By Linda Velazquez

University of Buffalo Parking and Transportation Services shifts into high customer service gear as we welcome students back to campus each fall. Ticket writers become information ambassadors and during that first week, give out more directions than parking tickets while stationed at the entrances to some of our busiest lots with signage reading, “Ask Me.”

Our department also hires outside help. Professional lot attendants from Buffalo’s AllPro Parking are on hand in the lots to assist with orderly parking and directions to open spaces and paid parking options. Additionally, we hire a team of temporary information aides from a local employment agency to answer questions and give out maps and schedules at our busiest bus stops and onboard buses and shuttles. The temps go through a one-day training that includes the presentation we deliver to incoming students at orientation. We take them on a tour of campus and assign them to a team led by one of our shuttle drivers.

Many of the temps return to this assignment each year so they are familiar with the campus and can easily answer wayfinding questions. We don’t expect them to know the answer to every question, but just know where to send someone for an answer—usually their team leader, or another shuttle driver.

As the information aides check out at the end of their shifts, we ask for a debriefing of the day’s questions and concerns so we can address them if needed. The fresh perspective from these eyes and ears has helped us refine our customer service and improve and promote our transportation offerings as we start the new year.

Personal interaction is a powerful marketing tool for our TDM initiatives. Students are more likely to continue using our buses and shuttles for the weeks and years to come because someone was there to help them read a schedule or plan their route to class. The extra help lets our field staff concentrate on parking management and being ambassadors. Also, customer service enhancements have come from the aides’ observations and the program is an invaluable public relations initiative.

Linda Velazquez is parking and transportation services marketing and program manager at the University of Buffalo.