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Do we Really just Park Cars?
Marcia Simning, Parking Facility Director, Science Museum of Minnesota
When I started in the parking industry, I came with car rental and retail experience and a passion for customer service. In my first month of learning the offsite airport parking business, I admit I was embarrassed to tell my family and friends where I was working. Then it hit me, and I became passionate about the parking business. To anyone who would listen, I would say, “I PARK CARS!” I was very lucky to have experienced leaders show me the ropes. I shared their enthusiasm for the business as I become a successful and experienced leader in the parking world. After 20+ years, I am still in the business, and there is not a day that goes by that I am not challenged or learn something new to improve the parking experience for our customers.
Parking may be one of the most difficult and unstable parts of owning a car. As car owners, we all face some kind of parking pain, and we struggle from both uncertainty (availability, prices, restrictions) and inconvenience (full car parks, slow payments, unfair fines) on a daily basis. So, YES, we really just park cars! The parking industry is no different than other businesses; we are dedicated to solving the parking problem by cracking both sides of the market, making parking easy and efficient for everyone. How do we do this?
Parking is a naturally transient activity; most of us do not think about parking until we are in our cars headed to our destination. However, there are a few types of parking that seem to lead to with regards to pre-planning and pre-booking. One is “event parking,” or securing a space that is tied to a particular pre-planned activity with a known start and end time, like a sporting event or theater performance. This type of parking activity now happens whether the parking space is at the actual venue itself, or simply nearby. Another type is “airport parking,” when a car owner also fully knows the parameters of his or her parking period. These types of pre-booked parking needs offer cost certainty and the benefit of guaranteeing a parking space during a potentially stressful trip (nobody wants to miss a flight or the first period of a hockey game for parking).
Knowing your customers is the key to building easy-to-use automated services, but also providing in-person help as needed
This practice will improve utilization without interfering with any regular drive-up customers.
Historically, daily and monthly parking, which make up nearly half of all parking revenue in the U.S., have been left out of the pre-booking game. However, with the growth of smartphone usage, this type of parking transaction is becoming a larger part of the online market. Drivers may not be thinking about parking before embarking on their trip (although even this is changing as the benefits of pre-booked parking expand), but their mobile devices can now provide parking inventory availability and pricing in real-time as they reach their destinations. This type of practice will improve brand awareness.
Customer Service Experience
Just as important as having the correct technology for our parking site is, the personal touch of a competent customer service representative. The purpose of technology is not to take away customer interactions, but to combine the strengths of a trained customer service representative and the options to have the best technology for your parking site, ensuring customer satisfaction and return business.
Knowing your customers is the key to building easy-to-use automated services, but also providing in-person help as needed. Data is the key to make sure you utilize all existing information from all sources: the business systems, websites, marketing brochures, past customer interactions, user guides, etc. Make the relevant data available for your customers and your customer service personnel. This will allow you to improve your self-service options as well as your in-person interactions with your valued customers.
We park cars!
Today I am working for the Science Museum of Minnesota. In my first two years, I have embraced the importance and complexity of our parking program. It is a critical element in the continued development and revitalization of the parking opportunities for the museum. To keep pace with increased visitor volume and the development in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, we’ve made some investments in infrastructure to provide new exciting prospects. When I started, I saw a parking program that has a solid foundation in terms of physical and system assets upon which to build. What the parking program currently needs most are four key elements:
• A sense of purpose and direction
• An investment in staff training and development
• A strong customer service orientation
• Investment in new technology
The development of a strategic vision and a strong, well- defined work plan was a critical first step in putting the Science Museum parking program on a course for success. We applaud the corporate support for making parking an important investment. It is exciting to see the progress being made in our department. Parking can be a significant partner and contributor to advancing the Science Museum vision, as well as helping to improve the overall community experience. I believe that the future of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s parking program is bright indeed. I am committed to continuing the improvements and having incredible success!