As technology in the parking industry has developed, the customer service dynamic between parking lot owners and employees and their customers has changed dramatically. Today, the retail interaction is generally between the customer and an automated payment system.
However, customer service in the parking industry is no less important than it has always been. Improving service at your parking facility will have a direct impact on revenues. Good customer service is about more than just politeness and attentiveness to your customers. Just as important is the delivery of easy to understand information to each and every customer.
Don’t try to reduce customer service to a single action, such as answering a question, issuing a refund, or processing a credit card. Think of it as an ongoing dynamic: a pleasant and helpful way that lot operators exchange information with customers on a day-to-day basis. These interactions should be helpful both to the customer, of course. But they will also be helpful to your bottom line as a parking facility operator.
Most customer service issues will be based on the customer seeking information, such as the answer to a question. But at the end of the day, they are simply interactions. The customer will leave those interactions either feeling pleased and satisfied, or feeling frustrated. It’s up to you to ensure each customer receives service that pleases them.
Rather than an expense or nuisance, each customer service exchange should be looked at as a unique opportunity to improve your business. From becoming more proficient at processing refunds to addressing broken equipment, you and your staff can learn from every customer service inquiry you receive how to improve your business.
Clearly, a good customer service experience is beneficial to customers. But it’s beneficial to you as well, and to your business because good customer service is a major factor that keeps people coming back. Convenience, price, and other factors are certainly important. But even a single bad customer service experience could cause someone to begin using a slightly less convenient or slightly more expensive option.
Exchanges between customers and service reps mold your reps into better employees, improving their skills and knowledge of the job. For example, if a customer received a parking ticket they believe is in error, they may contact your service department. The employee handling the call could improve their knowledge of your software systems or ticketing policies.
An educated customer is more ideal than one who is not. Customers who know policies, pricing, pay locations, and other information will have a smoother experience that will keep coming back to your facility. When a customer makes a customer service inquiry, they are essentially requesting a better education in some aspect of your business. If their interaction is positive, they will be a more educated customer as they continue patronizing your facility.
Some customer inquiries will be due to the customer simply being confused. But if your service reps keep getting the same questions or complaints, you can see clear opportunities to improve your facility. For example, if there is a sign explaining the refund policy, and you have many customers asking about it, you may need to improve the sign’s visibility or clarify the wording.
By using customer service inquiries to improve, you can reduce the amount of confusion and the number of complaints and inquiries from customers. This turns the $5-$7.50 that it costs to deal with each customer inquiry into an investment in streamlining your facility. View every customer service interaction as an opportunity to make your business as efficient as it can be.
There are several primary reasons that customers change to different parking providers. The most common underlying cause is a change in their needs—for example, maybe a job change makes it so they no longer require parking at your location. Another possibility is that regular customers no longer have their vehicles, and don’t require parking service.
Sometimes, however, customers move to a competitor they think will offer them a better value. Value isn’t just the price tag for the service. The price is only one part of the value picture. Overall value takes into account components like convenience and quality of service in addition to price.
If a parking facility is inexpensive but is in a high-crime area, offers poor customer service, or has very small and difficult to use parking spaces, it may not be a great value. Similarly, a facility that charges a higher fee but has spacious lots, clear policies, great customer service, a convenient location, and easy-to-use payment terminals, could still be a good value despite the higher price.
To improve value for your customers, you could lower prices, offer better customer rewards, or invest in more user-friendly software for payment terminals. But the number one thing you can do that will have the greatest immediate effect is to improve your customer service. This leads us to our next section.
All other factors aside, better customer service is the number one way to retain customers and keep them from abandoning you for competitors. So, how do you improve your customer service?
Be customer-oriented, and make sure employees are well-trained to show every customer that they care and understand about their concerns. Also make sure employees are as trained and up-to-date as possible on all policies, procedures, pricing, and other pertinent aspects of the business.
To give yourself a way to continually improve your customer service, allow customers to rate their experience so that you can learn more from each service call. That way, every single customer service interaction is leveraged to help you do a better job. This will help you identify and make the most of countless opportunities to improve your business and raise revenues in the process.
As we discussed earlier, value is more than just cost. It includes things like rewards, convenience, ease of use, safety, cleanliness, and many other factors. To retain customers and be a better value without lowering your price, find ways to improve in other areas – and use customer service requests to identify what they are.
For example, if multiple customers have complained about trash in the lot, you can increase your value simply by ensuring litter is picked up. You can also make an effort to make customers feel special with rewards programs, frequent parker discounts, and other extras to keep customers coming back.
When customers find your service to be courteous, pleasant, knowledgeable, agreeable, and easy to deal with, they will return again and again. In cities with many superficially similar parking options, it can end up being the little things that create the sense of value that keeps customers coming back.
You want to give your customers as many options as possible to get in contact with you. Of course, there are basics like email and telephone contact numbers. But there could be a live chat box on your website. These are easy to add with plugins that integrate with different hosting providers and website builders.
You could also provide an SMS text message customer support line. You might also have social media accounts that customers can contact. Electronic and automated customer service outlets will take less time to handle than phone requests, so any improvement to these methods will save you time and money.
The key to incredible customer service is thoughtfulness: always ask yourself, how would I feel if I was the customer in this situation? With a little empathy, an eagerness to improve, and a customer-centric company culture, you can turn even complaints into opportunities—both to make your customers happy, and to increase revenues for your parking facility over the long term.