Marketing Mistakes Can Lead to Failure in Your P-and-D Installation
Before considering what type of pay stations to purchase, you should do a thorough analysis of the requirements of your business to help determine what benefits automation will bring and what pains it might relieve. Understanding your customers and their expectations is critical in the setup phase, so that you choose both the best solution and the optimum equipment to deliver your service.
In fact, the decision to purchase new machines is often just the initial part of the full exercise in getting a new system up and running. Usually overlooked by new-machine purchasers but critical to easing the transition is a well-organized communications plan designed to educate, inform and alert users about the new payment options. This education program must be undertaken well before implementation and continued for a sufficient period after the new machines have been installed. The payoff will accrue as fewer complaints, a higher compliance rate and a smoother overall transition.
After going through the implementation process recently, Saskatchewan Provincial Parks talked about what worked -- and what didn't -- on the communications side. With the department continually working toward providing a higher level of customer service, stakeholder communication with park users continues to be a high priority.
The department is charged with overseeing a system of 34 provincial parks throughout this prairie province -- a area larger than most U.S. states. As part of a commitment to increase customer service, in 2003 the department decided to conduct a trial of a pay-and-display system to sell entry permits at six of its parks. (The equipment was supplied by Digital Pioneer.)
While the trial was a success -- the parks' working group overseeing the trial was pleased with the results and wanted to move the program forward in 2004 -- public reaction to the changeover ranged from easy acceptance to anger. A post-mortem by the working group determined that part of the reason related to inadequate communication about the new payment system.
While the pay-station initiative was designed to raise revenues, its main purpose was to improve customer service and ensure that all park users pay their fair share to use the facilities and support the park system. Regardless of whether a facility is public -- such as a park or university -- or is a private parking lot, customers need notice and some instruction on how to use newly installed technology.
The Saskatchewan Provincial Parks' working group identified the following key communications initiatives that could have made the transition much smoother:
Integrated communications strategy and plan. Communication about the new system should have been the subject of a planned advance program that would have focused energy on the initiative. It also would have been helpful to have one person responsible for managing this program, and ensuring its implementation, and budget should have been allocated to this end.
Piggyback on regular advertising programs. The parks department has an annual budget for advertising and communications that encompasses advertising in a number of tourism and recreation publications, producing a parks guide, and maintaining the parks information website. Information on the new pay-and-display machines at the six parks could have been incorporated into these communications vehicles to alert readers about the new payment options.
Make use of free media coverage. It's worthwhile to send out news releases to various media outlets announcing the new payment system and other fee initiatives to be implemented. This can lead to free publicity and media coverage in newspapers and recreation magazines -- in this case, that would have included several publications devoted to parks and recreation.
Location of the pay stations is important. The department also learned that pay-station locations in relation to the park and the entry gate were critical to compliance, especially in settings in which the entry gates are not staffed.
Brighter, simpler signage is needed. The department also came to realize that the signage it used contained too much detail, and was easily passed over by park-goers. A better alternative would have more direct and objective messaging. Again, the location of the signage and what it says is critical to ensuring that people notice and read the signs.
Prepare Q&A for the new system. As the department found, questions will be received from the public. Often, they are the same ones over and over again, so have precise and concise answers prepared. These "key messages" are simple, spoken language points about the payment system, why you implemented it, how it works and why people should make use of it. Key messages derive naturally from developing a Q&A in the pre-implementation phase. These messages can then be woven throughout all advertising, news releases, handbill notices and signage, and can also be provided to staff when they're dealing with the public.
Staff involvement. Upon analysis, Saskatchewan Provincial Parks officials believe that it would have been valuable to assign staff members to be available at the machines to answer questions and explain procedures.
Proactive communications makes good sense.
This is really the crux of the issue. Taking a proactive approach to communicating about a new payment system can educate users in advance, increasing the odds they will buy entry permits the first time through. This makes great financial sense because there is little or no disruption of revenue streams. It also makes sound customer relations sense. And that's a goal that all organizations, both public and private, strive continually to reach.
Steve Campbell is a technical writer and correspondent for Parking Today. He is based in Vancouver, Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.