouble operating technology, even when it is working properly. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting helplessly at a gate that won’t open when you are late for class or trying to get out of the garage to get to an afterschool job on time. 

 

That’s where the university’s parking customer service platform comes in. Last year, the university partnered with Parker Technology to provide 24/7 video customer support in campus parking facilities. The customer support technology provides a direct video (or audio) link to a highly trained Parker customer service representatives if a driver experiences problems when entering, exiting, or paying for parking.

 

“This is all about elevating the parking experience,” said Neil Hart, Executive Director of Parking and Transportation Services for the University of Houston. “It’s also going to help us streamline our own parking operations, which will significantly reduce our parking management costs.”

 

The customer support platform works in tandem with UH’s existing PARCS equipment, providing instant access to trained customer services professionals via buttons located in the entry, exit, and pay-on-foot kiosks. The university has six garages utilizing two-way video functionality, while 16 lots have audio functionality. Across the 22 facilities, the solution is available in 111 lanes.

 

A Human Connection

In today’s increasingly automated parking industry, the customer support platform can provide the sole connection between parkers and trained professionals who can help solve common problems related to paying for parking or entering and exiting garages. Each year, parkers across the United States reach out to customer service professionals via intercoms at least 85 million times. 

 

“As important as this technology is as a customer service amenity, it’s also playing an important role in our long-term management plans,” said Hart.

 

As stated earlier, the technology is helping to streamline parking operations by inserting a vital safeguard into the university’s automated parking management system. It provides additional operational benefits by collecting valuable customer service data. Data is the backbone of contemporary parking management, and that data is collected by the wide array of technologies employed in parking facilities. 

 

For instance, PARCS equipment tells owners and operators how many parkers use a given facility, and when peak hours and days tend to occur. Parking guidance equipment collects data about which sections of the parking facility are busiest and when. This is invaluable information for helping parking administrators manage their parking resources and determine whether they need additional parking.

 

But as important as this information is, it doesn’t tell owners and operators anything about how well the facility is operating. Are parkers able to enter facilities quickly and conveniently? Are they able to pay and exit quickly? When there are problems are they caused by equipment malfunction or user error? If malfunction, which equipment experiences the most issues and what are those issues? The University of Houston’s platform collects and analyzes all this information and makes it available to parking administrators. 

 

In the case of UH, in 2022, customer service representatives answered 40,336 (or about 3,500 per month) from across 25 campus garages and lots, with an average call duration of 1:08 minutes. As one would expect, highest call volume days are Monday through Friday, with between 100 and 120 calls per day. On these weekdays, peak hours for customer service calls are between 9:00 am and 6:00 am, and most issues revolve around the entry/exit process or monthly permit parking issues. For entry/exit process, aka human error, almost 70 percent resulted in successful transactions.

 

From this data, university parking administrators can draw conclusions about how their parking technology is performing and whether maintenance or replacement is needed. 

 

“We have an employee who looks at the Parker report every day,” said Hart. “From that, we can see what issues arose. We can also see who didn’t have money to pay for parking, so then we can bill them. The platform helps us understand exactly what went on during any given day.”

 

More Convenient and Manageable Parking

“Adding Parker’s platform was an essential step to successfully automating our parking,” said Hart. “Since we automated, parking revenue has jumped by 23 percent. So, I’d say it has been a good investment.”

 

With the addition of the customer service solution, parking at the University of Houston is more convenient than ever before. The parking system is also more manageable. The University of Houston’s addition of Parker’s solution puts it at the forefront of university parking operations, and UH’s parking customer service program should serve as a model for other universities across the United States.

 

Bill Smith is a business writer specializing in the parking industry. He can be reached at bsmith@smith-phillips.com.

Article contributed by:
Bill Smith, Smith Phillips Strategic Communications
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