A Primer for New Operators… Some Tips on Finding Success
October, 2009An interview with Constance Volz, Managing Member of Premier Parking in Denver, became a primer for a Parking Operator. Here’s what she had to say:
Who is the customer?
An operator can’t just focus on the client, be that the owner of the facility or the asset manager, or don’t forget, the companies whose employees park with you. You must also focus on the daily customer.
You need to keep them all happy. The Owner is the one that pays the bills. They need to be kept informed of any issues, changes, and problems. No surprises, that’s the watchword.
The asset manager is the one who receives complaints from the parkers. You need to keep them in the loop. Also remember, they often are the ones who can hire or fire you.
Don’t forget. You keep a set of books, but each tenant who has groups of employees parking with you and pays for their parking, also keeps a set of books. You need to work closely with them to ensure that everything balances. You can live or die by those parking coordinators.
First, however, consider the parkers. I have people come up to me and tell me its “fun” to park with us. I know it sounds crazy, but I think they mean they get a smile, assistance, a fair price, and immediate follow up to problems. Customer service – it’s our first priority.
The focus of attention determines your customer parking experiences. If you seed the thing or ideas that have your customer’s attention then the seed will grow into an everyday experience.
Where do you find employees?
Wherever I go, I always keep my feelers out, for the valuable “superstars”. When I go into companies that are service oriented (T-Mobile, Best Buy, even McDonald’s), I use my instincts and ability to recognize great people, individuals that treat me like I want my employees to treat my customers. I note how they relate to the public, whether they go the extra mile. Then I hand them my business card and tell them if they are ever looking, to give me a call. You’d be surprised how many do.
What about culture?
I come from a family construction business. I know how important knowing the local culture can be. I have learned the meaning of sharing certain values and providing a service to the local community.
For instance, I live in Denver. This is ground zero for environmental and sustainability issues. If I approach a client with this in mind, I can develop conversations that are different from those of my competitors. In the Denver culture, we are the leading organization in the parking industry on environmental matters, our unique perspective and collective power provides our clients with enormous opportunity to effect change in the way parking and transportation facilities are designed, built, operated, maintained, and identified. I have exhibited an ability to shape the market by introducing new green parking and transportation methodology, product and service offerings and by raising environmental awareness of the importance of these solutions.
The culture may be different in Los Angeles, or Chicago. But the concept is the same. Cookie cutter approaches work only if there isn’t someone competing with you who knows the local lay of the land.
Sales are emotional. People hire you for emotional reasons. You have to be real, be concerned, find out their issues, and then solve them.
I have developed the vision for my company to reflect who we are, how we grow as an individual as well as a business, how we market and communicate with the public.
The emotional connection with people is what helps us to build a respectable and prosperous parking business. We connect with our clients and parking customers on a personal and emotional level. We know their values, understand their concerns, and address their needs.
What about the parking industry in general?
I am very concerned about how were going to keep good people. We have a tendency as an industry to burn them out. Young people today don’t want to work the 24/7 schedules sometimes necessary.
A past employee working for another parking company contacted me and stated she left her home in the ‘burbs and moved downtown so she would not have to drive 15 miles in the snow at 3 AM when a problem occurred. She lost her boyfriend, it was more difficult for her to see her parents, and she eventually left. She was one of the best managers I have known. She loved her job, but she also loved her life.
The parking industry in general needs to start redefining industry values, setting realistic goals and expectations, and letting go and understanding control.
We need to be cognizant that our employees have private lives. I’m finding that good salary and benefits aren’t everything. People need time to live.
I work schedules so my staff have time off, so they can see that although it’s 24/7 this week, it won’t be next week.
Employee burn out happens fast to your best employees, and often to those who usually put more of themselves into their job, spend more time at work, and take work more seriously and personally. You should identify which employees care the most in the organization. Most likely, they are your entrepreneur, find ways to develop and bring out their talent to keep them. There are only so many good people and we can’t afford great ideas and hard work ethic to walk out the door.
Take a look at your great employees, but make sure to appeal to their goals, rather than just asking them to meet yours or the company’s goals.
I believe that the best innovators and innovation initiatives come from ordinary people in the middle of the organization…people who somehow came to understand the importance of innovation and wanted to do something about it. Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
We must manage the property as a whole. We must concern ourselves with all of our customers, owner, manager, tenant, and parker. Operations isn’t the only thing. What about perception? The customer must perceive that they are having a good parking experience. If they do, they will come back.
We manage the property as a whole (owner, asset managers, tenant, and daily parkers) to ensure the highest level of customer experience.
When you are perceived as doing good work and adding value to your product and service, the reality is that you will get more business. Your customers keep coming back for more.
People are creatures of habit. I notice that they park in the same place every day. If someone parks in their space, and they park in another one, it upsets the balance. There’s not much we can do about that, except know that they are a bit out of sorts. They may not even know why. Our staff must be aware and understand these types of behaviors.
What are your parking customer’s habits? How do their habits affect your parking operation? Everyone has a habit that makes us unique and helps to define our personalities, even parking customers.
Staff training is important, but it’s also important that you hire people who are customer oriented. After all, customer service isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
Everyone needs to find superstar performers, go about hiring and retaining great employees, and their customers will reap the benefits.
As an entrepreneur, I find myself always working somewhere between failure and outrageous success. I find myself facing hard economic times, responding to competitors, and dealing with stressful situations. It’s been proven that an extraordinary team of people is our clients’ most valuable “parking” asset.