By Adamo Donatucci

Like any industry heavily reliant on technology, the urban mobility marketplace continues to evolve with advances in available and emergent technologies. Today, it is common for owners and operators to use technology to engage their customers virtually while retaining an element of personalized interaction.

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, the healthcare industry has proven to be a fascinating case study in the application of advanced parking technology to support the vertical’s broader goals of increasing staff and patient safety while simultaneously reducing hospitals’ and clinics’ capital and operating costs.

Virtualization of the customer experience was driven initially by market preferences for technology-forward service solutions that generated value for parking operators by reducing overall expenses without sacrificing the high level of service that draws traffic to their facility. While this remains an important consideration today, the COVID-19 global pandemic has accelerated efforts to provide the services people need at a distance that keeps them safe.

Early efforts to virtualize the customer experience centered around providing lower-cost alternatives to on-site staffing by directing intercom calls from an attendant’s desk to an off-site monitoring station to save on staffing costs. Today’s technology gives parking operators the flexibility to deploy AI-driven kiosks that assist users to navigate large and complex facilities; in some deployments, this includes turn-by-turn directions back to their car based on the license plate number they enter.

With a greater-than-ever demand for touchless access solutions, parking operators are developing new systems that let users interact with the equipment without ever coming into contact with it; some suppliers have even found ways of integrating gestures to activate ticket dispensing and are leveraging Bluetooth Low Energy technology for permitted access. And just arriving on the market are technology integrations that begin the virtual customer experience before drivers even arrive at a parking facility; the same technology that is being launched to create reservations for gated facilities is being tweaked to control peoples’ access to the facilities themselves.

With all these exciting developments in technology, parking facilities are becoming more sophisticated and promising greater customer experiences all the while continuing to deliver exceptional value to owners and operators.

Remote Customer Service | Support at a Distance

Staffing a parking facility 24/7 can get expensive, especially when you need to build into your schedule redundancies for breaks as well as sick days and vacation days. And as parking equipment becomes increasingly reliable and customer preferences shift more and more to electronic payments, it is harder than ever to justify this expense, especially outside of core business hours when there is even less for staff to do.

Still, the occasional issue does come up: a driver doesn’t know where to scan their validation or is tapping their credit card on the wrong panel at a pay station. Using IP-based technology, parking equipment suppliers can outfit your operation with intercoms and CCTV cameras that let specially trained staff see and speak to your customers to assist them in using your equipment, adding a more personal touch compared to general usage instructions posted somewhere near the equipment.

These staff can either be located in a central parking office that oversees your entire complex or be located at your supplier’s headquarters and follow SOPs specific to your site. In either case, remote customer service gives you the flexibility to staff more efficiently without sacrificing the quality of service, whether you want to cover breaks, offer off-peak support, or replace on-site staff altogether.

For those drivers who are accustomed to seeing parking attendants, this service can seem a bit too remote, which is why most hospitals continue to staff their parking operations at a minimal level to assist elderly patients and visitors. But with the reliability of modern parking equipment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to staff attendants, even to perform “Level 1” service and maintenance. Particularly as touchless technologies grow in popularity among consumers, even ticket replenishment and clearing jams are a thing of the past in many deployments.

And as it becomes less financially viable to retain staff in parking facilities, each remaining attendant is responsible for a larger area within a facility, making them more difficult to track down if there is an issue. By contrast, remote customer service gets drivers in touch with support more quickly, which results in higher satisfaction ratings among facility users.

Where service calls are still necessary, the same agents that respond to customer queries via the intercom can remotely monitor system alarms and dispatch technicians to address issues that cannot be cleared remotely.

AI-Driven Solutions | Self-Serve Options

Self-serve kiosks powered by artificial intelligence have found increased use in hospitals over the last few years.

Hospitals and their associated parking operations are often large and complex affairs, and kiosks with preloaded maps are a useful tool to direct patients and visitors to their destination; the wages saved by not staffing dedicated positions to provide this level of assistance easily offset the one-time investment in the technology platform, and perhaps more importantly still, reducing in-person interactions in hospital settings has benefits for the health and wellbeing of staff and patients alike.

Beyond simply displaying maps, these kiosks can be leveraged to provide turn-by-turn directions through the facility to guide patients to their appointment somewhere within the complex; in applications that are integrated with license plate recognition software, these automated stations can direct you back to the exact location where you have parked. By reducing the possibility of confusion among patients and visitors not familiar with the layout of the facility, these kiosks help them spend less time in the hospital and to take more direct routes through it, minimizing further still the risks associated with being in a healthcare facility.

Last-Mile Services | Access Credentials

So-called “last-mile services” are integrating parking technology into your customers’ experience before they even arrive at your facility.

Where facilities’ terminals and pay stations are equipped with barcode scanners, operators have the option to create QR codes that discount their guests’ parking, whether it is included with a hotel room, as part of their admission to an event, or any number of other scenarios. Sophisticated integrations with the equipment backend mean that operators can use these QR codes to distribute reservations and validations with specific date and time ranges, in/out privileges, and other parameters that grant the bearer access to your facility based on those parameters.

A recent development during the COVID-19 global pandemic has been the application of this technology to access more than just parking facilities. In the case of hospitals, for example, this technology can be used to screen patients, staff, and visitors alike as they arrive for their appointments, shifts, or visiting hours.

In this application, the system prompts visitors to complete a symptom self-assessment in advance of their scheduled arrival at the hospital in order to receive a QR code, which they will use as their access credential; they will identify themselves upon arrival using facial recognition technology that can determine whether they are wearing a mask and scan their arm to take a temperature reading. Based on these inputs, the system can grant the visitor or employee access or redirect them to a triage location for further assessment.

Systems like these can be augmented further with a remote customer service functionality to address any issues that may arise. With two-way voice and video communication available, patients and visitors can contact a nurse or screening agent to perform triage and assess the situation while maintaining a safe physical distance between hospital staff and anyone entering the facility.

Applying technology in this way not only gives individuals a safer touchless experience as they arrive at the hospital, but it lets the hospital’s operations team enforce the facility’s parameters, collect data and analytics for reporting purposes, secures access controls, and reduces physical contact between staff and visitors.

On-Site Automation | Touchless Technology

Touchless access solutions remain an integral part of on-site automation, and with greater awareness of the health implications of facilities’ common touchpoints and trepidation regarding in-person interactions, interest in these technologies continues to grow.

Leveraging banking platforms’ EMV-certified tap-and-go payment technology, drivers are able to use their RFID-enabled credit and debit cards or mobile wallets on their smartphones as a credential to enter gated parking facilities and start their parking session; the systems are then configured so that, at the end of their stay, drivers need only tap the same payment method again either at a pay station or at the exit to end their session, calculate the amount due, and make their payment.

In parking operations where tickets are still desirable, they can be dispensed automatically when a vehicle is detected approaching the entry terminal, eliminating the need to push a button. Where this may be impractical, existing parking terminals can be upgraded with an illuminated infrared button activated by a wave to dispense a ticket. In both cases, the ticket can be used to pay for the parking session at a pay station or an exit terminal like normal, and if used in conjunction with a form of contactless payment, the driver will have moved through the entire parking experience without once having to touch a piece of equipment.

Drivers’ smartphones can also be used to display QR codes for parking reservations or validations, whether directly in an app or attached to an email message, such as a hotel’s reservation or clinic appointment confirmation email. Or for a totally frictionless driver experience for permitted parkers or reserved parking sessions, automatic license plate recognition technology can be deployed in gated systems to raise gates when a registered plate number is detected.

Contactless payment is also becoming increasingly popular in non-gated lots, not only at parking meters equipped with EMV-certified payment solutions but with the use of mobile payment apps. These apps offer several convenient features that parking meters simply cannot, including turn-by-turn directions to an available space, stored payment options associated with business and personal accounts, and real-time notifications of expiring sessions with the option to extend a session without having to return to a meter.

These touchless technologies are easily applied to access and revenue control environments where sanitation is a primary concern. By leveraging NFC technology built into smartphones and payment cards, drivers are able to start, end, and pay for parking sessions using items already in their possession — without the need to physically touch any of the equipment.

These technologies, especially in combination with remote customer service, also further reduce the need for on-site attendants to accept payments or validate tickets. Where those services may still be required to upgrade tickets into passes or to provide a level of customer service a premium facility feels is still warranted, service can be provided through two-way voice and video connections so that transactions can still be completed as safely as possible.

Conclusion

Since the early days of the COVID-19 global pandemic through to today, it has been all hands-on deck to develop creative solutions to address all our partners’ parking, access, and screening needs.

And with our research and development team’s ingenuity, we have been able to find these solutions in the unlikeliest of places, using parking technology — itself industry-leading within the urban mobility market — to continue delivering value to our clients by addressing other issues they face, including social distancing and facility access.

We’ve done this by applying our know-how to virtualize the customer experience our clients offer to users of their facilities. By providing remote customer support, AI-driven self-serve functionality, biometrics-based access credentialing, and touchless on-site technology, we are streamlining how drivers get into and move through your facilities with a view to keeping everyone safe without adversely affecting the quality of the services we all rely on.

About the author:
Adamo Donatucci
Business Development and Strategy Officer
Precise ParkLink Inc.

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