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The Resilience and Innovation of the Parking Industry

Originally published by Parking & Mobility on 7/6/2022

 

From the rise of mobility, to the ever-growing electric vehicle (EV) movement, the parking industry has welcomed change and continuously used creativity to fuel new ideas and provide better services for customers and clients. The industry’s collective sense of innovation was never more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delivering challenges in rapid succession, 2020 ushered in a new era of technological enhancements and revamped parking solutions across the country. Though the challenges were wide-ranging, four main areas took precedence: staffing, touchless technology, data optimization, and demand generation.

With these four components in particular, the parking industry demonstrated its practice of
embracing change and developing creative solutions. By adapting to the constantly shifting expectations and pivoting operations to accommodate those changes, the parking industry, yet again, proved
its ability to evolve quickly to meet consumer demands and aid in the health of the economy at large.

 

OPTIMIZING STAFFING

Operational Adjustments

The first area that demanded attention at the start of the pandemic was staffing. As the onset of COVID-19 rapidly affected society, the average consumer’s daily life quickly shifted. Beginning with the start of quarantine, normal operations across industries nationwide abruptly halted. 

This directly impacted the parking industry, creating disruption throughout the verticals it serviced. Office employees began working from home, stores and restaurants temporarily shut down, venues postponed events, airlines restricted travel, and hotel reservations dwindled—all drastically reducing the number of parkers.

With the resulting revenue loss, minimizing operational costs became imperative. One key part in this effort was reducing payroll expenses. While critical to maintaining operations, this, ultimately, resulted in fewer employees and less support for the remaining customers. In the face of this challenge, the parking industry adjusted its operations and relied more heavily on the use of command centers. 

 

Supplemental Support

Since their inception, command centers have offered clients of parking operators significant supplemental support, ranging from round-the-clock customer service to 24/7 site monitoring and equipment maintenance. However, when dealing with the new reality of COVID-19, command centers became even more valuable, ensuring that clients could reduce the number of onsite employees without sacrificing customer support quality. 

Remote management held an additional benefit, as well: less in-person contact. As everyone sought to minimize human interaction, offering support without requiring face-to-face communication provided important peace of mind for parkers. By helping remaining customers feel safer while traversing the ever-changing pandemic landscape, command centers improved the customer experience and, as a result, increased the likelihood that customers would return during their limited outings.

Remote customer support remained an integral solution as the pandemic wore on, as well. Once quarantine restrictions lessened and companies were able to hire employees again, a new challenge emerged: finding the necessary staffing. With the extension of enhanced unemployment benefits came a reduction in the number of individuals in the job market. This meant industries, across the board, struggled to fill increasingly important positions as the world reopened. Continuing to supplement fewer onsite employees—though now for different reasons—command centers remained crucial to the maintenance of effective operations. 

As a result, the pandemic established command centers as a critical investment for the parking industry, supplementing onsite staff and offering versatile support that could help future-proof businesses and protect their operations in the face of any unexpected challenges. 

 

IMPLEMENTING TOUCHLESS TECHNOLOGY

A New Era

While touchless technology and contactless payment were on the rise prior to the pandemic, they quickly surged to new heights with the onset of COVID-19. Especially in the early days, when less was known about the virus’ transmission, any way to limit face-to-face interactions became increasingly important. This resulted in the boom of smartphone-based payment. 

From food delivery to retail shopping, consumers adapted to a new way of life—one that used their personal devices as their key payment tool. Consumers grew increasingly comfortable with contactless payment and began expecting that option across their wide-ranging transactions. 

At parking locations, they viewed tried-and-true ticket and payment stations as antiquated and unsafe. They considered any commonly used touchpoints unsanitary, even if locations implemented stricter cleaning requirements. As a result, the optics of touchless technology proved integral to generating demand and maintaining a loyal customer base. 

 

Contactless Payment

In addition to installing motion-activated entry stations, parking locations met this demand by implementing QR codes, touchless pay-in-lane services, and online website reservations. The transition to these systems enhanced the customer experience, eliminating the need for parkers to return to their cars to maintain their parking payment. Instead, they could scan a QR code upon arrival, input their credit card information, and estimate their departure time. Then, if they decided to extend their outing, they could simply adjust their timing from their phone. 

It also allowed customers to pay only for what they used, rather than losing money if they checked out earlier than anticipated. Ultimately, this left them feeling more positive about their experience with a given parking operation and increased the likelihood that they would return or recommend the establishment to friends or family.

For parking locations, smartphone-based payment options offered the additional benefit of optimizing revenue streams. Using the latest yield management pricing strategy, cloud-based software could determine the final payment amount based on the most effective pricing for that time of day. It also protected against slippage and parking theft, further safeguarding profits. 

By updating payment technology to meet changing customer needs, the parking industry, once again, demonstrated its commitment to versatility, its willingness to adapt to customer demand, and its ability to evolve with an ever-changing economic landscape. 

 

REAL-TIME, DATA-DRIVEN DECISIONS

Expect the Unexpected

Over the last two years, the unexpected has become, well, expected. New challenges have emerged constantly and, especially at the start of the pandemic, this meant that year-over-year data became obsolete. 

With quarantine and the work-from-home lifestyle, inconsistent user demand yielded unreliable revenue streams and weakened businesses’ ability to make data-informed decisions. This caused further uncertainty during a time when a lack of foresight could make or break a business.

As a result, the industry needed to create and implement new solutions that could better support integral decision making during these unprecedented times. One key answer was the implementation of real-time dashboards. Operating with day-to-day data offered a better, more accurate solution than year-over-year, providing a firm understanding of performance and much-needed flexibility when facing the uncertainties of business during the pandemic. 

 

A New Solution

With these data systems in place, it became possible to better monitor parking trends, which varied daily. In addition, they offered real-time visibility into occupancy, operations, and transactions, allowing parking operators to identify high-traffic times. This meant they could adapt their operations to meet demand, determining everything from cleaning schedules to employee shifts.

Insight into high-traffic times also allowed businesses to adjust rates to optimize revenue generation. As the pandemic progressed and revenue opportunities returned, the chance to capitalize on them was more important than ever to recover from the impact of COVID-19. 

The parking industry’s ability to adapt not only its operations for customers but also its back-office operations for clients became an integral component to its success during the pandemic. It wasn’t enough to provide customer support and new, customer-facing technology; parking operators needed to create a solution for revenue forecasting issues so clients could be prepared for any changes to the economic landscape.

 

GENERATING DEMAND

Diving Into Digital

As people spent more time at home and the societal landscape changed, so did the parking industry’s business practices. While, previously, parking operators could rely on flagging drivers into garages to increase business, the pandemic left fewer people on the roads, making that method ineffective. 

Instead, parking providers needed to find new ways to reach customers where they were—online. As a result, technology played yet another important role in this side of business and digital marketing practices became critical. 

They helped businesses identify their target audience, determining everything from their hobbies to local events that might interest them. By establishing their potential parking needs, these digital practices enabled parking operators to promote specific offers that appealed to each individual audience.

 

Targeted Advertising

In addition to building an enhanced understanding of customers, businesses also implemented effective advertising tools that ensured their messaging reached their target audience. From email marketing to digital advertising across social media platforms, diversifying messages and methods of communication was integral to customer growth and revenue enhancement. 

New knowledge of customers and their interests also helped businesses build effective customer profiles. These not only informed ongoing practices, but also established a baseline for operations going forward. As a result, this audience information will continue to provide valuable insight that can enhance key decision making and best practices as the pandemic progresses and societal changes evolve.

To say the pandemic drastically impacted industries worldwide is an understatement. Within the U.S. parking industry, the resulting shifts were immediate and widespread. From staffing and touchless technology to data-driven decisions and demand generation, new challenges developed swiftly and yielded game-changing solutions. Like so often throughout history, the parking industry met every change with creativity and determination, developing innovations that will continue to move the industry—and the economy at large—forward for years to come.