Adventures in Airport PARCS Foibles by Karen Blasing Pradhan, Product and Marketing Manager at SKIDATA, Inc.
Having spent some quality time with airport PARCS, it is interesting to see the variety in designing and operating them. I have seen some mistakes made, but can appreciate a management team who has obviously put in their time and careful consideration for a successful system and ultimately operation. Foibles can happen, but it is important not to let them get out of hand.
For example, it’s great when a system includes Automated Payment Machines (APMs). Placement of the machines is critical here. Those machines tucked under the escalators? Customers are not going to use them, and management will wonder why they made the investment. The machines right next to the terminal doors, or in the passageway to the parking garage? Excellent investment there. I have seen personnel placed at the APMs to help customers navigate how to use them. Nice, just don’t overdo it. I have also seen a person sitting at a desk placed directly in front of the APM blocking access for anyone who wants to use it on their own and is then intimidated, or just can’t be bothered to use it. Oops.
This reminds me of India, where ‘customer service’ of the umpteenth degree is expected, and personnel are plenty and inexpensive. It is not unusual to actually hand your ticket to a person daringly standing in the exit lane so that he can insert it into the exit terminal for you, then the same for your credit card, and then he hands you the receipt. Way too much customer service there and a bit uncomfortable to boot. This from a Midwestern transplant spending time in New Jersey and Oregon where I would much rather pump my own gasoline and be on my way, thank you very much.
Customer service takes other forms as well. This can come in marketing promotions that give your customers a good deal. These are great and build customer loyalty – just don’t let it implode on you. Some promotions can be so complicated that cashiers, let alone customers, have a hard time figuring them out. Hey, if it’s Tuesday and it’s raining and there is a dog in the car, you get a special deal! An exaggeration, but I think you get it.
Or, you coddle your customers so that they expect and receive extra accommodations all the time. I am not talking about special groups like our veterans or handicap placard holders; I am talking about people that will get irate because they know they can get away with it. I have heard the following used to some success: “The bus driver ‘let me in’ behind him in the authorized vehicle lane and now you need to let me out.” –or- “What, I have to pay for parking? No, I don’t think so.” Kudos for those customer service people having to deal directly with this nonsense, but sometimes official policy is just to give it up for free. If you have enough people in the office who can effectively track these scofflaws later to avoid an initial confrontation, more power to you. If you don’t, well, the reality is parking is a business, so there obviously needs to be rules.
I have seen the same taxi driver, coming into the office every day for a week trying to get out of paying for his parking pass. He succeeded for several days, because the office worker didn’t want him to “get mad.” Then a supervisor stepped in and had a polite conversation with the gentleman. It didn’t happen again.
Give your cashiers enough authority, but not too little. Yes, I know, we do a lot to protect our business from those few who spend their time to try and find out how to cheat the system, but this can also backfire. I once spent seven minutes in a cashiered exit lane waiting for my validation to be approved. Seven minutes. Enough said.
Along with customer service goes signage and customer training. Look at your system from the point of view of someone who has never seen it before. Invite grandma to drive you around and see what happens (or just pretend to). A lot of us spend time in airports, and not to catch flights, so it’s a bit surprising when you really can’t find your way to where you need to go. I recently ended up driving the wrong way in a parking garage. After backing up (ACK!) and going around on a second pass I was looking for the signage very carefully, and viola – there was none! Just an unsigned turn or wrong way is all it takes to stare down the angry headlights (and horn) of the person going the correct way and creating a traffic jam.
If a new system is going in, I have seen operators create very successful campaigns of customer training through pamphlets and signage before and during the new system changeover to let them know of the new processes and procedures for a smooth transition. Take your ticket with you – really, you will be a happier customer if you do. This stuff goes a long way.
There are no easy answers, geez, a lot of us would be out of a job if there were. Successful adjustments can be made as in the case of some of my examples given here. Take the time to know how things impact not only customers, but your front line people who deal with them. I’m also a big fan of networking. There are a lot of good ideas out there among your coopetition. In the end, management knows their customers and operation best, and has the opportunity to be awesome.
Karen Blasing Pradhan, Product and Marketing Manager at SKIDATA, Inc. can be reached at Karen.Pradhan@skidata.com.