Outward bound

Published:  26 March, 2014

Outsourcing can bring benefits in terms of cost savings and improved service standards. So is parking management a job for the professionals?

Outsourcing car park management to a specialist operator is the preferred option for many shopping centre owners, whose customers benefit from a wealth of experience, proven strategies for technology and equipment upgrades and refurbishment, contributions to capital investment and improvements, bespoke training for staff and marketing initiatives.

So, how are car parks best managed by external operators? How should the two parties work together? And what can be offered in terms of customer service?

The partnership between the team at Liverpool One and car park operator Q-Park is one example for how this management model can work.

Q-Park operates three of the centre’s parking facilities – the main Liverpool One car park, Hanover Street and another for John Lewis – covering over 3,000 spaces and usage, with over 1.6 million people visiting by car last year, continues to grow each year.

Q-Park works very closely with the management team at Liverpool One, talking on a daily basis as well as in weekly meetings where they discuss operational topics, forthcoming plans and marketing opportunities. And the Q-Park board meets regularly with Grosvenor to review strategic plans for the site.

What sets it apart from many other car parks is its customer service initiatives, as Q-Park’s head of sales & marketing, John Denton, explains: “We’ve introduced a range of services for customers, including free umbrella and baby buggy hire, shoe-shine machines, public toilets, jump starter kits and heart defibrillators in case of emergencies, which staff are trained to use. We’ve recently brought in a car wash service, offering customers the chance to have their cars cleaned while they shop, and we’re in discussions with an international car hire company which will allow local people to use a pick-up and drop-off service.”

It has also introduced an online pre-booking service to encourage customers to book their parking space in advance, offering convenience but also helping the mobility of the city by reducing people searching for parking spaces.

In addition to the on-site services, Q-Park has created a number of partnerships with local business including Pure Gym, Hilton Liverpool and Cavern City Tours, to offer visitors a range of promotions. A loyalty card rewards regular customers with a free visit in every six, and it runs regular discounted parking offers.

“We are always looking for new ways to offer new benefits to our customers and this includes local and national partnership offers, such as discounts at local restaurants in Liverpool. We have also introduced a payment scheme through Tesco Clubcard, where customers can exchange their Clubcard points for parking,” says Denton.

“We have a range of national partners, including Maiden Voyage, an international network to provide safe travel for professional women, whose members can receive discounts off our pre-booking service. And we offer free parking vouchers to students who have recently passed their driving test, in association with the Driving Instructors Association (DIA), allowing them to practise parking within a safe environment.”

Q-Park promotes these deals via posters in the car park, which include QR codes for visitors to scan and a link to their website where they can view a full list of offers, which are redeemed by showing their parking ticket.

It actively promotes its local partners, events and updates through social media platforms, and a system generates reports to show how many customers use discount parking vouchers through its local partners to enable the team to record and monitor information about its customer’s behaviour. And soon it’ll be introducing a Q-Park app with a list of offers and a barcode scanner.

Other customer-focused conveniences include 112 disabled bays, with Shopmobility located next to the customer service desk, as well as 81 parent and toddler spaces. And bays are positioned at an angle that helps drivers manoeuvre into them, maximising space.

Regular and ongoing research is vital in making improvements to the operation of the car park and Q-Park takes it seriously, analysing in-house data and encouraging customers to fill out surveys – which are available via a number of communication channels - to monitor customer behaviours. And every two years Q-Park conducts a series of surveys in its car parks across the country to better understand their customer’s needs and perceptions of their parking experiences.

“We also send regular surveys to new season ticket customers and all pre-booking customers to learn about their reasons for parking with Q-Park and capture an overall profile of our car park users,” says Denton. “The data from these surveys allows us to make changes to our parking strategy and target appropriate customers based on our results.”

To stay in close communication with its customers, it has installed customer feedback stands in all of its car parks to encourage customers to rate their parking experience and make comments. According to Denton, they get regular feedback from retailers regarding parking demands as well as from their employees, who can suggest new ideas based on their knowledge.

“The feedback stands offer customers the chance to rate their parking experience through a measurable scoring system and add any additional feedback where appropriate,” he explains. “Each month the results and comments from all stands are collated at head office and are distributed to all managers, who can then action any changes based upon the information we’ve been given. All past results are displayed on the boards for the following month, to show customers that we react to their feedback in order to maintain high levels of customer service.“

Managing traffic in the run up to Christmas and other peak periods to ensure queues are minimised is another focus.

The entrance to the Liverpool One car park has been designed to accommodate queues in busy periods, and signage within the car park assists customers with finding a space quickly and efficiently, while Q-Park’s ‘parking hosts’ conduct meet and greet services, inform customers of availability within the car park and if need be, direct them to the centre’s alternative car parks during busy times.

And all Liverpool One staff park in the Hanover Street car park, freeing up the remaining car parks for the public, ensuring staff don’t use up the best spaces nearest the shops and negatively impact visitors.

When it comes to investment and refurbishment, Q-Park operates a bespoke in-house maintenance system which monitors a range of maintenance issues like calendar-based preventative maintenance as well as recording unplanned repairs and breakdowns.

“The software provides an inventory of all assets in each car park, enabling us to accurately plan and coordinate maintenance checks and facility replacements, whilst the system generates comprehensive reports for management to review,” says Denton.

While outsourcing car park management isn’t suited to all shopping centre landlords, it does offer a range of benefits, not least expertise. “The car park is the gateway to people’s shopping experience and often their first impression of the centre, so you’ve got to get it right,” concludes Denton.

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