By David Feehan

I recently took my wife to lunch at a popular restaurant in downtown Silver Spring, Md. This restaurant has “eggs” in its name and my wife had a taste for steak and eggs. The menu had a steak item but not a steak and eggs item and my wife was told by the waitress that she couldn’t order steak and eggs. Obviously, this waitress had not been empowered by management to put the customer first.

I often clip thoughtful articles from The Parking Professional and save them for future review. In one such article, “How Can I Ever Thank You?” (April 2013), author Rhonda Kissane shares how she makes employees feel appreciated on a limited budget.

My good friend Dennis Burns, CAPP, has always said, “Parking is a people business, not a car business.” Parking managers should keep this in mind as they think about how to show appreciation to employees. How do you empower employees to put customers first? It might have to do with how you show employees that you put them first.

Empowered employees can make parking a pleasant and memorable experience. When my organization managed the municipal parking in downtown Kalamazoo, Mich., we went out of our way to show appreciation to our employees and encouraged them to put customer service first.

As patrons began to exit a garage after a big event, the gate stopped operating. Rather than have concert attendees wait in a queue, stewing and cursing, the gate attendant simply raised the gate and allowed customers to pass. During a major festival in the main park in the center of downtown, we established a policy of not writing meter violations within a six-block area of the park. Our employees liked being the good guys and used the opportunity to encourage parkers to come back for the next event.

These actions cost the system money up front. But we figured we made it back in terms of increased visits by customers who attended events and stayed to have a meal or a drink. We also found that we were strongly supported by merchants and restaurant owners when we needed help from city government.

Empowering employees and showing appreciation can pay off in many ways, often unexpected. It just makes sense.

David Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.