My technological epiphany can be quantified like this:
Five hours on the JFK tarmac
One screaming two-year-old
One screaming four-year-old
Zero cellular or wifi reception
I was in a tight situation, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t find out how much longer we would be delayed, nor alert my wife back in San Diego, nor lock down a hotel and Uber if the airline decided to cancel the flight.
Here we sat in what’s largely considered the greatest city in the country, but I couldn’t so much as get a single bar of signal to make the best decisions for my family. And there was nothing I could do about it.
As a customer, nothing could have been more frustrating.
It dawned on me that the best solution to our situation wasn’t some new technology but good, old-fashioned service. I didn’t need tech to give me salvation, I needed the flight attendant to give me information.
A complementary gin and tonic wouldn’t have hurt either.
The Problem With Putting Tech First
By over-prioritizing technology we put the cart before the horse. And oftentimes, we tend to put both before the people on board, i.e. our customers.
Because new technology is often seen as a necessity, we’re quick to replace what we have with something we may not have a need for. Sure, it makes us feel good, our flashy new investment… but is it really a solution if you have to create a problem to solve?
For airlines, investing in apps that feed passengers real-time flight info sounds great. But flight attendants are highly trained, personable, and fully capable of relaying the same information without the costly price tag… and they don’t need wireless bars to do so.
Speaking of wireless bars, right now engineers are working toward the next big leap in mobile communication, and yet the technology available to us today is still far from perfect.
Why start piling on new options and features that don’t strengthen those we currently and widely use? For airlines and wireless companies alike, the brands who are going to win are those who have the best internal infrastructure and policies in place to elevate their customer experience.
The same goes for parking companies.
We face this sort of tech-based dilemma regularly. The parking-free future promised by those behind the ambiguous wheel of autonomous vehicles, valid or not, has driven many in our industry to fight fire with fire, tech with tech.
Balance Is The Best Solution
Perhaps one of the most common examples of “over tech-ing” the customer experience is the automating of attendant roles.
Overnight, garages and lots replace human attendants with error-prone electronic ticketing machines. Suddenly, the process customers were familiar with is replaced by something if not complicated than at least unexpected.
Already, the customer experience is disrupted. But if a credit card doesn’t run, if a customer has a question, if a ticket is damaged and doesn’t read… if any of a thousand technical issues occurs, that which would otherwise be solved by a helpful attendant now diminishes the customer’s experience, satisfaction, and likeliness to return to your garage.
At Ace Parking, we try to rollout new technology on our customers in a manageable way. When implementing automated attendant systems, for instance, we either staff our facilities with helpful ambassadors for a transition period or keep staff on during peak egress and ingress times.
This allows us to flex our payroll while maintaining the personal service Ace customers have always appreciated. Having a live person on hand helps us resolve problems quickly and personably, reducing consumer aggression towards technology. Because the thing is, whether it’s a user problem or a tech problem, to the customer, it’s always your problem.
Keep It Coming Back To The Customer And The Customer Will Keep Coming Back To You
In always focusing on customers, Ace is always measuring their experiences as accurately and effectively as we can. We constantly analyze and tweak, analyze and retweak until we get it as close to perfect as possible.
By no means was my tarmac “technological epiphany” akin to the kind that trickles out of Silicon Valley startups. I hadn’t conceived the next mobile app phenomenon or digital solution, but what I came to was something equally as valuable. Potentially more so.
It’s the kind of epiphany that needs, desperately, to permeate the parking industry. It’s the kind of epiphany that keeps customers coming back, that puts their experience above all else, that reminds us that the customer experience is a human experience.
We’ll do fine if we don’t forget that.