Can I Meet my Customerís Needs with Fewer People?
As the Summer of 2021 begins, we seem to be quickly moving into a new normal of coexisting with COVID. At least here in the United States, people are back out again in force. As predicted, parking activity has increased dramatically over the past few months, and in some places is at higher levels than before the pandemic. All this new business is excellent, unless you can’t keep up with the growth.
Since the start of 2021, parkers have been returning in increasingly larger numbers. That is great news, but now we are dealing with staffing shortages and can’t find enough people to fill our open positions. What can we do to meet the needs of our customers with fewer people?
Disconcerted in Denver
Thanks for the question. This issue seems to be facing companies in many locations both inside and outside the parking industry. There are plenty of jobs, but not enough good people willing or able to fill them. One fast-food restaurant resorted to paying people to interview as a way to help fill positions. As frustrating as this can be, typically, it is a sign of an overall more significant improvement in the economy and part of the regular ebbs and flows of the job market. Even with that being the case, you still have to find ways to provide services to your customers. Here are a few ideas on what could help.
The first place I would start is working to improve the efficiencies of your internal processes. Of course, this is easier said than done, but taking a step back and reviewing what is being worked on and how it is completed can typically yield at least some improvements. Be open to new approaches and ask the people doing the work if they have ideas on what can be improved upon or streamlined. Keep in mind, there will rarely be any silver bullets that single-handedly solve your issues, but the sum of many small changes can add up.
Another way to improve your efficiencies is standardization and cross-training. It is much easier for existing staff to pitch in to help out as needed when they are trained on the new task they are being asked to do before they are actually asked to do it. It is also easier to switch jobs where there is standardization in your technology and processes. Only a few technologies utilized across your organization can allow for staff movement with minimal training. Standardized processes can reduce mistakes as people take on tasks in a new environment.
Granted, this type of change is never easy or quick. But if there is never a great time to do it, so why not do it now? Maybe look into hiring someone new with experience in this type of process improvement and a fresh set of eyes to spearhead this project. While they will cost more up front, the long-term savings could be considerable.
Next, I would consider an upgrade in technology. The individual parking facility type and operational needs will determine what technology will have the most significant impact, but here are a few high-level ideas. An upgraded PARCS (parking access and revenue control) system can provide many advantages for locations requiring gates. These include lower maintenance levels, moving to a cashless or minimal cash situation, and a better connection to the larger parking ecosystem. This connection can drive revenue without additional staff by providing reservations, dynamic pricing, analytics, and location visibility on larger transportation apps and vehicle info-tainment platforms. Additionally, many of these new systems fully integrate touchless payment options that customers have increasingly come to appreciate and expect. Finally, the positive operational impacts of a web-based system cannot be overstated when trying to operate facilities with fewer people.
When running a location not requiring gates, there are quite a few options to improve the efficiency of an enforcement process. These options include fixed LPR (license plate recognition) systems (see AKA May 2021 for more details) and mobile LPR systems. These systems allow staff to quickly identify vehicles that have permission to park (which can be a payment, permit, validation, or exception) and issue citations or notices to those who do not. These notices can be sent electronically or via the mail, which dramatically decreases the time spent in each location because each violation does not require a stop at the vehicle.
Additionally, unlike a fixed LPR system, a mobile LPR system can be used in multiple locations and typically has much lower overall costs than cameras in each location. Another option to improve efficiency is an occupancy monitoring system. (For more details, see AKA April 2021.) Newer versions of these systems will count cars and integrate payment information to alert when there is a higher likelihood of violators in a location. This information allows for directed enforcement, which can reduce the frequency of visiting a location to enforce.
Another technology to consider is remote customer service. These video and or audio-based systems allow you to provide high levels of customer service from remote locations. They have come a long way from the days of a hard-to-hear intercom system. Advancements in video and audio technology now allow for improved interaction with your customers. Some of these systems even include integration with the PARCS or other payment systems to not only vend the gate but make rate changes or assist the parker in just about everything but putting in the ticket for them.
An additional option is operational outsourcing. Several companies offer outsourced services for everything, including people to write tickets, payment collection, letter mailing, and running your remote call center. One technology startup is even making a pitch to use their new technology platform to run your whole location with no staff needed, effectively eliminating the need for your operations team. For many people, this particular option might be a step too far. Utilizing a service provider can improve efficiencies by using external shared staff doing basic tasks while focusing the team on the tasks unique to the company.
Finally, I would recommend looking for ways to utilize remote employees. (See AKA June and July 2020.) While some jobs will always require an onsite presence, a remote workforce is a powerful tool when it has the right technology, processes, and management approach. While good people are always hard to find, expanding your hiring scope to an entire country (or even the world) increases the likelihood of finding the right person for the job. Additionally, with the high number of people working from home this past year due to COVID, many have decided they don’t need to be in-person to work anymore and are only looking for remote jobs. Not everyone can (or should) work remotely, but with a far greater number of people who now have experience doing it, this is a great way to expand your team moving forward.
Good luck with your search. Hopefully, at least one of these ideas will help.
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