Leveraging Technology in Parking
For too long, the parking industry has been labeled as being behind the curve in technology. However, if you look at what’s been developed in the past few years, it’s impressive to see the offerings keep pace with the retail market space. This has been achieved despite the unique challenges parking has over the general retail market.
Convergences of technologies in parking are many and highlighted as follows:
• Access credential substitutes – employee badges, driver’s license, toll tags, and bankcards are all doubling as parking credentials and also replacing paper tickets.
• Quick Response (QR) codes – another replacement for paper tickets, links to mobile apps or websites, vehicle locator apps and downloadable discounts.
• Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – used in License Plate Recognition (LPR) and parking guidance systems.
• Customer kiosks – the ability to pay for parking, locate a vehicle and register for parking programs.
• Customer portals – online account management, payment options, view recent activity andprint receipts.
• Server hosting and “cloud” computing – using national hosting services in place of local PARCS servers and eliminating local support staff, storage of applications and data in the cloud to be accessible anywhere.
• Centralized call centers – for customer service and facility management.
• Social media – Facebook, Twitter and their less recognized equivalents are making their way into parking. Managing customer ratings alone justifies allocating resources to this growing marketing segment.
• Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon trails have recently been installed in Miami International Airport and will soon be installed in other airports. The beacon trails allow messages to be sent to personal mobile devices as a customer walks by a Bluetooth sensor. Bluetooth technology is also used in vehicle locator mobile apps that are programmed to automatically update a parking location without having to scan a locator sign each time you park.
The above examples help illustrate how willing the parking industry is to try to keep pace with technology in order to serve its customers. However, the parking industry does face challenges to a greater degree than most retail segments, including the following:
• Most customers don’t think about parking as a purchase. It’s just something that’s done before or after the real purpose of their trip.
• Most customers make their parking purchase decision while they are driving. Price and location decisions are weighed while making sure they don’t turn down a one-way street in the wrong direction.
• Most customers are not aware of the parking options available to them. Because they don’t think of parking as a product, they don’t invest the time to learn their options before making the purchasing decision.
• Terminology for parking products, services and technology is inconsistent and therefore confusing. Parking facility owners and PARCS vendors use different names for similar options, and use the same name for different options. Confused yet? Welcome to our customers’ world. For example, the term “Express Park” can be seen at one facility meaning credit card in/out, but at another facility, it can mean using a credential for quick access.
We are all aware of the great need to educate and inform our customers of their options and how to use the technology associated with each option. So how are we reaching our customers?
This traditionally has been the primary method to inform customers. Local signage must catch the customer’s eye and offer a clear, concise message. Local signage is now going beyond wayfinding, rates and payment instructions. One high-value use is vehicle locator signage that is scanned by a mobile device to store the location of where you parked.
While local signage can continue benefitting customers while they are in your parking facility, it also is now being used to promote other products and services available to customers for their next trip.
An effective local signage tool is a QR code that takes the customer to your website or mobile app. Even more innovative is installing a Bluetooth beacon trail that sends a message to their mobile device as they walk through your parking facility. Customers may not read the details at that precise moment, but they now have real-time information in their smartphone to make future parking or purchasing decisions.
Offsite Information Media
Greater resources are being used to educate the parker before they arrive to the parking facility. The primary methods include:
• Websites – some venues such as airports have used websites for years to inform customers of rates, products and space availability. Now these websites are also providing ways to interact with customers and incentivize purchases through promoting special offers, reservations, VIP programs, loyalty programs and parking mobile apps. Customer registration on a parking website provides a long-desired avenue to communicate with customers and learn more about their travel and spending habits.
• Mobile apps – given that parking customers are indeed mobile, logic dictates that investing in a mobile app is a must, and the “Connected Traveler” expects it. Mobile parking apps are available for making payments, parking reservations, parking discounts, promotional offers, space availability, vehicle locators and used as access media. A few mobile app brands have wide-spread recognition, but there are still many lesser known competing brands. With so many mobile apps being independently promoted by each parking owner, it becomes less appealing for customers to invest time in downloading and updating multiple parking apps with the same purpose for each different parking location. As with most new technology, in time, a few brands will rise to the forefront and reduce the need for customers to keep redundant parking apps. Also, mobile apps will begin to provide multiple uses so that most parking needs can be found in one consolidated app.
• Email – once a customer registers onto your website or mobile app, email campaigns can begin in earnest. Emails inform customers about new products and services, and how to use the related technology. Successful email campaigns include information that gives the user a sense of being an insider with privileged information or consistently provides fun facts that keep the customer opening your emails.
Parking has entered into a brave new era of technology. The challenge is meeting consumer expectations regarding technology and customer services. Not only does the parking technology have to be continually upgraded, but it has to be intuitive and in line with the mechanics of widely accepted retail technology. Creativity and visual appeal in marketing are equally important.
As challenging and exhausting as it may be, these changes are truly great for the parking industry. Parking has long been viewed as a low-end, blue collar industry, but this is not the case. It’s an exciting and profitable arena that requires highly qualified professionals from many industry segments.
Parking is attracting talent from across the business spectrum, including marketing, ecommerce, application development, financial analysis, IT services, payment services and many more industries than ever before.
Parking is profitable. Parking is popular. Parking is respected. Heck, newcomers to the industry even call parking sexy! My, how times have changed.
Michele Krakowski, CPA, is Founder, Owner and Principal at Lumin Advisors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.