Tag Archives: customer service

A Unique Second Chance to Make a Great First Impression

As the COVID crisis continues winding down, the parking industry has been given a second chance to make a great first impression with the customers and institutions we support.

As offices, schools, restaurants, venues, and tourist attractions continue reopening and welcoming back workers, students, and guests, parking operations will once again fill up with cars. We have an opportunity to make the most of drivers’ fresh perspective—and we can do that by reframing the understanding of parking. It’s no longer a commodity; today, parking is a service.

Andrew Sachs, CAPP, writes about the industry’s unique second chance to make a great first impression in this month’s Parking & Mobility magazine, including how COVID changed how we do what we do, expectations going forward, and predictions of the technologies and trends that may disrupt our future–and how to react for the best possible customer experience no matter your sector.


By Kim Fernandez, CAE

The LaFerrari was designed to be the Italian car company’s definitive, ultimate model. It was their first hybrid and their last mid-mounted 12 cylinder, roaring with 949 horsepower while saving 40 percent fuel consumption, zero to 60 in 2.4 seconds. Only 499 were made between 2013 and 2016, all sold by invitation to owners who largely remain anonymous, and most never driven to this day beyond contract-required service miles.

To my college-age car fanatic, it is, as Joe Pesci once said, the silver tuna—as the company intended, the ultimate hypercar, the most elusive, the one car guys chase a glimpse of for years. When one popped up at the dealer about 45 minutes from our house and somehow hung around until his on-campus summer project ended, there was no question about it: We were going.

We’ve been to high-end dealers to see other cars before and the drill is generally the same: Park my Subaru next to a wall of glass at the side and spend an hour taking photos, talking about every nuance of the cars, and being soundly ignored, generally with a downward facing, slightly annoyed sniff, by the designer-suited staff.

Ferrari was different. Same wall of glass, same Subaru, same young man and dopey mom, but a coiffed salesperson put a little hop in his step to open the door for us and smiled and replied, “Of course, my pleasure,” when I thanked him. Every person there greeted us when they walked by, including the service staff when we snuck back to see what treasure was on the lifts that day. One salesperson even stepped to the side of the steps leading up to the lofted office level to let us go first when we ran up to get photos of the beast from above, and nobody said a word when we reached a camera over the velvet rope to get a better shot of the bright red silver tuna’s black, carbon fiber logo—or when we peered inside the five other 30-year mortgage-priced cars in the room.

The LaFerrari the kid finally saw has 100 miles on its glass-enclosed engine and shines for days. It originally sold for just more than $1 million and is currently priced at $3.5. Someone will buy it and stash it away in a garage as an investment but it won’t be anyone remotely like us. And it didn’t matter. We were treated like customers—valued ones. It was, honestly, shocking in the very best way.

I am replacing “the Nordstrom of customer service” in my own vernacular. From here on out, it’s the Ferrari of customer service, for going above and beyond when they clearly got nothing out of it and there was zero return. I’ll remember that a lot longer than what cars we saw that day, and hope it sunk into the college kid’s head a little bit along with the thrill of finally catching way more than a glimpse of his elusive prize. It’s a lesson that’ll serve him well.

Kim Fernandez, CAE, is IPMI’s director of publications. This was published in the September 2021 issue of Parking & Mobility magazine, free to all IPMI members.

Nordstrom to Disney to Parking

In 1989, the new downtown management organization in Kalamazoo, Mich., began negotiating with the City of Kalamazoo to take over and manage the downtown municipal parking system, writes David Feehan in this month’s Parking & Mobility magazine. A recent survey of residents had revealed that the most hated aspect of downtown was parking. Enforcement officers had been dubbed “meter Nazis” and one customer referred to the parking garages as “dull, dirty, dark, and dangerous.”

The city was losing as much as $100,000 a year on the system, had bond obligations to pay, and heard frequent merchant complaints at city council meetings. Business leaders on the board of directors of Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated (DKI) thought they could do a better job and so, through a series of leases, subleases, and operating contracts, DKI assumed responsibility for downtown parking—on street, off street, garages, enforcement, and meter repair.

David writes he knew a paradigm shift in thinking was necessary and urgent. So he recruited a hastily organized parking task force, and at the first meeting, posed the question, “How would the parking system operate if it were run by Nordstrom?”

The city found out–and you can too. What happens when parking’s run like Nordstrom?

True Team Effort

International team of coworkers putting colorful puzzles togetherBy John Mason, CAPP, PMP

Very seldom as a manufacturer or contractor do you find true team efforts when replacing a client’s legacy equipment. A true team effort is when the client fully engages in the change.

It’s important as a client that you involve yourself in efforts to learn your new products and not just expect a turnkey system to run without your input or interest. Nobody likes changing. It’s a lot of effort, especially when you had a functional system in place chugging right along.

It’s important as the installer to remind yourself what a frustrating process large-scale change is to a client as well, and have compassion for them. You must make sure you are doing everything you can to take the pain out of the change. For example, a client may point out how the user interface could be enhanced in a way that makes it more intuitive, or they could find a bug. In either case, taking that information and making changes creates a better product. Customer satisfaction increases because you listened and made things easier for the client.

If both sides invest in this approach and truly partner, the end result becomes a win for all involved.

John Mason, CAPP, PMP, is a project manager with HUB Parking Technology.

Frontline Fundamentals: Managing Customers in a Remote Environment. Presented by Maggie Vercoe


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Frontline Fundamentals: Refocused and Refreshed: Experiential Customer Service. Presented by Dennis Burns, CAPP


View training summary and speaker information, and register for free today.

We have launched your new IPMI member portal.  Click here to login, reset your password, and register for these free trainings. If you havece questions, or need assistance, please contact us here.

  • Member Rate: Free; pre-registration required,
  • Non-member rate: $35 registration fee.  Click the register link above to attend as a non-member.
  • Join today and find out more about member benefits here.

Flowbird_LogoFrontline trainings are provided free of charge to all IPMI members, and are generously supported by our exclusive Frontline Sponsor, Flowbird.


Listening to Your Customers

Man Listening holding his hand near his earBy Jeff Perkins

One of the real challenges for parking providers is getting input from customers on an ongoing basis. The highly transactional nature of parking doesn’t always lend itself to a good feedback loop. So, as a parking provider, how do you know how you are doing? Are you meeting the consumer’s needs, or are you failing? How do you get better if you don’t know what’s broken?

Fortunately, our company’s users are more than willing to share their feedback with us. And while it’s important to read the positive reviews, you actually get a lot more insight out of the negative ones.

We spend a lot of time reading our reviews and doing a lot of surveys with our users–fortunately, when people create an account, they provide their email address so we can survey them. The insights we get from this research then inform how we evolve our offering. For example, one constant complaint we used to get was that people did not want to download an app just to pay for parking one time. As a result of this feedback, we added the option of paying via a mobile web browser. It’s an excellent example of listening to your customers and building new options.

Doing market research is easier than ever. Tools such as SurveyMonkey make it simple to create online surveys and email them to people who may have parked in your locations. If you don’t have a customer database, Survey Monkey can even help you find the people you’re looking for to take the survey. Also, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Spend some time out on the streets talking to the people who are parking. Ask them about their experience and what would make it better.

If you have questions on how to improve your parking program, start by listening to your customers. They will probably have the answers you are looking for.

Jeff Perkins is CMO and head of product at ParkMobile.

A Parking Lesson: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Close-up teenager's retro style black and white tennis shoes, tattered, ripped, dirty, isolated on white backgroundBy Scott C. Bauman, CAPP

As a municipal parking manager, I often hear the following from residents; “There’s a car that’s always parked in front of my house. I want it gone. That’s MY parking space!”

The passion residents feel for the on-street public parking in front of their home can be deep and abiding. I have a better understanding of this now. Many residents incorrectly assume that the on-street parking directly in front of their home is either an extension of their property or that they have a fundamental entitlement to that space. When someone else repeatedly parks in front of their home and the homeowner looks out their window and sees that same car parked again and again, emotions can start flowing and tension builds. The homeowner often truly believes that the on-street space in front of their home is theirs, and other parkers are prohibited from using it.

Before recently, I’d receive these types of complaints and have the automatic response of, “The on-street parking directly in front of your residence is not your property. It’s public right-of-way owned and managed by the city, yada-yada-yada.” Citizens eventually come to comprehend this fact but always find it frustrating.

Awhile back, I gained a new perspective on this emotional issue. My neighbor started regularly parking his oversized, bright red, commercial plumbing van directly in front of my home. Every time I looked out my window, I saw that big stupid red van and got very irritated. While I didn’t contact my local city agency to complain (as I know better), I did speak with him and nicely suggest that a more appropriate place to park his van would be on his own property. I got lucky; he agreed and started parking it in his driveway. That’s when my perspective broadened.

The point of my story is two-fold. First, anyone–including a municipal parking manager–can become emotional over unfortunate parking situations. Second, I now have more compassion and empathy for my fellow citizens going through these types of stressors. The aphorism, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” is a valuable mindset when dealing with the emotional state and unique circumstances that can sometimes torment our valued customers.

Lesson learned. Lesson shared.

Scott C. Bauman, CAPP, is manager of parking and mobility services for the City of Aurora, Colo.

Giving Extra Grace While Keeping Your Staff Safe

By Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP

In a normal year, many mild-mannered, rational people go a bit crazy during the holidays. As evidenced by the countless news stories about pre-COVID stampedes and fist fights over that prime parking space, this time of year tends to bring out some of our less desirable characteristics.

For many, the added stress of the pandemic has begun to normalize, and not in a good way. We are all getting used to being in a constant state of anxiety and high alert—about our health, job security, our families, friends, and our communities. Many who work in customer service roles have participated in training after training about how to effectively negotiate difficult people, both before and during the pandemic. We’ve also recognized that people are just not themselves right now and that most people who act out just need a bit of extra grace or some time to cool down.

While this pandemic has provided all of us with an opportunity to develop or build upon our emotional intelligence skills, giving our patrons a little extra grace does not mean we should lose sight of our commitment to keeping those we employ and/or manage safe and supported.

Recently, one of my staff had an unfortunate experience with a community member well-known for expressing displeasure (not just about parking). This individual chased our town enforcement vehicle, making several unsafe maneuvers in traffic, yelling out the window until the employee pulled over. The individual then jumped out of his car and rushed the driver’s side door, yelling and waving his citation. The staff member handled the verbal altercation well and it resolved without escalation to the police department, however the community member then wrote a scathing email blaming the employee, me, and the town for a poor customer service interaction to our mayor, town trustees, local paper, and others.

Thankfully, the entire interaction (including the almost movie-like chase) was caught on our in-car camera. The staff member was equipped with a police department radio, and my employee and I did a full debrief immediately afterwards and he provided me with a written report. Our investment in the proper pre-incident security measures and post-incident protocols allowed me to provide a full and accurate account of the situation. It also allowed me to confidently and firmly stand up for my employee and state in a (very) public manner that this type of behavior would not be tolerated under any circumstances.

While this type of interaction is not new to anyone who has been working in parking (and transit) for any length of time, the situation was a good reminder that no matter what external factors the world throws our way (pandemic, wildfires, economic instability), making sure our frontline employees feel safe, protected, and supported should be priority one. Many of us have been trained that excellent customer service includes giving our patrons the benefit of the doubt every time (“the customer is always right!”), but this philosophy can also encourage an immediate imbalance in the power/relational dynamics of service provider and customer.

I have worked in a customer service type of position for the majority of my 18-year career and have learned I am better able to serve angry or disgruntled patrons if there is an understanding that a basic level of civility is required from both parties. While I may feel empowered by my role, experience, or privilege to lay down firm boundaries with those I serve, it is important that as a manager, I also work continuously to ensure my staff feels that same empowerment—not for the purpose of swinging toward the opposite end of the spectrum (“the customer is always out to get me”) but to confirm their value as employees in our organization and their value as human beings, worthy of feeling supported and protected each time they put on the uniform and head out the door.

Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP, is parking and transit manager and Estes Valley Resiliency Collaborative (EVRC) Administrator for the Town of Estes, Colo.

Flipping the Switch with the BEAST

By Vanessa R. Cummings, CAPP

When you work with customers, which most of us do, you need to know the best way to interact with them. Some are less than friendly; we may also have colleagues, friends, or family who push our buttons. If you can relate to this, then you need to meet the BEAST.

So, who is this BEAST? It’s an approach that can help you to stay professionally focused when dealing with difficult people and situations. Changing your mindset when challenged is the key.

Want to know more? Consider attending the “Flipping the Script on Customer Service” Frontline Fundamentals session on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Trust me, this will be fun and interactive. Yes, it is safe for your customers, family, church, friends, and colleagues. The BEAST is something we all need to use and keep in our toolkit. If you deal with difficult people, you need to meet the BEAST.

Vanessa R. Cummings, CAPP, is CEO of Ms. V Consulting, LLC. She will present on this topic during a free-for-IPMI-members online session tailored for frontline parking professionals on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Click here for details and to register.