This interview is part of our series “The Rise of the Chief Parking Data Officer” profiling parking industry innovators with the vision, strategy, and leadership to create connectivity within their organizations using data. Want to be featured? Send Sarah an email.
Hey, Sarah Becherer.
It’s wonderful to finally meet you!
I feel the same.
Ocra is the Shawn Compton Fan Club. We have t-shirts.
I’m a big fan of Ethan and Ocra, as well.
Love to hear it. Let’s dive in. What do you do at Park Place, Shawn?
My job is really to align multiple portfolios in technology, procurement, and staffing. I seek opportunities to adopt new technologies that are entering the parking and mobility space and keep us abreast of what’s out there.
So, you’re the person at Park Place who drives the full strategy for evaluating and implementing technology to grow the business.
Exactly. What I do is bring flour to the cake, in a sense. I identify specific opportunities for the business and drive the strategy for growth, implementation, and future build. My eye is always on innovation. I like what’s new, but I LOVE what’s coming next.
Park Place is definitely leading the pack when it comes to activating your facilities with data. Can you tell me a bit about what types of data you’re paying most attention to?
Most of our data comes from our various platforms and third-party partnerships. Another significant portion comes through our company website.
Regarding the type of engagement we want to see, we obviously want positive engagement all of the time, but we understand as a company that you can’t knock it out of the park with every single interaction.
Park Place is customer-centric in that we’re responsive and not reactive. We pay close attention to the data that indicates how our customers experience us. This allows us to deliver an overall positive experience and keep improving to make it even better.
So it’s all to the end goal of providing the best customer experience.
Absolutely. That’s paramount. We provide our customers with the most effective solutions for locating and purchasing their parking needs. Those solutions can be hardware-based, software-based, or direct-to-customer communication. We want to make it as easy as possible and give them enough choices without overwhelming them.
And the data you’re collecting through your equipment and demand channels can inform which solutions provide the best experience to your parkers, right?
Correct. It’s important for us to understand that customers have different ways that they prefer to access our facilities, and we don’t want to leave any customer behind.
It’s totally fair to say that the days of honor boxes or handing your money to an attendant are over. We’re just not carrying cash anymore. That type of transaction is quickly becoming obsolete.
But at the same time, we also have pockets of our economy that are very much cash-heavy, like event parking. We have unbanked individuals going to places like courthouses and hospitals who don’t have the ability to pay with a credit card.
Yeah, you have to think about all of those different segments.
If we are going to speak of equitable distribution of parking and mobility services, we need to think about these folks and how they interact with us.
We have people who don’t want to carry a wallet and only want to pay with their phone. Then there are people who don’t trust putting their payment info in their phone, so we need to accept credit cards through hardware.
We’re strategic about offering effective solutions and multiple levels of engagement so we can meet customers where they are. And our strategy is driven by data that we collect through all of these solutions, at every level of engagement.
How do you put all of this customer data that you’re collecting to work for the business?
The way we use our data, it’s always an experiment, in a sense. When you’re working with a large amount of data, pulling it in from all of these interaction points and contextualizing it, there’s always a delta somewhere. We try to find a breaking point to see what works and doesn’t work.
For example, one data source that is really valuable for us is feedback from customers. They might leave an online review or make a phone call or send us an email. From their feedback, we can see, oh, this is an element that can be improved, so now let’s identify the opportunities for improving it.
Do we bring in new technology? Do we replace something we have? Do we reconfigure our ecosystem, removing what doesn’t serve the customer?
Those are all questions that you can answer when you have your finger on the pulse.
Can you tell me who you’re currently partnering with on the technology side?
Certainly. First, I will share that we have been relatively agnostic about who we partner with as our goal is to align our vendors with our service delivery rather than the other way around.
We currently engage with T2 Systems for our pay on foot environment; we use Parkmobile, Passport, SpotHero, HONK and ParkWhiz/Arrive for consumer marketing and reservations; and on the hardware side we use FLASH and a few others. One of our key partners is Ballparc, for our enforcement and events platform.
These guys have been vital in integrating our tech stack and we understand the power of all of these partnerships and how they propel our growth.
What’s your strategy around using a diversity of partners?
Our goal is to give people as many options as possible. Here’s the challenge: how many options is too many from a customer-facing perspective, and how many is too many from a business-facing perspective? How can we offer as much as we can and make it less difficult to manage all of those options so we can do right by our customers and our partners?
If only there was a company out there doing that! *wink wink* [insert Ocra logo]
I mean, it’s true, yeah. I’m not the first or only operator to think this.
You’re ahead of the game in a lot of ways, though.
I try to find the thing that makes the most sense and let people come in behind. I’m dragging them along with me! When I see a company that’s like, hey, we’re doing this, we’re solving a problem that everyone’s been talking about, I’m definitely jumping on board.
And we are all talking about a lot of the same problems, like fragmentation.
This fragmentation is killing us! Three years ago, everyone had an API and was saying, “come on in”. Everyone was playing great in the sandbox. Then COVID-19 hit, things slowed down a little bit, and now everyone’s skeptical again. We need to re-align.
We need the open flow of data for us to all be successful in this new climate. Because things are different as a result of the pandemic. There’s new customer behavior that we need to add technology to accommodate, but it’s getting unmanageable. It needs to be manageable.
Totally. Operators are doing way more with less these days.
Right. Parking is exciting right now because there’s so much new tech that opens up new revenue opportunities for operators. But they need partners that allow them to do it in an efficient manner. All of us are beholden to a P&L and some sort of stakeholder, and a disjointed process sets you up for error and loss.
This is all really interesting. You’re right, we started learning about data before the pandemic, but there’s still a disconnect around what it’s worth and how to monetize it.
No one knows what data is worth, and no one knows how to monetize it. How can parking monetize it? We’re still learning a lot about how to do this.
One of the easier ways, from my perspective as someone who grew up in operations, is by finding out what people like the most. And that’s what you sell. And what we’re selling is options to pay for parking.
Amazon isn’t successful because they sell the best ceiling fan. They’re successful because they make it easy for people to pay for and receive that ceiling fan.
And parking can do the same thing, right?
Make it easy to find, and make it easy to buy. When we think about how people select their parking, it’s what’s closest, cheapest, and safest. The next level is how easy it is to pay for.
And from a business owner’s perspective, it’s all about how easy it is for me to track all of my payments and inventory all in one place and still maintain the third-party partnerships with everyone I want to do business with. This is where Ocra is changing the game.
Do you have any advice for companies who are just starting to think about using data or implementing new technologies?
I would just say take it slow and don’t try to understand all of the data yourself. There are people who can help you understand the data, so use those resources.
Any other thoughts to share?
If there’s one thing I know as a person who grew up in parking operations, it’s that management companies and operators don’t like to share info. No info about rates, about inventory, about anything. They’re afraid that the competitor is going to use the info to steal the account.
But what it comes down to is that we’re in a service industry. Our goal is to look outward to serve our stakeholders, be they customers, clients or ourselves. And if we’re holding on so tight to things we don’t know the worth of or how to monetize, we’re not serving anyone. We will continue to operate in silos to the detriment of those stakeholders and to the industry we support.
Well said. It’s time to re-align.
All right, Sarah. I have to ask a question.
That’s fair, considering I’ve been grilling you for 30 minutes. Shoot.
Your LinkedIn bio says that you’re a connoisseur of fast casual dining.
Yes. Very much so.
What’s your fast casual establishment of choice?
It’s gotta be the Olive Garden. Unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks all day. And they’ll even box up some breadsticks if you order them when you ask for the cheque. Throw in a Diet Coke with free refills and it’s still all under $20 with tip. Can’t beat it with a stick.
I’ve taken clients to the Olive Garden before.
Respect. Shawn, can our readers add you on LinkedIn?
Absolutely. Here’s my profile. Let’s connect.
Thank you sincerely for your time today. Always a delight to meet a fellow Ohioan. O-H!
You’re quite welcome. I-O!