The Economics of a Lost Parking Lot Ticket

I returned to Des Moines the other day and retrieved my car from the long term lot.  Much to my dismay as I reached up and pulled down the sun visor, alas there was no ticket.  This has been my spot for years and I know that I put it there when I left.  It must have slipped out and fallen on to the ground outside the car when I put it there.  That has happened once before and I noticed.

This time, I spent 10 minutes scouring the car and no luck.  I rolled up and told the attendant when I arrived and that I had lost my ticket.  She told me it was her second day on the job and the acid started building in my stomach.  Looking behind me, the cars where stacking up.  Each person had the same look that I get when you just know that the person in front of you is an idiot (no matter what the cause of the delay).  She then marshaled the resources of the only other agent on duty…yes the one that was helping the people as they bailed from my delayed line (elapsed time now 10 minutes).   

After another phone call to a supervisor, there were now 3 people in the booth trying to figure this out.  It was clear that I had to pay $9 extra for the lost ticket and they specifically said that "We know when you came in because of your license plate."  I queried them, "Why do I have to wait here while you all figure this out…since I’m willing to accept whatever charges you tell me and I’ll sign off on them."  There was some nervous laughter and they kept going without excusing me.

Next, another supervisor was called in to execute the transaction. (Elapsed time 20 minutes). I was asked, "Do you have a credit card?" to which I replied, "Yes, in fact I’ve already given it to her." (My card  had been through some kind of old school imprinting process for people who lose their tickets).   At this point, supervisor #2 changed his tone.  He said something about me "bearing with them".  I replied that I had "bared for 20 minutes now and nothing is changing so carry on". 

Another 5 minutes later and my card was charged and the girl at the booth apologized again.  I sat there for a minute or so waiting to see what the "leadership" was going to say about my experience.  Granted I had lost my ticket…but there is a procedure for this and I was more than accommodating.  The sups just began talking amongst themselves and I drove away.

Here are some lessons:

  1. It’s not very often that you delay a customer for nearly 30 minutes and that customer is not extremely angry.  (I’m cured of LA road rage and commute stress)  When you encounter such a customer, go above and beyond to treat them well.  Overcompensate and they may write a glowing review on their blog and forward it to some kind of person above them versus what you’re reading now.
  2. Find a process that empowers the field level workers taking the arrows to expedite things when they are either untrained or inexperienced.  You could have sent me away and billed me later or worked out your issues on company training time, not on my time sitting at a booth while everyone else around me pays the price.
  3. You should ensure that everyone is cross-trained.  After the 3rd person entered the booth (about 4×6) I commented that they’re probably violating some kind of OSHA law to which he replied, "If we can just get one more in here…we’ll really look like a government operation!".  Agreed.  Only the "head guy" and the one with the least accommodating attitude about this situation knew how to get me out of there.  He wasn’t rude…simply unforgiving of the situation.  Anytime someone tells me preemptively to "bear with them please sir" when I’ve exhibited no signs of discontent…they’re need some coaching.

On to more positive things.   I made it home after an awful trip involving bad weather, circling airports, refueling in a remote Midwest airport, nearly having to sleep at O’Hare for 8 hours, and countless delays and cancellations.  That will be another post soon.

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