Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Green Lighting a New Payment System: How to Successfully Convey Your New Payment System to the Public

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Green Lighting a New Payment System: How to Successfully Convey Your New Payment System to the Public

Article excerpt

In recent years, parks managers have become much more creative and entrepreneurial as they look for ways to boost customer service and visitor satisfaction. Increasingly, purchasing and setting up self-service automated payment stations and kiosks to manage the park-entry payment process is seen as a valuable way to improve service to customers, without having to assign employees to working extra hours in the evenings and overnight. There is little question that automated payment machines can do the job. The issue for both parking lot operators and parks managers is the same: how to effectively communicate this service-level change to customers.

To be successful in implementing a new payment system in your park, you must have a sound communications strategy, designed to educate, inform and alert customers about the proposed changes. Some important components include:

* receiving senior-level support from the top for a pro-active communications program;

* the appointment/assignment of a program leader to manage all communications for this special project;

* bringing all available communication elements (advertising, news releases, Web site, etc.) to bear the challenge;

* the development of key messages and explanations for the change; and

* evaluation and adjustment of the program to current events as necessary during the implementation phase.

No communications program is perfect; it's vital that staff monitor the implementation and make adjustments through time as needed.

It's also important to begin any public education program before implementation, and continue it for a sufficient length of time, as any advance communication always conveys the important message that the organization cares about its customers. Ensuring the public is kept informed about important developments ultimately means fewer complaints, a higher compliance rate, a smoother overall transition and, importantly, reduced disruption of projected revenue streams. The key to success is making good customer relations a core part of your business strategy.

Implementing a new payment system is challenging, not only from the technology aspect, but from the public's perception of your new machines. The parks managers at Saskatchewan Provincial Parks recently experienced the importance of having a good communications plan. Saskatchewan Provincial Parks is charged with overseeing the system of 34 provincial parks located throughout this Canadian prairie province--a region larger than most U.S. states.

As part of a commitment to increase customer service at its parks, the department decided in 2003 to conduct a trial of payment stations to sell entry permits at six of its parks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This would enable a substantial increase in service.

While the trial was a success--the parks' working group overseeing the trial was pleased with the results and recommended that the automation program be expanded in 2004--public reaction to the changeover ranged from easy acceptance to anger. A post-mortem by the working group determined that the reaction stemmed from inadequate communication about the new payment system and how it worked.

"While we were pleased with the technology and the results, we simply did not communicate the new payment system to our user groups as well as we could have, and that showed in the negative reactions and non-compliance we received in some instances," notes Mary-Anne Wihak, park program development team leader for Saskatchewan Provincial Parks.

The trial produced some intriguing findings. For example, one location with a new machine delivered a surprising level of revenue, while a machine in another park was virtually ignored. The parks department also found compliance problems with the honor system, and had concerns about enforcement. While the pay-station initiative was designed to raise revenues, the main purpose of the machines was to improve customer service and ensure park users fair and equal access to the park facilities at any time of day. …

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