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A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear


(Image Credit: Via “Guide to Buying Fake Handbags in New York City”)

Title: A Silk Purse From a Sow’s Ear

You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” the old saying goes.

The scary thing about this old truism is that most likely, somewhere in the dark and distant past, someone tried… and failed. Think about it: you go into a fine leather shop and say I want you to make me a beautiful purse – Coach or Louis Vuitton quality please. And they hand you a decapitated swine appendage.

You do your best, but…

Only Silk is Silk

It takes silk to make a silk purse. Anything else is a pale – even bad – imitation. Corporate trainers will be the first to admit this: Training doesn’t deliver customer service, people do. Sure, quality training can make a big difference; skills and expertise can be learned and nurtured over time. But talent is either there or not, right from the beginning.

Red Auerbach, the late basketball coach during the glory years of the NBA’s Boston Celtics once noted, “You can’t coach height.” The same is true with service. Service delivery begins with the people you hire. Indeed, the late, quality advocate Philip Crosby writes in his book, Reflections on Quality, “Selecting the right person for the right job is the largest part of coaching.”

All mobility management organizations are essentially service providers and their employees/associates must interact with customers to varying degrees. Yet some organizations are telling their line managers “we want you to provide the ultimate in customer service” (read: “silk purse”), but we are going to give you a staff of whatever people stagger into our office and fog a mirror (read: “sow’s ear”).

To be fair, sometimes the mobility service labor pool is a bit shallow and we are indeed fortunate to stay fully staffed. But are we serious when we say we want to provide the ultimate in customer service? Or do we just want to make that claim in our brochures and on our website? That’s not a judgment, just a question.

Hold Out for the Best

Jerry South, Founder of Towne Park, a leading national valet parking firm based in Annapolis, Marlyand (US) says his firm is only interested in what he calls, the “Very Best People.” South says, “Our philosophy is to hold out for only the very best people and then provide for them opportunities to grow and learn. Our selection process helps us to properly screen out those candidates that do not meet our profile for only the very best.”

This can and should be the goal of everyone in mobility management.

What can we do to “start” with better people, people who will deliver on that service promise? Mobility services often draws from the same well as the fast food, groceries, convenience stores, and other industries where service is not the end, but simply a means to achieve an end: a product. You go into the hamburger joint and come out with a hamburger. The service may be slow or surly, but at least you get a hamburger out of the deal, right?

For many of these institutions, service is, therefore, not an emphasis. But for an industry without a tangible product like transportation, where the value is sometimes difficult for the customer to perceive, service is critical.

So one suggestion is: find a different well to draw your water from. Draw, recruit, and screen for applicants from industries where personal service does matter: hotels, casinos, limo services, etc.

Use Metrics

Another suggestion is to develop metrics around your hiring, persons who meet your “profile” like the valet company mentioned above. How do you do this? First, you should know who you are and what is important to you as a company: your vision, your values, your mission. Second, you should identify those employees who most obviously embody those qualities and study them. What are their personality profiles and traits? What industries did they come from previously?

Next, consider spending a few bucks – okay it will be more than a few – on a testing regime that transforms your study results into a rigorous means of screening applicants for those traits you value. There are any number of firms that do this, such as Talent Plus, which put together the Ritz Carlton’s program or the Marlyn Group, which serves the parking industry. The initial cost might be a bit pricey, but if you’re serious about improving your customer service profile you should be willing to invest in your future hires.

Remember, whatever you need to invest, the return on that investment is less turnover and customer retention.

Before implementing your test for new hires, give it to everyone currently in your organization. You’re answering two questions here: Is the test a good predictor of the actual behavior and service production I have seen in my employees? Also, what hidden concerns, if any, might the test reveal about those employees?

Off the shelf personality tests, such as the Meyer-Briggs aren’t going to help you much unless they are tailored to exactly match your organization profile. What good is knowing a person’s “type” if you are not sure what “type” you’re looking for? Of course, in this litigious age, any pre-hire test you implement should be thoroughly “validated” scientifically and the test provider should stand behind any legal challenges to the test’s authenticity.

Never Stop Hiring

Next, hold out for the people you really want. Some might say: we can’t do that, we have openings to fill, we need people now. Sure, that is often our reality. But that is why the hiring process should never, never stop, even when you are fully staffed.

Anyone who has managed people knows that many of our day-to-day headaches emanate from bad hires. Sometimes we bring in bad hires, we nurture them, we work with them, we keep them around after its clear they aren’t working out because . . . we need the body. Then something bad happens . . .

Because you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

This post was adapted from an article previously published in the April 2008 issue of Parking Magazine.(Want more information? Please check out our forums. If you have comments or suggestions, please share your experiences and ideas with us and other professionals visiting our site. Add your comments below – if Comments are “on” – or by contacting us directly here. The author retains all second serial and electronic rights. This work has been updated, edited and is distributed by the H2H2H Foundation with the express permission of the author.)

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