A newsletter I read regularly is titled Positive Impact, published monthly by Positive Impact Partners based in Evergreen, Colo. I enjoy reading the letter because it provides a monthly digest of articles on customer service and customer satisfaction. It's one of the most energizing publications I read because it talks about real people and real companies doing exceptional things to keep their customers happy. As I was perusing a recent issue I was intrigued by the headline "The Parking Lot Indicator-Company Parking Lots Reveal Corporate Culture." The article, authored by A. Gary Shilling, first appeared in the Oct. 9, 1995, issue of Forbes magazine. And guess whose parking lots are discussed first in the article? Hospitals', and what Shilling says about them is worth noting.
Shilling talks about his local hospital, whose motto is "We stand by to assist." But he claims that if one looks at the hospital's parking lot, there's a much different message: The public comes second. He explains that most commercial businesses reserve the parking spaces closest to the front door for visitors. That's because they're the customers-the ones who buy the goods and services a given company offers. On the other hand, Shilling maintains this isn't the case at most hospitals. The most convenient spaces are typically marked For Doctors Only, leaving the real customers-patients-to park in more distant spaces where they often have to pay a fee. "Whether the hospital knows it or not," Shilling writes, "it's showing its true nature, as an institution not run for its true customers but for its medical staff, even though the M.D.s have no financial responsibility for the place."
I even know of hospitals that have valet parking for their physicians, but not for patients and visitors. It does make one wonder. Of course all of us realize that physicians are the gatekeepers of any healthcare institution. Keeping them happy is a must if a hospital is going to stay in business. However, there has to be a happy medium. After all, hospitals and physicians are nothing without patients.
But Shilling doesn't single out only hospitals. He also decries what he has observed at some town halls. While government employees like to call themselves public servants, a lot of us might not agree. A look at town hall parking might offer one reason why. Shilling says his town hall does have a few parking spaces near the front door reserved for Official Business, but the rest of them are designated Town Hall Employees Only. I've also found this is the case in my hometown. It seems the tax-paying public isn't held in very high regard even though they're the ones who pay the freight. It's so easy to forget who the real customer is.
I don't know how much information one can glean about an organization just by looking at its parking lot, but because there are all kinds of theories in vogue these days about corporate America, maybe Shilling is on to something. He also tells the story about a stock analyst he knew who once visited a medium-sized company and heard nothing but glowing reports about its products. However, as the analyst was leaving the company he drove around to the factory in the back and was surprised to find only six cars in the 200-car employee parking lot. When he returned to his office he shorted the stock, and a few months later the company went bankrupt.
Parking lots may seem like a minor thing, but the more convenient you make it for customers to do business with your organization, the better they feel about coming back. And that makes it a big deal.