Creating a Better Parking Experience
When Amazon launched in 1995, the company’s purpose was to sell books online. Today, Amazon sells hundreds of millions of products and delivers same-day – because that’s what customers have come to expect. Throughout the years, the company has successfully evolved by improving technologies, expanding offerings, and always putting the customer experience at the forefront. Amazon’s laser focus on reducing friction for customers has helped it beat out competition and become a $1 trillion company.
We know when, where, and how often people are using the app, which allows us to engage them throughout their lifecycle.
Like Amazon, businesses in every industry are raising the bar to meet heightened customer expectations. A recent study from Qualtrics shows that 86 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, and 73 percent of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions. (Source: Qualtrics, ROI of Customer Experience, 2018). The parking industry needs to understand this dynamic. Providing a parking spot is no longer enough – it’s about providing a better experience throughout the customer’s entire journey.
A “Necessary Evil”?
To better understand consumer attitudes related to parking, we conducted an in-depth study with over 30,000 ParkMobile users. In one question, we asked for a word or phrase that best describes parking. The two most common responses were “annoying” and “necessary evil.” Even as professionals in the industry, we recognize how frustrating parking can be. While it’s an essential part of the journey to your destination, it can become the biggest challenge when having to search for an open spot. And with 30 percent of traffic now being caused by drivers looking for parking, the impact on cities across the country is significant.
Then there’s the process of paying for parking. Some meters only accept coins, some only accept certain credit cards, and some require you to enter your license plate number every time you park. If you end up needing more time than you originally paid for, you have to rush back to feed the meter to avoid getting a ticket. With garage parking, you may have to wait in line to put your ticket into a machine or need exact change to pay an attendant. It’s not difficult to understand why some consumers consider parking a “necessary evil.”
Of course, the industry has made positive strides. Many cities have upgraded technologies, such as smart meters and mobile app payment options that allow customers to extend parking sessions remotely. Many garages now take pre-paid parking reservations, and some cities have even added sensor technology to show customers where available parking spots are in real-time. However, as an industry, we have to continually look for ways to address pain points around parking, and we have to recognize that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to the customer experience.
Targeting the Customer Experience
The transactional nature of parking makes the customer experience a challenge. When Amazon sells a product, they know exactly who’s buying it, and they often follow up with surveys to better understand overall satisfaction. With parking, you often only get feedback when something goes wrong and a customer vents frustration.
We collect extensive data on our users. We know when, where, and how often people are using the app, which allows us to engage them throughout their lifecycle. We communicate with new users about the basics of using the app. We message active users about new features or nearby events where they can reserve parking. We reengage inactive users to try to get them to use the app again. We also target by geography. Our ability to engage users is a big reason that we’re able to maintain a strong rating in the app store.
For the past eleven years, we’ve learned a lot of lessons about creating a better parking experience for our users. Here are the five big ones.
Five Key Steps to Providing a Better Parking Experience
1. Make it easy. It’s all about reducing friction in the process and giving your customers more options. People don’t want to spend a lot of mental energy thinking about parking. It just has to be easy. Some of our clients say it best. According to Larry J. Cohen CAPP, Executive Director of the Lancaster Parking Authority, “We want people to have an alternative to carrying around a pocket full of quarters to pay for parking.” Dave G. Onorato, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority says, “Customers only need to enter their license plate numbers once, as opposed to having to reenter every time at the meter.” Both of these clients understand that the best parking programs focus on making it easy for the customer every step of the way.
2. Communicate effectively. Providing clear communication about parking rates, policies, and payment methods is critical. You want to make sure that people understand the rules before they leave the car. Having prominent signage that effectively communicates what’s expected can make the difference between a positive and negative experience. Beyond the meter, parking information should be easily accessible online so that people can look up information if they have questions. Some cities even develop their own apps that provide updates on street closings, weather issues, and other events affecting parking. The more ways you find to communicate with your customers, the better experience they will have.
3. Ask for feedback. Getting feedback is the best way to identify the problems that you can solve. We conduct surveys, monitor app reviews, listen on social media, and track communication with our 24/7 help desk to understand what’s working and what’s not. We even go on-the-street to interview our customers to help us improve their experience so that they continue to use the app over time. For cities or operators that don’t collect user data, there are still plenty of ways to get feedback. For example, your parking attendants can hand out postcards with a link to take an online survey, or you can hire a market research firm to field a study. It’s just important that you constantly seek feedback from customers and use that information to improve.
4. Always innovate. Just because it’s parking, doesn’t mean it can’t be innovative. As parking industry professionals, we have to constantly look for new ideas and solutions that create a better experience for the customer. Our Parking Availability feature shows customers exactly where the open spots around them are so that they can drive directly to the areas where there’s available parking and avoid the areas where there’s not, and our Parking Reservations feature allows customers to book their spot ahead of time.
5. Be responsive. It’s inevitable that things will go wrong from time to time. We process over 500,000 parking transactions every single day, and while our customers don’t expect us to be perfect, they do expect us to help them when problems arise. Being responsive to customer inquiries goes a long way. If a customer has an issue, the best solution is to show empathy, assist with the problem, and follow up to see it through to resolution. Even if the customer doesn’t get the exact outcome they desire, they appreciate the effort.
Today, customer expectations are higher than ever, and as an industry, we have to commit create a better parking experience.
Jon Ziglar is CEO of ParkMobile. He can be reached at email@example.com