Reducing Touchpoints and Unnecessary Customer Interactions
I hope this May edition of Ask Kevin Anything finds all of you safe and healthy. I am optimistic that by the time you read this, the global impact of COVID-19 will have begun to diminish, and we can see a brighter future as we move forward. This month’s question relates to changes parking operators can make to be mindful of our current situation.
In light of insights learned from the spread of the Coronavirus, what should our parking operation be doing in our gated facilities to help reduce physical touchpoints and unnecessary customer interactions?
Curious in Colorado
Hello, Curious in Colorado,
Your question is timely, and I am sure on the minds of many parking operations across the world. While the specific medical recommendations have and will improve with time, in general, we know two of the significant methods all types of microbes are transmitted are via touch and physical proximity. With this in mind, you will want to reduce the opportunity for transmission by limiting places where that transmission can occur.
Gated facilities with their physical hardware can offer good vehicle access and revenue control, but many opportunities for parkers to physically interact with hardware and come in contact with people. The first place I would look to reduce touchpoints is your access control devices. Start by using no or low touch vehicle identifiers and readers. One of these options already in use in many locations is proximity card systems that use radio waves to read the card at a short distance. Other options include laser and camera-based barcode scanners, sometimes called 2D/3D readers that a scan barcode a few inches from the reader. Additionally, employing an automated vehicle identifier (AVI) system that uses longer range radio waves can read at a tag a longer distance and should not require the parker to roll down their window. Another useful technology is license plate recognition (LPR), which allows for vehicle identification without parker interaction and can be set up electronically.
However, whenever deploying an LPR system, I always recommend having a backup access method such as a barcode, in case there are issues reading the license plate.
Additionally, provide a method (and encourage its use) to allow short term visitors to be sent digital parking permits before they arrive. This process can take the form of a license plate registration (if you have an LPR system) or a barcode to be displayed on a mobile device. While not all visitors can use this option, it helps cut down on the number of tickets pulled only to use a validation later.
Speaking of tickets, let’s look at the revenue side of a gated system. The act of getting a transient ticket typically requires some physical touch of the device to dispense a ticket. Allow parking reservations to be purchased ahead of time and used to scan in and out of a facility without the need to pull a ticket. Additionally, to reach as many parkers as possible, provide multiple parking reservation options. Look for a PARCS system that includes standard interfaces for simple data exchange and integration for future expandability. Another option is allowing credit card in and credit card out functionality. This functionality will enable parkers to swipe a credit card on the way in and on the way out, eliminating the need to pull a ticket on entry and then pay for that ticket before exiting.
Additionally, adding a license plate-based, and PCI compliant, credit card on file solution can both speed the entry and exit process as well as allow recurring parkers to avoid equipment interaction entirely. If your system uses barcoded tickets, look to add a mobile payment option for the tickets. This option allows parkers to pay for their parking with their phones without having to interact with a payment device or cashier. Combined with a quality LPR system, this allows for safer payment and quicker exit.
Finally, to help preserve a high-quality customer service experience, look into a video-based intercom system that allows the parker to see with whom they are talking. These systems can be installed both in the lane, as well as in common areas, to provide general information and guidance.
I do understand that not all of these options are included with every PARCS system installed. If they are not available to you now, reach out to your vendors to see what might be available in your current system. Also, look to one of the many companies that offer bolt-on solutions to add functionality to existing PARCS systems.
Additionally, some companies will say that the best-gated system is not a gated system at all. In my opinion, going gateless is an option in some situations and locations, but certainly not all. Additionally, moving to a gateless solution, unless all payment options are electronic, still requires some form of hardware for people to interact with, which creates new touchpoints for your operation. As with all technology, there is no such thing as a silver bullet. Parking needs are very location specific and look for a solution that meets the needs of your circumstance.
All of these ideas do not take the place of regular cleaning and disinfecting of your machines and public spaces. All of the technology in the world does not replace proper operational procedures and diligent daily performance. While we are focused on COVID-19 today, pathogens of all varieties do and will continue to exist. As such, any efforts to improve the safety of your parking environment will pay dividends for your parkers for the long term.
Thank you, Curious and Colorado, for your question. I hope some of those recommendations can help.
As always, but especially in these trying times, you have parking questions I am here to help. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe, and keep parking!