From a reader in Australia:
I enjoyed your article on "Better than parking wars". I agree with you, we are better than that.
The question of how to improve the image of the industry is a vexing question. The bulk of our industry interaction with Mr and Mrs Citizen is with our lowest skilled staff members and quite often the employees are nameless and faceless unless something goes wrong or unless the media have beaten it out of all proportion. Some of the Municipalities in Australia seem to be able to project a positive image or at the least an image of proactively. The customer interface (The moment of truth) is always the most difficult task. I wonder if empowerment is part of the answer. Surely we can give our officers the power to "make a call" on payments, citations or whatever the issue is. I recall some time back working in an area that converted to a no standing zone at 4:00PM. At 3:45 the Municipality commissioned two officers to walk the street and walk into the retail outlets and advise the retailers that they had 15 minutes to get their customers to move. The Municipality may have lost a little revenue but gee they gained fantastic goodwill and when a fine was issued, there was little complaint from the retailers.
I don't have the answer but I feel better and constant communication is part of the answer. Maybe a code of practice would assist in so much as the public could get to know how an officer and a City goes about its business. The parking wars program is like the air carrier programs we get in Australia ( and presumably you get in the States). The mayhem and absurdity that ensues when a plane is delayed or a passenger is 2 minutes late is bizarre. Then I only to get to see the extreme examples because the media are looking for a ratings story.
I agree empowerment is the key. Southwest airlines and Nordstrom's were able to build its reputation for customer service on the fact that front line managers could make decisions that other companies required 15 minutes on the phone with higher level supervisors. We had a long post on our facebook page about a parker who lost her ticket and the attendant remembered when she came in, gave her a replacement ticket and enabled her to get it validated. Saved her $5 and made her a fan for life. That post was criticized by a parking operator because it indicated that all control had been lost at that location. I think that attendant should be given a medal.
Giving the citation officers the ability to make the decision to void a ticket when someone walks up as they are writing it, or perhaps following Don Shoup's suggestion in February's "PT" and graduating parking fines so folks with one ticket get a warning and those with three pay through the nose might help more that all the PR activity and stories about toys for tickets and parking attendants taking a bullet for a parker.