A person’s first interaction with a business is often his/her experience in its parking lot. Unless an imposing edifice dominates the landscape, to be seen from afar, a person’s first impression of what it will be like to interface with a business is likely formed upon entering the parking lot. It is during this introduction to the facility and company that many expectations are formed. “It” starts in the parking lot. “It” is customer satisfaction.
Retail-business owners and managers are often aware of concerns about parking accommodations, but most give it little thought and exceedingly few make it a priority. Perhaps their awareness does not extend to the impact it could have on the bottom line. The parking lot experience is a potential differentiator for competitive brick-and-mortar businesses and is critical when in competition with online retailers. If “buy local” campaigns are to succeed, visits to hometown retailers must be convenient and pleasant.
These experiences are often controlled by property managers instead of managers of the businesses served by the parking infrastructure. Whether you own, manage, or lease the real property, there are a number of factors to be considered when building, selecting, or improving the physical space that serves one or more retail businesses.
There may be additional considerations that require the attention of service providers, depending on the nature of the business. Automotive services, in particular, must thoroughly consider their parking infrastructure. In addition to providing ample space for customers, the responsibility to access and protect vehicles from damage extends to employees. This type of business may also require additional parking in order to accommodate vehicles that require an extended storage period in addition to current and prospective customers’ vehicles. Reviewing the nature of traffic flow through your business could pay dividends in efficiency and customer satisfaction.
The factors outlined for retail businesses also apply to manufacturing facilities. However, the magnitude, or priority, of some may differ due to the nature of manufacturing operations. Because customer satisfaction begins with employee satisfaction, it remains an important topic. Also, being closed to the public, more or less, complicates the matter somewhat.
An example of a change in magnitude is the number of entrances and exits needed to ensure sufficient traffic flow. Retail and service businesses typically experience variable, dispersed traffic flows. Peak periods may be predictable, however, such as Friday afternoon at a bank, and can be managed in various ways. Peak traffic flows at manufacturing facilities are highly predictable, with few options for mitigation. Increasing the number of entrances and exits will reduce congestion at the beginning and end of each shift.
Related to peak traffic flow, the number of spaces available is a common failure among many manufacturing facilities. Scheduling overlapping shifts doubles the required number of spaces, yet few facilities provide sufficient parking to effectively support the chosen shift model. This leads to parking in unauthorized places, such as spaces designated for visitors or handicapped parking, pedestrian walkways, or any space large enough to fit a vehicle. Employees often return at their first opportunity to remove their vehicles from unauthorized spaces. Both actions place the employee at risk of disciplinary action by the employer that created the problem!
Security measures in place at many manufacturing facilities violate the “rules” or proper parking area design. Specifically, parking areas are often located at an excessive distance from facility entrances. Entry is often further impeded by sensitive landscaping, fences, or other mostly unnecessary structures that create circuitous paths that serve only to retard access by essential personnel while providing little, if any, legitimate security.
Online businesses must also monitor their parking lots, though they are virtual. A landing page should be inviting; the entire site should be easy to navigate and quick to load. It should be easy to complete the desired transactions and clear when they are complete. Online businesses may have an advantage over their real-world counterparts – no driving necessary – but an unpleasant parking lot experience can be just as damaging in the virtual world as in the physical.
The importance of parking infrastructure is routinely overlooked. “It’s just the open space outside the building” is an unfortunately common mindset. Careful consideration of design decisions will reveal potential impacts to customers and employees. As early as possible, the detrimental effects should be eliminated and advantageous features accentuated. Accessibility and required security protocols should be simple enough for all comers to understand. It is often “the little things” that tip the scale in your favor when trying to attract customers and talented employees. There are many components of customer satisfaction, but it always starts in the parking lot.
Contact JayWink Solutions to discuss improvements in the customer experience at your business or other operations-related needs.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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