Customer experience lessons I learned from a Green P parking lot

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I hate paying for parking.

In Toronto, most parking lots operate under the “Green P” banner. The lots themselves are just like the lots in your city. Drive around, find your spot and then walk to the machine to pay for your parking. There is usually a line-up 2-3 people deep and inevitably the guy at the meter is fumbling with his credit card, taking forever. If it’s cloudy, the machines are extra slow as they are solar powered. If it’s cold, you have to fumble around with your credit card in your bare hands. You have to guess how long you’ll be away (almost always overpaying as a result). And I’m almost always running late. Then you march back to your car to put the chit on your dash.

I hate this so much.

Which is why it’s funny that I have been talking about how cool parking at the Green P is now since last Thursday.

You see, last Thursday I went out with Catherine for dinner and we parked in … you guessed it, the Green P. I was immediately grumpy because I knew I was going to have to find the machine to (over) pay for parking. Visions of the fumbling credit card guy in front of me danced in my head.

Catherine then says “Green P recently launched an app to pay for parking, let’s give it a try.” Within a few swipes and clicks, we had paid for 2 hrs of parking, a conservative estimate knowing that we could top up from our table if we needed to extend by another 30-60 minutes. No trudging to the machine, no overpaying, no dealing with the annoying guy in front of you who has inserted his credit card in the wrong way, no chit printing.

I loved this so much.

I’m a big fan of amazing customer experiences which is what compelled me to write this post. I’m an even bigger fan when an amazing customer experience comes from something unexpected. After all, I expect to be treated like gold at the Ritz Carlton as a great customer experience is part of the deal. It’s built into the price and you expect it like you expect high thread count sheets and extra plush bathrobes.

But the Green P is not the Ritz Carlton. You expect it to be painful. Except when it’s not, it becomes something worth talking about. This represents a huge opportunity for businesses everywhere, especially if you’re in a space where customers expect average.

The lesson I also learned here is that it’s almost always the little things that have a profound impact on customer experience. All it took was an easy way to pay to turn me into a Green P fanboy. I didn’t need them to valet park my car or give it a car wash while I was away (that’s not happening for $2/30 minutes of parking). I just needed a quick and easy way to pay. Turns out I’m a pretty easy guy to please.

Bottom line for brands: Focus on the little things, the things that you and your customers often take for granted. That’s where the magic often happens, the moments worth talking about. Is it the complimentary amuse-bouche at your local restaurant, the hand written thank you card, or the ability to leave your taxi without pulling out your wallet to pay?

Most businesses look beyond the little things, thinking their time is best spent focusing on the big things. Sure, that’s important too (in the parking case, the lots should have painted lines and be free of potholes), but most customers expect those things.

And there’s no magic in simply meeting a customer’s expectations.

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Image: Gadjo Sevilla/blogTO Flickr pool.