Flights Of Fancy

Integrating the consumer – the motorist, the driver, the guy or girl behind the wheel – into the brave new world of car parking technology will present some fantastic opportunities to do things in a different way.

Want to reserve a personalised parking space at the shopping mall before you set off?  Check.  Want to see ‘your name in lights’ as a camera picks up your registration plate and flashes a welcome message?  Yep, can do that too.  Want to link your parking session to an e-payment process so you can literally park and walk?  That’s fine.

But with all these breakthroughs and others like them either already here or just around the corner, it’s important to remember that the customer has to be taken on this journey and that the wrinkles in the kit are ironed out before it’s exposed to the public.

Take, for example, online booking of car parking.  While it’s not a brand new concept, especially in the transport sector, care needs to be taken, particularly where the operator is keen to add other services to the offer.

I was reminded of this caveat recently when I jumped online to book a courtesy parking space ahead of a flight.  I was offered, and accepted, the option of fast track through airport security as part of my car parking booking, but then I was also invited to buy fast track again on the next screen as a separate add-on item.  The system hadn’t recognised that I’d already chosen the package with fast track included.  I was able to spot that oversight, but it only takes a few unsure customers to be effectively double-charged for this feature and you have a PR issue on your hands.

I was then asked to provide my departure flight code, but not my return flight code.  Aha, I thought; perhaps I should add an hour or two onto my booking to accommodate a late return.

I provided my payment card details, and sure enough, my planned ‘just in case time buffer’ was built into my confirmation, but then I realised that the courtesy parking option might not have my car ready for me if I actually returned on time.  Hmmm.  The screen then said that I was to scan the barcode “printed below” when I arrived at the car park – but there was no barcode on the page.  Now getting a tad confused, I rang the help line.  Yes, a lovely lady told me, these two problems happen all the time.  If I go back online to change my booking, she said, that’s where I’d find the prompt to enter my return flight number “so that the valet staff will time the return of my car to match my arrival” – which begged the question, why didn’t the system ask for my return flight detail in the first place?  Oh, and, yes, the barcode system wasn’t running yet, so that’s why it wasn’t on the form – even though the script still promised its presence.

And this issue of not having the technology quite ready to go manifested itself in a couple of other ways at the car park.  The website alluded to this by informing the prospective parker ‘if you see a machine in this colour, press the buzzer at the barrier; if you see a machine in another colour, the barrier will automatically let you in.”  The latter ANPR machine was on site, but not operating.  So a helpful soul had grabbed a black marker pen and had added the message in fairly crude graffiti PRESS BUTTON.  A nice chunky arrow pointing to the buzzer in question had been added by way of graphic, if fairly amateurish illustration.  A good workaround, but it did spoil the look of the brand new kit, and gave the overall impression that the introduction of all aspects of the technology hadn’t quite been kept in parallel.

To be fair, on the day, the whole parking experience was actually fine.  It did what it promised, the people were friendly and helpful, and my car was returned on time, and as door-dent free as it had when I arrived.

So the big learning point here, of course, is to trial test all the technology – especially the web booking browser – to make sure that the average Joe and Joan enjoy as glitch free experience as possible.  It’s an extra mile that’s certainly worth taking, because it’s by fully adhering to stages of the process that all the benefits of the investment that’s been made into the innovation can be delivered.