Tag Archives: TPP-2013-01-

Whistles and Pom Poms

TPP-2013-01-Whistles and Pom PomsBy Frank Giles

What is a parking manager’s greatest resource? It’s not the parking equipment, it’s not the customers, and it’s not even the coffee maker. You guessed it: his or her greatest resource is the organization’s workers. The trick is successfully molding frontline workers and office staff into a productive, well-oiled customer service machine. So how exactly is that done? Retaining good employees and weeding out bad seeds can be a never-ending task to be sure, but how does a manager concretely turn a staff into a team? I believe it takes a two-pronged approach I call Whistles and Pom-Poms.

I’m not suggesting that you turn your next staff meeting into some sort of pep rally, but I do believe managers should be able to assume the role of both coach and cheerleader, hence the title. The sports world recognizes that both roles are needed, in some capacity, to build and maintain a good team. It’s time we in management realize the same.

The Whistle
The role of a coach—the whistle—is to formulate and execute a game plan, train the team before game day, discipline or correct unacceptable behavior, and inspire the team before tough games and at halftime. This role is one of preparation and has more to do with before and after than during the game. A solid game plan is evidence of this.

The game plan comes into play when managers hold their weekly or monthly staff meetings or morning briefings. A good manager should make sure that team members are clear on what their goals are and what the plan is to achieve those goals. This may seem redundant for employees who seemingly have the same routine day in and day out, but without deliberate goal setting from the manager, the team’s performance will suffer. People also tend to be more proficient when there is a purpose for each day. The key here is to be consistent. Long-term goals should be revisited often. Short-term goals, likewise, should be given often and should move the team toward achieving the long-term goals.

A manager also needs to make sure staff members are trained and equipped to achieve their individual goals. Coaches may not go out on the field during the game, but practice is another story. Coaches understand that great teams are made in practice and that they must be fully invested in the preparation of their teams. Training is paramount to having a productive staff and is not one of those things that can be treated as an afterthought. Everything from customer service to emergency management should be expounded upon in training with great care and detail. The key here is repetition. Training is only effective if it is done over and over. Coaches call these drills, but the outcome is the same.

The coach also promotes accountability, getting team members back on track when they do not carry out their responsibilities. Holding team members accountable and taking disciplinary action are not the most fun parts of being a manager, but like the coach, managers should be able to shift seamlessly to bring about correction when the occasion arises. Those in management who are non-confrontational by nature may have some difficulty with this. The good news is accountability doesn’t start when a problem arises. A manager must be clear about what his or her expectations are; when this happens, employees should not be surprised by fair and necessary disciplinary actions. They will expect the manager to stay true to his convictions. The key here is follow-through. Necessary discipline does not make a manager a tyrant. To the contrary, it strengthens the overall team and streamlines expectations.

A coach should also inspire the team. We’ve all seen those great sports movies when it’s halftime and the team is down in points. Everyone in the locker room looks to the coach for inspiration and in true Hollywood fashion, the coach delivers a rousing speech, everyone is re-enthused, the team comes back to win the game, roll credits. The outcome may not be as dramatic as this in the world of parking management but managers do have the ability to give the team that extra push in an inspiring way. As leaders, we inspire those who follow us by what we say and what we do. For example, working alongside the staff every once in awhile by picking up trash or setting out cones can show commonality and inspire the staff to make at least as much of an effort as their leader. Managers can also inspire by showing faith in the team. Trusting the team or a team member to take on a responsibility that they have not taken on before might inspire them to live up to the trust placed in them. The key here is to be devoted to the personal growth of the team. It will be noticed and will most likely inspire.

This brings us to the role of cheerleader, the pom-poms. The role of cheerleader is just as important as the role of coach in management, but it is a bit less technical. A cheerleader encourages the team, praises the team, and rallies behind the team during the game. It is important to note that a manager takes on the role of cheerleader as the staff is working. This means that the team member will not be fully focused on the manager at that time; the manager may merely be a peripheral to the team member. This is quite different from the role of coach. A cheerleader makes an impact on the team without becoming the team’s focus.

Any manager who has had to deal with an employee who didn’t quite grasp a particular concept as fast as others should know the importance of encouragement. When a new cashier or valet is struggling with keeping pace their first week on the job, the manager has an opportunity to shift into cheerleader mode. This can be done with just a few words that let that employee them know they will be just fine.

Remember, a cheerleader verbalizes encouragement and support. He does not take for granted that the team will know he is behind them. The key here is to be expressive. Encouragement should be out loud and natural. The role of cheerleader can be seen more prevalently in new-hire situations but it is relevant for veteran staff as well.

A cheerleader praises success and even anticipates it. A good cheerleader does not wait until the first touchdown is made to break out the pom-poms. He comes onto the field cheering. It is important for managers to do the same. Sometimes it is not enough just to say “good job,” or “you handled that well,” after an achievement. Managers should anticipate success and pump up the staff at the start of the shift. Those in event parking or valet parking can especially relate to this because of the fast-paced, crunch-time nature of the job. It is O.K. to let your workers know that they are the best parking staff in the city before a single vehicle has come through the gates. The key here is to be deliberate and preemptive.

Finally, a cheerleader should rally behind the team. This is a little different from encouragement or praise. Rallying behind the team takes place when a manager defends the team or gives the team the benefit of the doubt in the face of controversy. Now, everyone knows that “the customer is always right,” but parking customers literally come and go. A loyal, proficient, well-trained employee may be hard to come by even in a weak economy. If a manager has been a good coach, he should be able to trust the employee enough to hear their side of the story when there’s an issue. After all, loyalty goes both ways; if an employee knows that their manager has their back to a reasonable extent, they will have their manager’s back in return. The key here is loyalty. Of course each situation is different and a staff member can always be on the wrong side of an issue, but any employee worth hiring and training is worth hearing out.

Where do you stand as a manager? How do you carry your whistle and pom-poms? Are you more coach than cheerleader? Or have you mastered both roles equally? The keys to the role of coach are consistency, repetition, follow-through, and devotion. The keys to the role of cheerleader are to be expressive, deliberate and preemptive, and loyal. Remember, people don’t work for companies. People work for people. Managers have the opportunity to get the most out of their people by considering two essential accessories. When you grab your keys and coffee tomorrow morning and head off to work, please don’t forget your whistle and pom-poms!

Frank Giles is director of parking with the Georgia International Convention Center. He can be reached at flgiles@gicc.com or 770.907.3054.

TPP-2013-01-Whistles and Pom Poms


TPP-2013-01-SmileBy Jim Bass

Smile! You’re in landside. That phrase came to me one night as I lay in bed thinking about customer service and what we could do at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, Little Rock (BHCNA), to improve or better understand what appears on the surface to be such a simple concept, but can have such complex implications at times.

Nobody in our business likes unhappy customers. Unfortunately, they can be a reality for those of us who work in a service industry, especially parking. It’s like everybody wants to park their car but nobody wants to pay for it. What’s up with that? I guess that’s another story for another time.

It’s this kind of logic that can keep a parking professional up at night, thinking about customer service.
Here at BHCNA, we try to be as proactive as possible in providing the best customer service. Our motto is, “Your problem is our priority.” And most of us take that motto very seriously.

That said, sometimes it’s a challenge trying to be all things to all people. Every so often you get that one customer who refuses to appreciate your willingness to bend over backwards, and who refuses to be swayed no matter what you say or do. I’ve found the best policy is to go that extra smile. That’s not a typo—smile, no matter what the situation is, just smile. Your smile translates your willingness to help in the quickest amount of time.

The Difference
Does it help with the very difficult customers?

Sometimes. But the smile technique is something that should always be used first thing as you approach the customer and your eyes lock. Just remember: SMILE. It’s the Single Most Important Landside Expression. Nice acronym, huh?

I’m not talking about a crack in the face smile, not grinning like a Cheshire cat smile, not that haunting 1,000-yard, I’ve-been-in-operations-too-long stare, or the ever-popular looking-lost-from -the-looney-bin smile. The one I want to see is that landside SMILE that projects professionalism, confidence, and a willingness to help. I’m talking about that problem-solving, I’m here to make your airport experience the best it can be, SMILE!

Getting Through
That kind of warming smile can melt even those customers who seem to be frozen in the thickest ice. Believe me when I say it’ll work 99 percent of the time.
Even the rudest customers still need to be heard and dealt with professionally and expediently.

Sometimes it’s the customers who storm off appearing unmoved by your smile and professionalism who are secretly satisfied and will tell others of your great customer service and the way you solved their problem.

Never underestimate the power of the smile. It can be quite disarming even to the most challenging customer. I tell my landside staff to never get personal or emotional, but always remain cool and calm, and remember why we’re here.
Our mission is simple: we are to ensure that every moment is a positive and productive one. Our smile is our secret weapon.

Building a Sandwich
I remembered something a manager friend of mind told me many years ago. He worked for one of those sandwich chains and asked me over lunch one day a question his company’s managers asked all their management applicants during the interview process: What’s the most important part of the sandwich?

I thought about it for a while. Bread, meat, or condiments were probably wrong—they were too obvious. I decided I’d show him my out-of-the-box mindset and amaze him with my creativity. The answer, I said, was attitude.

He said he was impressed and that I came very close (oh, well). He said most of the answers they received focused around the mechanics of making a sandwich—bread, meat, toppings, etc. The answer they looked for, he said, was the smile.

The smile is the most important part of the sandwich. And we all know what is meant by that: it doesn’t matter how proficient you are or how knowledgeable you are concerning your business if your attitude is nonproductive. If you project negativity, you won’t get far in the wonderful world of customer service.

The smile sets the pace, creates the standard, puts your customers at ease, and creates a bridge between you and their problems. It cuts through concerns and issues, and establishes positive lines of communication. And once that connection is made, you’re more than halfway there in satisfying the needs of your customers. Every customer’s comment, concern, and complaint is an opportunity for you to grow, improve, and further your reputation as a customer service provider.
Smile! It just takes a handful of muscles that when exercised, can indeed make all the difference.

Common Sense
It seems like a simple premise: smile at the customer, smile at each other, and have a happy day. Even when our personal lives make it a challenge, even when you don’t feel like smiling, try it anyway. Not only when it make the customer feel better, you’ll feel better as well.

Every moment of truth needs to begin and end at the very least with a smile. I’m very big on the moment of truth concept. Most of you know that the moment of truth is the moment of contact or interaction between an external customer and the internal customer. It gives the external customer an opportunity to form an impression about your company based on that interaction. That impression needs to be positive to have a successful moment of truth. So whenever a customer comes in contact with a member of our business unit, the first thing they need to see is a big, beautiful smile.

That smile is very important to the customer, as it almost always conveys an open friendliness, a sense of helpfulness, and that “your problem is my priority” feeling.

Sometimes customers can be very challenging. That old cliché that the customer is always right needs to be retired. We all know that’s not always true. The customer is always the customer, however. Without our customers, we in the customer service industry would be without jobs. Even when they’re not-so-right, they deserve the best service we can provide. I say great customer service starts with a smile.

After that smile, you listen, repeat their problem back to them, and then do what you can to solve their problem or find someone who can while you stay by their side until the issue has been resolved. It’s a simple customer service formula, but it works.

Remember when you come across a sour customer trying to force feed you limes, take a deep breath, call upon your conviction to exude only the best in customer service, and rearrange those letters to give them back a great big SMILE.

Jim Bass is manager, landside operations at the Bill and Hillary National Airport, Little Rock. He can be reached at jbass@fly-lit.com or 501.837.6635.


Oh Snap!

TPP-2013-01-Oh Snap!

“A parking photo contest?” We heard it more than once over the last few months, but in the end got to spend a few hours with a virtual stack of photos that made us smile, laugh, and want to go out and explore parking facilities for our own amazing shots.
It wasn’t easy to pick the winners of the 2012 competition—we were blown away by how many great entries there were in each category. And we’re looking forward to doing it again later this year, so don’t put your cameras down just yet.
Without further adieu, we present to you the winners of The Parking Professional 2012 Photo Contest!

TPP-2013-01-Oh Snap!

Social Media 101

TPP-2013-01-Social Media 101By Sue Cornell

The growing phenomenon of social media has extended into almost every portion of our society. In the last 10 years, social media has grown from a passing fad enjoyed by college students to a prime communication and intelligence tool. More and more average citizens are Tweeting, turning to YouTube for ideas and entertainment, and sharing information on Facebook. This new digital domain presents enormous communications and monitoring opportunities. It is rare that an organization, brand, or company fails to use social media to build a community, spread a message, answer questions, and troubleshoot problems. That’s even true, it seems, for municipal authorities.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) is one of the country’s largest and most complex municipal parking organizations. Aside from employing 750 people, including 250 parking enforcement officers (PEOs), the PPA owns and operates 10 parking facilities, manages more than 50 lots, provides the only on-site parking for the Philadelphia International Airport, operates the only red light photo enforcement program in the state, and regulates the taxicab and limousine industry in Philadelphia.

Although the mission of the PPA is to continually enhance the quality of life in the city through the provision of comprehensive parking, regulatory, and transportation services, the recent harsh reality was that many Philadelphians didn’t simply dislike the PPA. They loathed it.

Following the leadership of PPA Board Chairman Joseph Ashdale, Executive Director Vincent Fenerty embarked on a progressive series of campaigns to interact, educate, and reach out to Philadelphians in a 21st century manner. The PPA was going to be kinder, friendlier, and, yes, way more transparent and accessible. Developing a social media strategy and approachable online structure was a key building block to crafting a new reputation.

Social Media Goals
The PPA had two main goals for the social media program: to provide the public with easy access to parking-related answers, and to promote the positive image of the Authority and the work it does for the city every day. Newspapers and broadcasts were trapped in a negative cycle of press, with no positive stories about the PPA. Not only did social media offer a way to connect and hear the customers, it offered a way to tell the full, positive story.

Where many organizations might have made the catastrophic mistake of charging an intern with this audacious communications assignment, the PPA carefully explored every step with outside help. This was going to be a cautious and well-planned endeavor, and the PPA wanted to handle it professionally. ChatterBlast Media (CBM) was retained to ensure a 360-degree view on the implementation and development. It was important that the PPA had a partner that had a solid track record of navigating the social media world. The PPA knew parking inside and out, and wanted a partner who had the same expertise on the digital side.

“We’re seeing a shift in government services when it comes to online communications,” explains CBM Principal and Co-Founder Evan Urbania. “Social media represents a whole new channel for agencies, offices, and even elected officials to communicate with their constituents, promote activities, and address customer service issues in real-time.”

Getting Started
ChatterBlast first set out to explore the playing field and see what the PPA’s peers were doing in social media.

“At the time, only a handful of parking agencies were online. The largest was the Miami Parking Authority. We carefully looked at them, as well as other city and municipal agencies,” said Matthew Ray, CBM principal and co-founder.

“We knew the PPA would be the largest parking organization in the country to embrace social media in this way,” said Urbania. “It was also important to look at the corporate world—companies like Comcast and Progressive who blazed the trail with social media customer service initiatives just a few years ago.”

CBM included PPA directors and advisors to ensure that a strategy was created to fulfill several goals for social media: information exchange, community outreach, and customer service.

“We got all the directors involved so that every department of the PPA was represented, from taxis and limousines to on-street parking enforcement. The entire PPA team was needed to make this project as successful as possible. We looked at everything from how corporations were handling social media presences to fire departments, community organizations, and city governments,” says Ray.

Once the analysis and strategy were complete, CBM began to build the needed online
infrastructure and create internal processes to deal with any issue (real or imagined) that could develop. Both teams wanted to be prepared for snow emergencies, enforcement questions, ticket issues, and the unexpected.

Procedures and plans were put in place to avoid any missteps and ensure positive engagement. Then, the PPA educated internal stakeholders on the new campaign and spent a week in a slow roll-out, testing the customer service software and double-checking all the possible scenarios. Once everyone was comfortable, the PPA informed local press of the new online resource. It was time to be liked.

Press and public feedback was positive. Instantly, Philadelphians began to interact and engage the new resources. The online infrastructure at roll-out included:

Blog: philapark.org/category/blog-posts. Serves as the primary spot for up-to-date information, news, features on staff and all other PPA-approved content.
Facebook: facebook.com/PhilaPark. This was designed to interact with the broadest possible community, disseminate blog posts and content, and act as a portal for customer service. Business-to-consumer (B2C) industry-standard customer service tools were integrated into the page. The application not only registered and logged every complaint, praise, or query, but also “learned” from them and built a library of replies to ensure that redundant questions didn’t have to wait for a response.
Twitter: twitter.com/PhilaParking. Developed to communicate with the general public directly and to support city/state agencies, answer media inquiries, and interact with community organizations.
YouTube: youtube.com/philaparking. Developed to offer video content about the PPA, including instructional videos and news stories.

Social Media Growth
Over the next few months, some of these new channels quickly grew in popularity.

“Twitter became an early access point for the community. People Tweeted the PPA a lot,” says Ray. ”Other city service organizations Tweeted us issues and connected. There was a lot of activity, and still is. As more and more people engage their city through their mobile device or smartphone, it was important that the PPA was prepared to handle those customer service issues digitally. Twitter’s user base is growing everyday, and they Tweet questions, comments, and problems. They were already talking about the PPA, so we had to be a part of the dialogue.”

“We were actually surprised,” says Urbania. “After planning for a deluge of hate messages and customer service issues, we found that many of the problems reported were easily resolved.”

While some people did vent or express frustration, the PPA preferred they do it on a Facebook page then to one of their officers on the street. The PPA has also received user praise, and the team has even seen the channel grow into a forum for customers to ask for more residential enforcement!

While the growth of the accounts has been organic, the results have been impressive. The Twitter account, for example, has proven to be a “must-follow” for Philadelphia city officials, media, and tourist agencies. Some of the success metrics after just one year include:
Combined reach of more than 3.1 million users.
7,100 actions on Twitter (replies, mentions, direct messages, clicks).
1,854 unique touchpoints (blog posts, Facebook updates, Tweets).
121 problems or questions resolved through the online customer service platform.

The new social media site has not reduced the number of customer service issues being reported by the traditional channels, but the PPA and CBM believe they have an explanation.

“We are touching demographics of people who probably would have never made a call, or sent a letter,” says Urbania. “They would have been mad and built up a hostility. Instead, we’ve presented ourselves to them in the communications arena they use the most, and given them the opportunity to be heard. In the end, it helps ease their situation and continues our mission as well.”

Long-term results are still being analyzed for this program, but the PPA is committed to remaining accessible and open on these new social media channels. Like any new program or initiative, the best way to success is to be well-prepared and stay focused on the value these opportunities bring to the organization and customers.

Sue Cornell is senior director of strategic planning and administration with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. She can be reached at scornell@philapark.org.

TPP-2013-01-Social Media 101

The Parking Manager is In

TPP-2013-01-The Parking Manager is InBy Jeff Petry

Remember Lucy’s stand from the cartoon, “Peanuts?” Instead of dispensing a sweet drink, she offered customers the chance to unload and try to figure things out. We recently brought her concept to life in Eugene, Ore., had a great time doing it, and connected with our community in more ways than we anticipated.

The city’s parking program used a classic lemonade stand to gather feedback on its first proposed parking rate increases in 20 years. The goals of the lemonade stand were to generate curiosity while raising awareness of upcoming changes, stimulate conversations about parking, and garner a smile from the community. During the public comment period, our lemonade stand was strategically placed around the downtown core in areas that had high pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The lemonade stand outreach was a success in communicating with the community about the rate changes, and the image of the stand presented the parking program in a way that our community continues to remember.

The lemonade stand was an invitation to the downtown community to talk about our proposed parking rate changes, but it was also an opportunity to just sit back, smile, and talk about whatever was on one’s mind. By putting a face on the parking program, the lemonade stand addressed a comment made by a downtown business owner that he had a “hate/love relationship with an inanimate object: the parking meter.” Parking touches many lives everyday in creating parking turnover to encourage economic activity, or enhancing neighborhood livability. It can often be perceived, however, as just pumping money into a street-side meter or finding one’s vehicle with a citation on the windshield. The lemonade stand with a sign announcing that the “Parking Manager is In” provided the opportunity to talk with the people behind the parking meters.

How it Worked
Our normal process for engaging public comment for an administrative rate change included a long series of conversations and meetings with the mayor and city council, downtown business association, and downtown neighborhood association to understand the parking fund situation. We mailed 2,000 postcards to every address around parking meters and parking garages to announce the rate change, provide directions to learn more about it, and explain how to provide feedback. A formal letter was sent to the mayor and council the week before Labor Day. The local paper ran a front-page, above-the-fold article on the proposed rate increase, and the local T.V. media ran stories as well. We even reprogrammed our single-space meters with a screen that said “Proposed Rate Increase. $1.50 to $1.70/hour. Go to www.eparkeugene.com,” during the comment period.

After all this communication, we received 15 comments on the proposed rate change. This was very low, especially given that Eugene has a population of 155,000 residents and we process thousands of parking transactions every day. Either it was not a big deal, or we needed to reach out in a different way to our customers and the community. As a part of our communication plan, the lemonade stand provided a different avenue to engage our downtown community. It was important to have a face-to-face conversation about the proposed parking rate changes, especially given our history.

The City of Eugene installed parking meters in 1939, four years after the parking meter was invented, to discourage employee on-street parking and create parking space availability for customers. The suburbanization of the 1970s led our downtown businesses to convert from a customer paid-on-street meter system to a free-to-the-customer, business-paid-on-street, time-limited system. The business community taxed itself to pay the city to enforce parking time limits for customer use. At that time, the city also started building the first of six downtown parking structures to compete with the ample lots at suburban malls.

In 1991, our downtown reverted to a customer-paid parking system. The rates we set at that time have largely gone on unchanged until this year—that’s 21 years of unchanged rates!

The city has been able to keep downtown parking rates low for so long because it operates a parking enterprise fund that includes revenue (and expenses) from on-street parking, including meters and neighborhood residential parking permit areas, off-street lots and structures, maintenance, and enforcement. However, its primary service delivery area is the downtown and the campus parking district. Each area is about two square miles. Downtown has a focus on business activity, while the campus district is home to University of Oregon and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Parts of our downtown have struggled during the last two decades, which has contributed to the lack of a rate increase. In fact, the city actually removed 12 blocks of paid-on-street parking and enabled two-hour time-limited parking instead for a period of two years. The goal was to revitalize this underdeveloped section of downtown by removing the parking barrier—perceived or real—of customers not coming to this part of downtown. We wanted customers to give local businesses their quarters instead of giving them to the city’s parking fund.

All of these factors contributed to the non-traditional public outreach model of the lemonade stand. Based on the “Peanuts” cartoon, the stand was built from old fence board. It was placed around downtown for three days first thing in the morning, with the wooden sign reading “Out” and showing posted times of when the parking manager would be “In” the stand. The local paper reporter and photographer came and sat with me for an extended period of time. They listened to the conversations, asked questions, and ran a second story on the parking rate increase, but this time with the headline, “Parking manager puts friendly face behind touchy subject,” and a photo of me talking with a customer.

Interview Stand
The parking manager lemonade stand came back a second time during our recent parking enforcement officer hiring process. Our focus was to find individuals who could deliver exceptional customer service under stressful conditions. We had nine parking enforcement officers and sought to fill three vacant positions from an initial applicant pool of 500. After scoring for minimum qualifications, the applicant pool was reduced to 320 applicants. Another manager and I scored the 320 applicants on two open-ended questions, including, “How does a parking program contribute to a livable city?” While the human resources department would have allowed us to narrow the candidate pool down to a dozen for formal interviews, I decided to gather a little more information on the applicants through quick interviews.

We held 10-minute speed interviews (just three questions) that used the lemonade stand for the interview space. We set it up in a parking garage’s sweeper bay off of a downtown alley. The alley happened to be shared with our local county elections office, which was quite busy during our interviews at the end of October and beginning of November. Adding to the buzz was the normal alley traffic of garbage collection and vehicles, plus the coming and going of residents who lived in the apartments above the garage and the next-door business that had fitness classes running around the block that included the alley. It was a pretty good replication of the distractions that a parking enforcement officer experiences on the street.

When a candidate was brought into the sweeper bay for a quick interview, they encountered the lemonade stand with a chair in front for the interviewee to use and two chairs behind for the two interviewers. Part of the interview process was seeing how our potential candidates reacted to this creative approach. Many laughed and said it was simply awesome. Others just went with it, feeling fully comfortable regardless of the environment. Some were a little out of sorts. One candidate was truthful and simply said, “This is the weirdest interview I have experienced.”

This unconventional approach narrowed our candidate pool to the top nine candidates. It was key to our next iteration of parking enforcement officers who are not only employed to write citations to enforce the black-and-white municipal parking code. The city looks for parking enforcement officers who have excellent customer service skills and are trusted to operate in the gray area that seeks to encourage economic activity and enhance neighborhood livability.

Coming Up
We plan to keep the lemonade stand for future uses. The City of Eugene attends summer neighborhood- sponsored parties to sell residential parking permits, and the stand will be set up where our residential parking permits are sold. At the end of November, we unveiled our “Step into Stories” project that placed four-foot-by-four-foot flash fiction story panels (200 words or less) from local Eugene authors on each stairway landing in a downtown parking garage. The lemonade stand was there, too, and we use it to offer free coffee and doughnuts to downtown construction workers who are redeveloping our downtown.

The parking lemonade stand has proven a big success. It provided an out-of-the-box method to engage our busy downtown community that has left a lasting impression. While the rate increase announcement is fading in the customer’s memory, the parking manager in a lemonade stand image remains fresh. We continue to receive feedback from the community that it was cool idea. Therefore, the parking lemonade stand achieved an even bigger goal: it contributed to the creative fabric that makes downtown a unique core of our community.

Jeff Petry is parking services manager for the City of Eugene, Ore. He can be reached at jeff.t.petry@ci.eugene.or.us or 541.682.5079.

TPP-2013-01-The Parking Manager is In

Service Blueprinting

TPP-2013-01-Service BlueprintingBy Melinda Alonzo-Helton, CAPP, Theresa Fletcher-Brown, and Nancy Stephens

Why should you care about your customers’ experiences? Because that is one of the few places you can win in the service business. It can be a basis of distinguishing you from competitors. This is especially true for private and municipal parking operators.

In many goods and services industries, competition is at parity; few brands are truly distinctive or better than others. Everyone offers quality on the technical elements. Thus, you can win or lose based on how your customers like the experience of buying from you. Is it easy and convenient? Can customers depend on a positive service experience when interacting with staff at your facility? Do they understand the process of service delivery and what to do? Do they think you care about them?

These are vital questions that drive a patron’s decision to park at your facility versus a competitor’s. You can find the answers by using service blueprinting. It is a tool designed to help you view the service experience through your customers’ eyes.

Here, we’ll look at how two university parking and transit organizations used service blueprinting to analyze and improve their services. The first, Arizona State University, used blueprinting to produce measurable results in the number of tows and boots in its campus parking facilities. The second, the University of Chicago, has just begun using blueprinting to identify and understand the experience of evening campus shuttle users.

The Tool—Service Blueprinting
A service blueprint is a customer-focused process map that is different than other process maps because attention is focused on what the customer is doing, feeling, and thinking as the service is delivered. One begins drawing a service blueprint by stepping through the service as a customer would—that is always the starting place. See Figure 1 (p. 28) for a service blueprint of a restaurant visit.

You can see the customer’s actions as green notes on the blueprint. There are three rows of activity below that: onstage, backstage, and support. These are employee actions that are necessary to produce the service.

A restaurant has onstage actions performed by employees (servers) who customers can see. In order for the customer to enjoy the restaurant, there are important backstage actions that must occur, such as giving the customer a reservation. And below it all in the service blueprint are support actions that are performed by
employees such as cooks, who prepare the meal in the kitchen.

Onstage and backstage actions are separated by the line of visibility. The customer does not see anything below this line, although he may interact by email or telephone with employees performing backstage actions. Backstage and support actions are separated by the line of internal interaction. For example, in a process the restaurant customer does not see, his order is conveyed to the kitchen, going backstage to support.

The top row of the service blueprint is where we place the physical evidence of the service as it unfolds. This means the tangible things that the customer sees. Customers often evaluate the quality of a service by what they can see. Are the premises clean and well-organized?
When a service is analyzed with a blueprint, the organization is able to see it in a new light and often notices things that were not previously apparent. It is easier to see customer pain points and opportunities for improvement.

More Boots and Fewer Tows
Arizona State University’s Parking and Transit Services wanted to improve the negative experience of having a vehicle towed from a campus parking facility while still performing necessary parking enforcement. It decided to use service blueprinting to analyze the experience from the customer’s point of view.

The best and most effective blueprints are drawn by teams of employees who perform actions at each level of the blueprint—onstage, backstage, and support. ASU Parking and Transit Services assembled such a team and challenged them with the task of drawing a blueprint of the booting and towing process. They were asked to identify key moments of truth and pain points for customers, as well as opportunities to improve the customers’ experiences. The result of the team’s work is shown in Figure 2 (p. 29).

The first moment of truth for the customer occurs when he discovers his vehicle has been booted and calls parking dispatch. The blueprinting team identified this as an external pain point—a gap that leads the customer to think the organization has low quality. Why was it labeled a pain point? It is because dispatchers do not possess real-time data and, at times, give customers the wrong information. The team identified an opportunity to improve that centered on better staff training, although the long-term solution is better technology.

The team also identified an internal pain point—a gap in quality that the customer does not see but that makes it harder to deliver service quality. The internal pain point related to not having a complete database and also to having inconsistent processes at the university’s four campuses.

The team recognized that from the customer’s point of view, the experience of being booted can never be pleasant, but it can be improved. Because most of the moments of truth and pain points revolved around giving customers accurate and timely information, the university changed the way it communicated from reactive to proactive, and implemented real-time enforcement equipment for improved accuracy.

Now, when a customer’s vehicle is booted, staff does not immediately call the tow truck or wait for the customer to make contact after he discovers the boot. They initiate communication with the customer by sending electronic notices before the vehicle is booted. If the customer does not respond and the boot is installed, another email and phone message are sent. Customers are advised to call or come in and settle their accounts to avoid having their vehicles towed.

The result of the improved booting and towing process at Arizona State University is impressive. Boots have more than doubled. However, tows have declined dramatically—more than 90 percent—from 1,741 to 155. Complaints were significantly reduced thanks to improved communications. The dramatic results are attributed to the service blueprints drawn by the ASU Parking and Transit Services employee team. The department has also found value in the way the blueprinting process assembles people from different parts of the organization. Staff engagement has improved as onstage, backstage, and support employees discuss their perspectives of service delivery and how it occurs.

Where Is My Ride?
The University of Chicago Transportation and Parking Services wants to provide safe rides around campus at night for its customers—students, faculty, and staff—and it wants the experience to be of good quality. A quality experience means that the customer who calls requesting a ride is given accurate information, picked up in a timely fashion, and transported without incident to a destination. The university’s task is complicated by the fact that the program is dependent on bus drivers who are contractors rather than university employees. Thus, the university does not have control over their hiring, training, or compensation.

Transportation Services had never examined the SafeRide process completely from the customer’s point of view and decided to do so. It was especially interested in identifying opportunities to improve the experience for students, faculty, and staff. The initial blueprint produced by the department is shown in Figure 3.

The blueprinting initiative at Chicago is in the first stage, which consists of identifying moments of truth, pain points, and opportunities for improvement. The very first moment of truth occurs when the customer calls the dispatcher. It is vital that this first call go well and that the customer is given an estimated time of arrival and treated politely. However, as the blueprint shows, things can go awry because the dispatcher is busy handling other calls.

The blueprint reveals that an external pain point can occur if the bus does not arrive by the time the dispatcher indicated, and that often triggers another call from the customer. This creates a negative experience for the customer and causes him to question the quality of the experience. Based on this realization from the blueprint, bus schedules will be analyzed to make improvements.

The second moment of truth in the customer experience occurs when a flagger, someone on campus who flags down the bus, has not entered the dispatcher’s system. This may cause the inaccurate time estimate to be given to the first customer because the dispatcher doesn’t know the driver has picked up a flagger. Thus, the university plans to examine this process more closely to figure out how to improve the overall service delivery of the program.

The parking and transportation services departments at Arizona State University and the University of Chicago have found service blueprinting to be a valuable tool for improving their customers’ experiences. Although having a vehicle booted or waiting at night for a shuttle bus are disagreeable experiences, blueprinting revealed places where each could be made better. The 92 percent decline in vehicles towed at Arizona State University is especially revealing of the benefits of looking at a customer process using a service blueprint. Both universities’ parking and transportation programs are using service blueprinting to examine, dissect, and improve other process to make them better experiences for customers.

Melinda Alonzo-Helton, CAPP, is director, parking and transit services at Arizona State University. She can be reached at melinda.helton@asu.edu or 480.965.5994.

Theresa Fletcher-Brown is director, transportation & parking services, department of safety and security with the University of Chicago. She can be reached at tfletcher@uchicago.edu or 773.834.5774.

Nancy Stephens is associate professor of marketing at Arizona State University, Tempe Campus. She can be reached at nancy.stephens@asu.edu or 480.965.2323.

TPP-2013-01-Service Blueprinting

At a Crossroads

TPP-2013-01-At a Crossroads

There’s no question that the parking industry has seen massive change in recent years. Technology, sustainability, and a growing perception of professionalism have all deeply affected the way people in parking think about their work. But what’s ahead for the future? We asked industry leaders who work in airports, universities, technology, commercial parking, and international markets what they thought.

The Parking Professional: What’s your general impression of where the industry is now and where it’s going over the next five to 10 years?

David Cummins, senior vice president and managing director, parking, Xerox: Focusing on onstreet parking, over the last five years, we’ve probably made more progress in the industry than in the last 30 years combined in terms of technology. We’re on a fast clip in new technology innovations and I think it will continue. We’ve seen the advent of the multi-space meter, the single-space credit card accepting meters, pay-by-cell, and sensors in spaces. The next wave of technological innovation is going to be in software. There are a lot of devices in the field that need to be managed. Back-end software will be needed to pull together those disparate units into one platform.

We’ll also see more software for handheld devices and smartphones. Relatedly, there will be a recognition that the data collected needs to be stored. Generally now, after we figure out how much revenue is collected and what violation counts are, that data goes into the ether. If people store it, it’s not mined in any way.

I can see in the next two to three years, maybe longer, a movement toward a more account-based parking system. We have that today with pay-by-cell, but other transactions are anonymous. It’ll be natural to move towards an account-based system, and our expectation for the future is that parking will work much like utilities do today. You park where you want and then get a bill from the city: you parked this many times, the rate is this.

Tiago Farias, professor, IDMEC-ISC, Portugal: I would list three major challenges where we are today:
The perception by others of the role of parking (namely how do city planners, legislators, residents, visitors, commuters, and the population in general see our industry). There is still a negative and misunderstood opinion of why we exist and how we operate and how important our mission is in guaranteeing more sustainable and efficient mobility in a city.

Low integration with other major contributors to mobility management. In fact, the parking industry is still an outsider from the remaining players of urban mobility. That is one key issue that needs to be overcome if we want to be seen as positive contributors to more sustainable management of urban traffic. While public transportation or soft modes (biking and walking) are seen as green, attractive products to cities, parking is still seen as the enemy that controls, enforces, charges, and punishes. It’s important to start integrating parking as part of a general message.

Lack of compatibility between technologies. Each technology provider (from pay-and-display machines, to contactless cards and managing software platforms) tends to have its own closed services and products, and there is difficulty integrating solutions with other complimentary services. This is a problem that is also present in other industries, but parking will suffer from it during the next decade as clients look for more information in real time combined with other relevant data.

Dorothy Harris, assistant deputy manager of aviation/landside services, Denver International Airport: Airport parking has, in the last 10 years, investigated the use of a variety of technologies that do not require the use of parking tickets or customer contact. Instead, they use a more hands-free approach (paperless transaction), which will lower operating costs and increase customer satisfaction. More airport parking facilities are looking for ways to cut costs to their operations and add value to the overall parking experience by bringing in different types of services; for example, car wash and detailing, dry cleaning services, windshield repairs, etc.

The airport parking industry has begun to increase offerings of non-traditional services to their business clientele who often fly out two or three time a week, and the occasional parker. This trend will continue over the next 10 years.

Casey Jones, CAPP, director of transportation & parking, Boise State University; chairman of IPI’s board of directors: I see a revolution taking place in terms of how we see ourselves as an industry. We are now firmly a service industry, and that is a fundamental change from where we came. Over the next 10 years, I believe this trend will continue and will play out in the way we market our services, the relationships we build with others, and the technology we use. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry and the future is bright.

James Wilhelm, president and CEO, Standard Parking: It’s my impression that our industry has changed significantly over the past 10 years by virtue of the demands placed on those of us responsible for the management of institutional and municipal real estate.

The continuous growth of medical, university, and airport campuses certainly demands more complex solutions than in past periods, where land wasn’t valued with the same premium it has today. More than ever , the access for and storage of vehicles entering and exiting these campuses require a more detailed focus from an overall planning standpoint to minimize congestion, maximize capacity, be environmentally sensitive, and maximize the real estate asset value through revenue collection. Having knowledgeable, experienced professionals working in a true partnership with the client, both public and private, is critical to achieve the most viable solution. The talent required to develop these solutions continues to evolve, and I believe the entities that harness and deploy that talent will be the most successful.

The municipal market specifically has changed dramatically by virtue of an ever-increasing shift to privatization, whether in outright asset sales or management partnerships. The pressures of fiscal demands upon elected officials have resulted in a requirement for more efficient revenue generation, compounded in the case of campuses by the congestion, capacity, and environmental issues I’ve already mentioned within the vitality of the associated central business districts (CBDs). These considerations are almost always in conflict, and creating the right balance in public and private CBD access will directly impact the continued vitality of many urban centers. Again, an appropriate public/private partnership is essential to success, and while our industry has been developing the appropriate talent and ideas over the past 10 years, the process remains in a relatively early stage given the immediacy of the pressures. Smart leadership that understands these related pressures will be able to succeed, while those that don’t will face extreme challenges and potential fiscal insolvencies.

TPP: What do you think are the biggest two or three contributors to the industry’s progress in recent years?

David Cummins: The multi-space meter and then the credit card-accepting single-space meter. Pay-by-cell has the potential to be a game-changer as well.

Tiago Farias: The biggest contributor was the introduction of information and communications technology (ICT) in our services. In my opinion, ICTs are now the most effective and powerful tool available in our industry. While GPS-based navigation systems are now standard, we need to be able to transform our services to fully web-based services where payments, information, registration, and reservations are solved on the web. And while today people are fully connected to the web, I believe in 10 years cars will be as well (not only the people in the car, but the car itself). We need to be sure that when that happens, parking will be a key service available in those ICT products.

Dorothy Harris: Technology and customer feedback, thanks to the industry asking for it through things such as surveys.

Casey Jones, CAPP: First, I think is the realization that we are not just about parking cars. We are a service industry focused on access management. This change in mindset has opened doors for the industry to play a much greater roll in economic and community development and at universities and colleges around the globe. There has been a sea change that has taken place from selling a parking space to helping people access their destinations and improve their experiences. We have also introduced many new technologies. With those, we are improving the customer experience, reducing our costs, and understanding our customers. Finally, and through the concerted effort of IPI, our industry is fast becoming recognized as a profession. Community leaders, planners, and architects are realizing that they can’t achieve their goals without having a parking professional at the table.

James Wilhelm: Certainly the continued consolidation of private parking and transportation operators has contributed significantly to the assembly of the talent pool I’ve mentioned. The ability to deploy teams of trained and experienced professionals across North America to solve individual client challenges enables asset creation that isn’t financially viable for smaller firms.

Without trying to sound patronizing, the advancement of the IPI has created a terrific forum for the industry to come together. Instead of being a passive, convention-driven opportunity that so-called parking consultants use to seek to elevate their status, I think today’s IPI enables real public and parking operators, suppliers, and institutional and municipal leadership to collaborate on a 365-day basis. The sharing of real experiences, successes, and challenges has created a wonderful opportunity that leads to true contractual partnerships, where talent is allowed to succeed and flourish with very defined roles between managers, outsourcers, and suppliers.

Lastly, the entry of private equity infrastructure investment funds has created a game-changing opportunity for the institutional and municipal markets. The opportunity to monetize an asset via a long-term lease or sale can potentially allow real estate managers to focus and invest in their primary mission (healthcare, education, air travel, responder services, and the like) while no longer needing to manage tertiary functions in which their expertise is limited. Again, where implemented with the correct mix of a public/private partnership, a win/win result can occur. Where misguided, a one-time opportunity can produce horrible results.

TPP: There’s a lot of talk about technology in the parking industry. Which technology or technologies do you think will have the biggest effect on the way parking professionals do their jobs in the coming years?

David Cummins: I think it’s going to be the back-end software. Parking professionals’ jobs have become increasingly complicated, and each of the different technology providers—the meter, the ticket processor, the sensor provider, the booting provider, the pay-by-cell provider—has its own back end to generate reports. The technical demands are becoming unreasonable. Parking professionals need the ability to integrate these devices and technologies in the field into a common software platform that’s real-time. That will be the next evolution.

Tiago Farias: We will need to be able to explore the maximum potential of ICT based on our mobile phones, iPads, tablets and, in the long run, our connected cars. Technology should also be able to improve the efficiency of on-street parking enforcement, which is still very human intensive. We will also need to use technology to communicate more with our clients.

Dorothy Harris: Complete automation of parking facilities will change the way we work. We will be able to manage our facilities and optimize our revenue stream through the use of statistical reporting, which, in most airports, is not available. European airports have adopted automation more quickly with online reservation systems, phone applications, sophisticated count systems, etc.

Casey Jones, CAPP: Generally, the technologies that help us collect and analyze data about parker behavior and those that improve the experience of the customer have the greatest impact. Until recently, my guess is that ours has been an industry almost completely void of meaningful information about the customers we serve. And no business can thrive on gut instinct alone. Today, we can capture real-time parker behavior so we can make the most efficient use of our parking facilities. Also, we’ve pulled in technologies from other industries which has gone a long way in helping our patrons have a better, more enjoyable parking experience. From accessing live parking availability information to reserving and paying for parking via smart device, we’re making the entire parking experience much more convenient.

James Wilhelm: I laugh a little bit with this one. There has been talk about technology advancement for each of my 35 years in the institutional and private sector. The advancement from cigar boxes for revenue collection and manual lot counts for inventory control, to sequentially numbered parking tickets, non-resettable gear-driven meters, in-pavement loop counts, ticket issuing machines, fee computers, key cards, RFID hangtags, pay-on-foot stations, and on and on and on, is demonstrably reflective of an industry that goes though constant, remarkable change.

This change will continue to occur on an exponential basis as the technology becomes more enabling. I think the most significant opportunities for parking professionals in the near term will be in the area of data analytics, which will be more readily available to help us make smarter decisions about capacity and revenue maximization while reducing operating costs.

For example, we now have the ability to enable those seeking access to our campuses and CBDs to select, reserve, and pay for access in advance, online, and we can guide the end users every step of the way to their destinations, even changing their routes if circumstances warrant based on real-time data.

We also can deliver variable pricing in real time by use of algorithmic analysis to match predictable demand via smart peripherals. Similarly, we can manage both fixed route and on-demand transportation systems through the efficient use of wireless identification, cameras, and central control systems to manage running costs down to the minute. We can manage the access and control systems for parking and related assets for multiple and entire campuses from thousands of miles away through efficient web and wired deployment, resulting in a significant reduction in operating costs and enhanced customer service.

I could go on and on but, as has been the case for 35 years, there is never a substitute for well-informed, analytical management decisions that technology serves up for us. The ability to intelligently and efficiently mine that data will be important to the professionals of the future.

TPP: The industry is becoming more automated. Is that a good thing or a bad thing as it relates to customer service? How can parking professionals ensure customers still feel they’re receiving personal service?

David Cummins: It’s largely a good thing. Companies like ours focus on custom experience not for our direct customers, but their customers—the citizens and drivers. Whatever we can do to improve that customer experience makes our direct customers’ lives that much easier. We’re trying to take the pain out of parking. As parking becomes less of an event and instead becomes an innocuous transaction, our customers’ lives become easier as well. There are elements people will have to get used to that they may not be crazy about initially. Dynamic pricing is one, and the fact that enforcement will be more automated is another. That won’t be popular with people who are used to getting away with violations. But for people who are compliant and pay for parking, this technology is a dramatic improvement.

Tiago Farias: I am certain that in a decade, many services that we use on a daily basis will be fully automated. From smart metering for home energy all the way to the smart city concept, clients will become used to a concept where human contact is almost virtual. Making our business more automated will be inevitable and once again, if well integrated with other services, will provide a fantastic opportunity to move in the right direction. As long as information is available in real time, methods of payment will become more easy to use, so the automation of parking will be very beneficial. It will take time and cost and requires integration. Not an easy task, and a very interesting challenge taking into account the variety of solution supplied by the main manufactures that are not capable of talking to each other.

Dorothy Harris: We don’t believe it’s either good or bad. Most customers want a seamless transaction and are in a hurry nine times out of 10, which generally describes the business traveler. As long as there is an avenue for customers to communicate easily if there are any questions or issues, they are very happy with the service received regardless of the extent of automation.

Casey Jones, CAPP: We are first and foremost a people business. All the technology in the world will not replace the people behind our industry and we can’t lose touch with our customers through automation, but technology isn’t to be avoided, either. The majority of our customers can be accommodated without much personal interaction but when a problem, challenge, or special accommodation needs to be made, we must be readily accessible and responsive. An organization’s customer service mark is not made when no problems exist. It is how we handle a bad experience or complicated request that our customer service mettle is most apparent. We can’t take care of people unless we do so person-to-person.

James Wilhelm: We have automated hundreds of parking systems and transportation routes over the past decade, and the key to taking advantage of the efficiencies generated is offering improved customer service on a parallel path. Whether the customer solution is video screens instead of just speakers at the robots deployed for customer interface purposes, static or changeable messaging and graphics, smart deployment of a mobile customer service staff, or websites that create a seamless customer interactive experience, the key to successful integration is based on three key components: First, you need an experienced personnel team that has deployed or managed the technology that serves as the solution to the challenge. Second, scale enables us to provide a flexible, well-trained customer service staff across multiple venues. Third, scale also allows us to invest in the infrastructure required to house the remote monitoring centers, servers, firmware, online staff, and web tools that enable a multi-asset managed network of parking and transportation assets.

TPP: What can the industry do (as individuals and as a whole through IPI) to secure a seat at the table with planners, designers, and builders of cities and downtowns?

David Cummins: I think it’s generally recognized that parking provides a significant revenue stream for cities and counties. The challenge is that there are often expectations that money will come in, but there’s no desire to give parking a seat at the table. It’s becoming more apparent to cities that parking is integral for the operation of the city. Congestion, the streetscape, the emission profile—all of that is inter-related. As smart parking technologies are used and capture more and more data, there will be a greater understanding of exactly how that revenue flows in and it will become more clear to city managers that they need to have an integrated transportation plan. Parking will be a critical element of that. It’s a lever they can actually pull. The ability to raise or lower the number of parking spaces, change hours of operation, or change how enforcement is done have a demonstrable effect on traffic. There’s not much you can do to pull a lever on traffic, but parking is one place you can do that.

Tiago Farias: Participate as actively as possible in the development of the current and next generation of solutions that will manage and interact with the users of parking. That is a tremendous task, as it involves working together not only with city planners and designers, but also with public transport authorities and major players. IPI could have a crucial role in this task.

Dorothy Harris: Continue to develop productive relationships with our co-workers to show them the value we bring to their projects. It is also essential that we not only tell everyone that Parking Matters®, but we also show them by providing solutions at every opportunity. Many times, planners and engineers find themselves reconstructing projects when everyone is not at the table, which makes for costly projects.

Casey Jones, CAPP: We need to be active, involved, and visible. We need to build relationships with planners, designers, and builders so we can overcome any negative perceptions that might be out there about the role of parking and ours as a profession. We need to illustrate through our good work that ours is a complicated and demanding profession and that our perspective, experience, and capabilities are critical to their success as well as that of the cities, universities, and developments they represent.

James Wilhelm: This is a terrific question. Often times, a short-term fad identified by elected officials or developers can rob an asset of its viability over the longer term. I’m not sure how this might be overcome other than a constant effort by the IPI and its members to create an awareness across the spectrum of decision makers. Of course, the best way to achieve this is through participation in local and national organizations where an awareness of the solutions that parking and transportation experts use can be considered. Tactical lobbying is an opportunity as well, though our industry remains quite disjointed from a leadership perspective.

TPP: We’ve heard a lot about going green. What do you see as the best ways for parking facilities to do that? How important is it?

David Cummins: Parking definitely affects, positively and negatively, congestion. It’s obviously a big contributor to the carbon footprint of a city. We can use dynamic pricing to raise or lower demand in different areas. We can push people to seek out alternative modes of transportation and bike or take a bus or train. Those are noble goals. I think the advent of new technologies are making these things possible. The use of solar will help, and as we move towards a world without meters, that will help. Parking professionals will embrace that they have environmental stewardship as part of their job descriptions.

Tiago Farias: Going green is a solid way of making our industry more attractive to all while producing better infrastructures. But let’s be reasonable: the environmental footprint of our parking facilities, as compared to other neighboring buildings and services, is low. Nevertheless, all sustainable efforts that contribute to greening our business should be encouraged, such as efficient lighting, automated payment processes, renewable energies, or promoting parking for electric vehicles.

Dorothy Harris: We are always looking at research regarding green technologies and methodologies. In 2012, we added hybrid parking spaces in all of our facilities and they have been well received and highly used. Other areas we are researching and considering are green lighting, wayfinding systems, and charging stations. The return on investment for these technologies is getting better each year. As costs come down and benefits get higher, we will move forward with these green initiatives.

Casey Jones, CAPP: Sustainability may be the most important issue we face in the coming years and decades, but being green is only one dimension of sustainability. To be truly sustainable, one must simultaneously balance environmental, social, and economic needs. Parking enterprises open to the idea that being sustainable can (and likely will) result in profitability will be positioned to do well. Parking professionals who make and sell the connection between convenience and sustainability are also likely to do well. Consumers want sustainable choices, but they rarely make a purchase decision based on sustainability alone. When a sustainable product or service is superior in all ways other than being green, consumers are likely to make the switch and reward the business that has made sustainability a key element of their DNA.

James Wilhelm: Obviously, we have a responsibility as leaders and inhabitants of the planet to participate in available environmental solutions. We have been involved in the development of parking facilities that have been recognized for their green focus, as well as with a strong focus on retrofitting parking facilities to achieve environmentally-intelligent objectives. We operate transportation systems with an eye to proper fueling and efficient routing. Smart lighting, solar and wind product deployment, and smart access technology are just a few examples of the tools we use. As importantly, we train our professionals through our Standard University® online learning system, in the awareness and practical deployment of existing and in-development solutions we can recommend to our clients.

The elephant in the room is the provision of charging stations across our locations. This deployment, from a commercial and capacity management perspective, must allow for the maximum use of available real estate square footage consistent with real demand. Any space that’s dedicated solely to charging stations must be in line with the actual demand for that space to avoid some of the real estate mistakes made in the past simply by bowing to popular mandates. My dream would be for all parking spaces to be equipped with charging stations in the future so long as the technology allows for a reasonable, matched deployment of attractive and practical alternatively powered modes of personal and public vehicles.

Frankly, as a private citizen, I still need to be convinced of the net carbon footprint impact of alternative vehicles when considered in light of the electricity being generated to power them. I believe we’ll need to get further along with the cost/benefit/footprint/practicality matrix before wider real estate allowance for these devices becomes evident.

TPP: What changes do you think the parking industry will see in the next decade? How can professionals prepare for those changes now?

David Cummins: As much as we complain about a lack of parking spaces now, it’s going to get worse. As more cities want to become walkable and push transportation in lieu of driving, we’re going to see city policies in the U.S. follow more along the lines of what’s happened in Europe: parking is scarcer and much more expensive. The trend is that parking, because of these political and macroeconomic dynamics, is going to become increasingly at the forefront of policy discussions.

Tiago Farias: Parking professionals will need to understand more about ICT and the types of services they will be able to provide. A wide range of issues will have to be covered, such as electronic payment methods that include better knowledge of the banking systems and regulations, innovative enforcement solutions, and web-based applications, to better inform and interact with the client.

Dorothy Harris: Parking is and has been moving towards automation for many years. In the next decade, we will see more and more facilities operating at a high level of efficiency with fewer on-site staff. It is critical for the parking professional to stay educated regarding new technologies, what technologies are working for the industry, and, even more critically, what is not working well and why it isn’t working. We must be discerning enough to choose the technologies that will work for our operations and not be drawn down the wrong path by the newest and shiniest software or hardware that is being developed.

Casey Jones, CAPP: The growing demand for access services coupled with continued economic pressure will force parking professionals to expand their roles beyond the traditional paradigm—parking cars—to access management, where they’ll provide shuttles, car share, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities, and provide arrangements for auto parking. When we begin to see our role as bigger and more important to solving a community, university, or development’s needs, we develop a much broader perspective and offer a full range of access solutions. We can prepare for this shift by starting now. We need to invest in training in urban planning, transportation demand management, and economic and community development. We need to build relationships in our community with representatives from the public and private sectors who might have a different, more narrow and less positive view of our work. And as we gain knowledge and build bridges, we’ll be best positioned to impact our communities in a positive way.

James Wilhelm: It’s critical that our industry attract talent with an increasingly diverse set of skills and a willingness to collaborate. Continuing education programs, such as those offered by the IPI and others developed in-house by large employers, must be a mandate of leadership. Forums conducted by our collective industry leadership with enlightened political officials should be actively engaged. Oftentimes, speeches at conventions don’t necessarily result in collaboration, and I think the parking and transportation professional should expect and receive more.

A healthy interchange of private/public talent should be encouraged. I believe our industry has been underserved in the past in the sense that frequently the most capable leadership asset—the people who have actually managed parking facilities—are often under-utilized. I think job fairs and interchange platforms might better prepare our leadership of the future.

TPP-2013-01-At a Crossroads

Successful Marketing Is Always Strategic

TPP-2013-01-Successful Marketing Is Always StrategicBy Bill Smith, APR

Marketing can be an elusive topic for parking organizations and businesses that serve the parking industry. If you ask 100 parking professionals what marketing is, you might get dozens of different answers. Is it advertising? Or public relations? Or direct mail? Or maybe exhibiting at parking conferences?

The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” Sort of.

Marketing is the act of communicating what an organization does, why it does it, and what sets it apart from other organizations that do the same (or similar) things. The basic idea behind marketing is to convince key audiences that your organization can meet their needs better than anyone else. If you own a parking facility, you may want to convince parkers that yours is more convenient, less costly, and safer than your competition’s. If you manage a municipal parking organization, you want to let local business owners, residents, and visitors know what your community’s parking regulations are and how those regulations benefit the community. If you are a parking consultant or run a company that serves the parking industry, you likely want to demonstrate the superiority of your people or products to prospective clients.

No doubt, as you are reading this you are thinking, “I do that.” But if I asked you how you do it, how would you respond? Would you say, “I send out press releases,” or, “I distribute company news with Constant Contact,” or, “I exhibit at the IPI Conference & Expo.” If you are typical, these the are the types of answers you would offer. And you would be indicating why you don’t market as effectively as you should.

Approaching Marketing
Most parking organizations approach marketing tactically rather than strategically. Their managers think about what they should be doing, rather than starting with why. Successful marketing is always strategic, and a marketing program should be built around and developed from the ground up to support an organization’s business goals. Marketing tactics should be pursued because of how they will affect the organization’s strategic plan, not because they are flashy, inexpensive, or easy to carry out.

The first step in creating an effective marketing program is to identify the organization’s strategic goals. Do you want to generate new business? Or recruit talented staff? Or attract strategic partners? Or perhaps strengthen relationships with local regulators, officials, and other decision makers? Each of these goals requires different marketing approaches and needs to be approached on its own terms.

Next Steps
After identifying an organization’s strategic goals, the next step is to determine what audiences need to be reached to achieve those goals and what messages will appeal to them. The parking industry is so specialized that it is relatively easy to identify these audiences. Likewise, it shouldn’t be difficult to determine which marketing messages will be most effective. Often, it is an intuitive process. If you know your audience, you have all the information you need to determine which messages will resonate.

The final stage of developing a strategic marketing program is selecting the tactics that will have the greatest effect. There are many to choose from, and the key is finding the combination that will provide the best results at the most reasonable cost. Potential choices include public relations, advertising, social media, public speaking, webinars, organization websites, direct mail, and even face-to-face networking. In the coming months, we will discuss in greater detail individual tactics and how they can fit into a marketing program.

Whichever tactics a parking organization uses, the most important factor in determining the success or failure of a marketing program is strategy. If you build your marketing program around the strategic vision of your organization, you will enjoy greater results than you ever thought possible.

Bill Smith, APR, is a principal at Smith Phillips Strategic Communications.
He can be reached at bsmith@smith-phillips.com.

TPP-2013-01-Successful Marketing Is Always Strategic

Electric Vehicles Notes from the Field

TPP-2013-01-Electric Vehicles Notes from the FieldBy Rick Decker, CAPP

The landside department of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is advancing an electric vehicle program on several fronts. To better serve our customers, we want to understand their experiences operating electric vehicles (EV) in the wide variations of Minnesota’s climate. We also want to understand how our charging stations blend into the locations and timing of the community’s existing network and how they work for our customers and our facility.

This past summer, we purchased a Chevy Volt as a landside staff vehicle. We use it daily to test the access controls to our gated entries, inspect the signage and the condition of our facilities, and perform enforcement and customer service actions. We want to experience the air conditioner in the 100 degree summer and the heat at -20 in the winter. We need to know how much of the battery’s estimated range of 42 miles is affected by heat and cold.

We also wanted to know if and how our charging stations would fit into the community’s network of charging stations. Our EV customers can find a charge well within range of the home-to-work commute, but have to watch their ranges more carefully than most of us watch our fuel gauges. We fit into the network well.

This led to the discussion of whether to assess a fee for the charging equipment. We decided to add a set amount to the parking fee regardless of how long the vehicle takes to charge or how many days the vehicle is parked. It will be collected, along with the regular parking fee, at exit via our credit card in/credit card out system (ePark) or at a cashier booth.

Currently, MSP only receives one call per month requesting information on charging stations. This, coupled with our weather extremes, leads us to cautiously approach the number and technology of our stations. We don’t want to take revenue-generating spaces out of service only to have them sit vacant. Additionally, it is not prudent to invest heavily in current charging station technology now only to have it change before we really start seeing EVs in our facilities. We are currently looking at installation during the second quarter of 2013. Our first equipment purchase will be funded with a state grant and MSP will be responsible for the installation and ongoing maintenance costs. This limits our investment while providing some EV charging capacity, allowing us to monitor actual customer use.

We first considered valet access to these stations. This allows efficient use of a single charging unit, as our staff could replace a fully-charged vehicle with one needing a charge. If we have no current EV demand, we can use this space for any other vehicle. We believe our valet clientele will most likely embrace the EV so we plan to market the units by placing them in their full view. Another location considered was in our guaranteed parking area (eParkElite). As these are our road-warrior, executive business travelers, we thought they would likely choose EVs before other customers.

I will write more to you in the future as we continue our progress.

Rick Decker, CAPP, is assistant manager, parking operations at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Landside Operations and a member of IPI’s Sustainability Committee. He can be reached at rick.decker@mspmac.org or 612.467.0460.

TPP-2013-01-Electric Vehicles Notes from the Field

There’s an App for That

TPP-2013-01-There's an App for ThatBy Colleen M. Niese

The business case has been presented, the green light given to fund a new technology-based solution—a pay-and-display system, an automated monthly parker program, or perhaps an upgrade to a corporate support function—and you’re in the driver’s seat to source the right vendor to provide the deliverable. At first, it seems straightforward, but it can become really complicated, really fast. A quick glance at any industry directory, such as the IPI Parking Buyers Guide & Consultants Directory, might show you have more than 75 vendors from which to choose, so while finding a solution is possible, finding the right solution for you proves the devil lives in the details.

Navigating your way through the sea of offerings, functions, and promises any option may present while balancing the priorities of the project can be a daunting task. While there are several factors that affect a project’s outcome, there are three that consistently play key roles no matter the ultimate goal: team composition, solution evaluation, and training.

Who’s on my Team?
Inclusion is the name of the game when leading this type of project. Inviting every role from a user, customer, and stakeholder perspective insures that you’ll identify the right solution efficiently, on time, and within budget. I once sat in a meeting where the marketing department presented to operations a customer webpage that was to launch later in the week. It was slick and user friendly, and had all the bells and whistles. It was also the first time operations saw the page, and their feedback set the project back weeks, costing the organization unallocated dollars, time, and resources, with everyone involved becoming a bit disengaged from the original goal of the project. Before kicking off any initiative, answer the question: Is everyone who’s going to touch this system in the room from the start?

Kick the Tires
When reviewing solutions with providers, the language, functional options, and overall workflow can sometimes leave a team a bit disconnected from their original set of needs and priorities. We like to draft an evaluation template with the project team that lists their requirements related to the solution—internal system integration, new efficiencies, management reporting, etc.—with a priority ranking next to each. This agreed-upon scorecard is used during each vendor presentation to validate both the existence of each criteria identified and its degree of relativity to the organization’s needs. Using this type of system keeps the team focused on the requirements, agreed on the definition of each, and aligned around what’s in and what’s out when it’s time for final selection.

How do I Plug This Thing In?
The ideal time to figure out how to best get the ship into the bottle is not after it’s built. One of the more commonly overlooked components to project completion is its implementation, specifically user training. Ensuring that all users fully adopt the new solution requires a hefty amount of effort, support, and reinforcement. Training is the best vehicle to achieve full user integration. Work closely with your vendor and your project team throughout project development to design the supporting training materials so your users can perform their respective responsibilities in the new world. Education on what the system does and how to use it during implementation and in steady state will largely drive the initial success and long-term sustainability.

Colleen M. Niese is a principal at The Marlyn Group, LLC and a member of IPI’s Consultants Committee. She can be reached at cniese@marlyngroupllc.com.

TPP-2013-01-There’s an App for That