Data-Driven: How Customer Service Platforms are Improving Campus Parking

What do your students complain about? Fair or not, parking is usually near the top of the list. To handle those complaints, many campuses are turning to parking-specific customer service platforms to support their automated parking operations.

One of the most important elements of college and university management is providing the best student experience possible. Higher education has become extraordinarily competitive, and the customer experience is paramount.

This generation of students grew up in a more democratized environment than their parents. They are used to having input into their families’ lives — what’s for dinner, where the family will go on vacation, what movies the family will watch — the types of decisions that their parents’ parents made for the family. This newfound influence has made today’s students more vocal than ever, and they aren’t shy about sharing their feelings on social media. So, when something goes wrong, not only will you hear about it, but so will the rest of the world. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are like cudgels in the hands of unhappy students.

Parking Problems

What do your students complain about? Fair or not, parking is usually near the top of the list. Students equate the services they receive with how much they are valued by the university, and even the most convenient parking facilities often fail to satisfy them. The introduction of parking technology was supposed to eliminate complaints by making parking more convenient and customer-friendly. However, the usefulness of parking technology — as with any equipment — is limited, not just by its functionality, but also by the ability of people to use it.

And, of course, it’s not just students who complain about parking. Faculty and staff are just as susceptible to parking issues. And the last thing campus parking administrators want is professors complaining to the university president about parking issues. The administration wants parking to be self-sustaining, not a headache.

There are many types of parking technologies in use, and drivers aren’t always adept at using each different type. Imagine what would happen if people had to use a different mobile phone every day. Confusion would reign, right? Well, that’s what often happens with parking technology. Screens, button placement and user instructions vary from brand to brand, and that can cause confusion among parkers who are exposed to different types of equipment at different locales. Often, it’s not the technology that’s failing; it’s the person who is failing to use it properly.

This is why parking sometimes requires a personal touch. What happens when your PARCS equipment (which controls the gates that let parkers in and out) doesn’t work as planned? You don’t want drivers waiting behind a closed gate for 20 or 30 minutes until a parking department staff member or enforcement officer can be summoned to handle the situation.

Technology Solutions

That’s why many campuses are turning to parking-specific customer service platforms to support their automated parking operations. The platforms are electronically connected to the PARCS equipment and can be engaged with the push of a button when something goes wrong with the equipment. Colleges and universities can set up their own systems that are connected to a third-party customer service platform, or they can turn to a company that specializes in developing platforms to meet institutions’ unique needs. Basic systems provide a live audio connection to a trained customer service professional who can help solve parkers’ problems. The most advanced systems offer two-way video conferencing so the customer service representative can see for him or herself what the issue is in order to diagnose and solve it. Many colleges and universities have gravitated to face-to-face video platforms because it provides a more personalized experience. Parkers express that they feel they are receiving better service when they can see the person who is helping them.

Technology for Campus Parking Centers

Photo courtesy of Parker Technology

Sometimes campus parking requires a personal touch. Many institutions are turning to customer service platforms to provide that personal touch by connecting parkers to a customer service professional when problems arise.

Believe it or not, this happens at least 85 million times a year in the United States alone. Whether it’s a  matter of user error or a problem with the equipment, the customer service rep can solve the problem and get the driver on his or her way.

For the parker, this is the end of the story. But not for the university. Every call is recorded, and that data is available to campus parking administrators to tell them: 1) what the most common issues are, and 2) how they were resolved. This is vital data that’s often overlooked by parking managers. When utilized properly, it can help colleges and universities improve their systems to minimize problems in the future, thus providing a better parking experience in campus parking facilities and making parking operations more effective and efficient.

Arizona State University: A Case in Point

Like all universities, Arizona State University (ASU) serves a student population that’s evolving. Students today are more comfortable with technology — you might say it’s in their DNA — and they tend to take automation for granted. When it comes to university parking, automated parking systems are a perfect fit. At the same time, when things go wrong, they expect to get help quickly.

So, while automating campus parking makes sense, universities find that they still need a safety net. Just as technology improves parking for the university and its students alike, it also provides that safety net. To that end, ASU has integrated virtual support at every gate in each of its parking facilities. The university’s customer service platform provides access to customer service representatives who serve as virtual ambassadors, providing quick fixes whenever problems arise at entries, exits or pay-on-foot kiosks. The system provides a link (a mix of video and audio-only interactions) between drivers and ambassadors, and that link is an essential part of the process. People feel like they are being treated better when there is an engaged human on the other end of their call for help.

And all interactions are recorded. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words — so imagine what a video is worth!

The call recordings serve a couple of functions. Initially, they can help resolve any disputes that may arise related to a given situation. If the driver feels slighted in any way, the recording can provide a detailed look at how the situation was resolved and how the call center representative treated the driver. When it comes to resolving disputes, “seeing (and hearing) is believing.”

The recordings are also a powerful training tool for virtual ambassadors. By demonstrating how individual situations were handled, they can offer guidance to other ambassadors about how to handle similar situations in the future. Trainers can use the recordings to demonstrate what the ambassador did right or wrong and help teach ambassadors how to react when faced with similar circumstances.

Measuring the Metrics in Real-Time

The final benefit provided by virtual support technology is data. It’s a powerful benefit.

The technology documents every aspect of every call. University parking planners only need to push a button to find out how many calls were made on a given day, week, month, semester — really, any period of time. It also analyzes the nature of each call. For instance, ASU monitors how many entry/exit issues, ghost calls (accidental calls caused by drivers pushing the wrong button), invalid validations or permits, credit-card payment issues, invalid tickets (obtained by the driver upon entering the facility) or any other issues there are. This information can be analyzed for any particular period or length of time.

This is important information that ASU parking administrators can use to improve their operations and customer service. For instance, if there is an excessive number of invalid tickets, that could be an indication that the PARCS equipment located at the entrance is malfunctioning and needs to be repaired or replaced. The same conclusion might be drawn if there is an unusually high number of credit-card payment issues. Or, if there are too many invalid validations or permits, it could indicate that the permit readers are malfunctioning or that the equipment that creates the permits themselves is. No matter what types of problems arise, the data created by the system can help diagnose the issues and help parking administrators address them more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Low Cost/High Impact

When issues arise with campus parking, the cost in terms of both public perception among students and other parkers and finances can be high. Universities are turning to integrated virtual support provided by customer service platforms because the technology provides a cost-effective way to provide a personal touch in automated parking operations, while at the same time, giving parking administrators invaluable data that can be used to better manage parking operations.


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