Many parking professionals have found that some customers are, well, difficult. Sometimes it’s an individual who’s found an unauthorized car in his or her space. Sometimes it’s a corporate customer who isn’t happy with leasing arrangements for his or her employees.

Monika Jansen, writing in Grow SmartBiz offers five ways to turn difficult customers into marketing success stories. While I’m sure she wasn’t thinking about the parking business, I also think her five points are ones we should think about.

In the article, Jansen suggests:

  • Put a detailed plan together.
  • Never get defensive.
  • Thank them.
  • Get them involved.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.

Her suggestions reminded me of a program I put together a few years back while working with a downtown organization. That organization was worried about losing a number of office tenants who were threatening to leave because of frustrations with parking.

Here’s what we did:

First, we constructed a plan based on information from property owners. When they alerted us that a current tenant was planning to leave when their lease expired, we contacted the tenant directly and offered a customized parking plan.

Second, we avoided being defensive, always telling a positive story about our plans for the parking system.

Third, we always thanked the tenant–for letting us meet with them, for discussing their issues frankly, and for giving us a chance to make them happy.

Fourth, we got them involved in designing a solution to their problems.

And fifth, we always tried to look at things from their point of view, which often meant we had to understand the difference in cost between downtown and a suburban office park lease. When the topic of cost came up, we pointed out that they had to factor in the other costs–moving expenses, reprinting stationery and business cards, customers that might be lost as a result of the move, and difficulties for employees who didn’t own cars and relied on public transportation. Surprisingly, these were things they sometimes hadn’t considered, and they appreciated that we were looking to help them save money.

Our success rate with “difficult” customers was greater than 70 percent, and we found that many switched from difficult to happy and satisfied.