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parking

Am I a special customer? Or am I a pain in the backside?

It’s the Easter holidays and I’ve taken a few days off to spend time with my children.  I’m not alone in this of course.

When I do take time off with the children and we spend a few days out and about – one thing which really bugs me is poor customer service – those occasions when, as a customer (often a customer with children) you are treated as though you are at best an irritant and at worst, a complete idiot.

There are few thing which rile me in life – but one is being treated with disdain when I’ve behaved appropriately and with good manners. I’m not the only one though – these last few weeks on Twitter I’ve seen some of my followers and those I follow, complaining about several companies including John Lewis, Jamie Oliver‘s Bath restaurant, an expensive farm shop and restaurant in Devon and others. I’m just one person – but I can remember these tweets and who tweeted them (and I’m not even trying). So to all of you business people who think social media doesn’t matter – this is one of the powerful reasons that it does.

I’ve said previously that I once complained about Thames Water on Twitter regarding their very slow response to a major water leak outside my house. To my amazement, the tweet was answered, an apology and explanation followed. This company didn’t know I was a journalist, I was a customer who was fed up – and the company responded. Good on Thames Water. It made me feel that they had listened to me – and that counts. Making a customer feel cared about is valuable beyond measure – more valuable than even what you charge for your services.

But my little gripe today is quite different and very specific. This week I went into a town centre car park and took my ticket at the  entrance, ready to pay on foot when I finished. On returning to the machine, it said my ticket was invalid. Great. What now?

Well I know what now because this has happened to me more than once. I had to drive down to the lower floor, park up, go to the ticket office. Have a lecture about how I’ve kept my ticket too close to my mobile phone and wiped the magnetic strip – so be careful next time. In reality, I’d kept the ticket in an outer pocket of my handbag for easy access (I’m like that) and my phone was inside my handbag inside its own zipped case (yes, I really am like that). I said I didn’t think that the mobile phone had anything to do with it – and if it did, where was a notice in the car park to warn people about this design fault? As most people who park there probably have a mobile phone in a pocket or bag. Blank stare followed.

Having handed me a new ticket, I then march off to another machine, pay the money and leave. Thus a simple task becomes a ten minute labour. That was last week and I haven’t bothered with town since – in Swindon we’re lucky and have lots of options when it comes to shopping so I’ve avoided the town as it’s too much hassle.

So a problem occurs – and as the customer I’m made to feel I’m at fault and have to go to extra lengths to sort out this problem. This is a council-run car park and I couldn’t help but feel I got a public service, job’s worth attitude (which seems to be within some public service employees).

I highlight this because the week before a similar thing happened at the Swindon Designer Outlet Village (which I don’t hesitate to recommend as a great place to go). An invalid ticket message came up again – I went to the customer service desk and they checked it out. The ticket machine had failed to print clear data on the ticket. Then, without hesitation and without any blame, they gave me a free pass to get out of the car park. For me, these staff gave the impression that they wanted me to feel good about the place – AND COME BACK AGAIN TO SPEND MONEY!

Treat all customers with respect.....

A little thing, but it shows that making a customer feel good is the best way of getting repeat business. Do you agree?

 

 

Shopping in cities – it’s the parking, stupid!

Sometimes it takes an expert to state the obvious to get those in power to take notice.

This morning retail guru Mary Portas did just that by mentioning parking charges as one of the main reasons why many of us no longer use the high street. It’s something that most of us already know and could certainly have told the government without the need for a costly review. But, of course, had it come from the general public, the idea would have been dismissed without consideration.

Take Bristol’s much revamped city centre with its Cabot Circus development. The range of shops on offer is now exponentially better than it was in the previous decade. Then, the delights of Bath, Cheltenham, Swindon and London were infinitely preferable to the paltry range of shops on offer in Bristol. The development of the out of town retail centre at Cribbs Causeway brought positive changes and then came the city centre redevelopment. Finally, Bristol has a high street worthy of its status as the largest city in the South West.

However, something unexpected has happened. Instead of making me change my shopping pattern and use these lovely new facilities in the city centre, I went twice and then went back to shopping at the out of town retail centre.

This decision wasn’t based on the shops. It was due to the parking charges. And no other reason than that.

My eldest daughter came home from school a couple of months ago asking why she was the only person in her class who had never been to Cabot Circus. It made me reflect – surely I had taken my children shopping in the city centre at some time? Obviously not! So, vowing to put this right, we set out for a girls shopping trip last weekend.

The first battle was finding a parking space. In the few cheaper car parks all the parking spaces had gone and only the expensive car parks were left. I entered one to find that the charges were £6.00 for two hours and if you went one minute over the two hours, £12.00.

That is a serious amount of money to pay before you even begin shopping. It’s like an extra tax for the privilege of using the shops.

Instead of a leisurely time surveying the vast range of retail opportunities on offer, interspersed with a cafe stop, my girls speed-shopped and instant decisions were forced. There was certainly no opportunity for indecisiveness on this trip. I would have liked to sit in a cafe with them (spending more money on the high street) but with the prospect of paying an extra £6.00 parking if I delayed, we didn’t. Instead my pre-teens were route-marched, super quick, back to the car park. The whole trip took one hour and 56 minutes.

There is something self-defeating about this. I feel I’ve done my bit and shown them what the town centre has to offer, but next time we go to Cribbs Causeway, where there are no time restrictions or parking charges.

Maybe now that there’s official recognition that parking charges are a deterrent, councils and car park owners will get together and find a reasonable solution.

Who has the most expensive charges for parking in their city centre? Can you beat Bristol’s charges? We’d like to know.

First day back at school – what’s it like for you? From one Swindon mum.

Today many children went back to school – as a mum of three, I have three of these days to deal with this year as all three children are at different stages.

Today will possibly be the most long-winded and it reminded me of the trauma that many working parents feel when they are trying to do the right things for their children at school – and get to work on time. It’s a daily battle.

Being self-employed I’ve deliberately kept all three days as free as possible and I’ve not regretted it. After years of children at school, I finally found that it’s best to be as free as possible on days like today. It’s brought the stress down to a bearable level.
Last Friday it was first child to secondary school – getting up far too early, stressing about uniform, putting a tie on for the first time and the horror of my daughter in realising that she has to master this every day for the next few years! What a trauma. Then it’s the ‘what if’ period – what if I can’t find my friends? what if I get lost? what if I can’t find the toilets? what if I’ve forgotten my PE kit?

Notice that these ‘what ifs’ are not the same as us parents? Like, ‘what if the work is too hard? or what if my child gets bullied? or what if my child is naughty?’

What I did not have to do was take my child to school – no it’s now an early bus there and back, but that brings it’s own trauma about safety, on the road and on the bus.

Still we got over that day and today it was child number 2.

 

This trip is a move from Yr 4 to Yr 5 of a very laid-back child who is having a new teacher and some new cardigans but everything else is familiar.

 

However, what a parent so easily forgets over the summer is the hurdles one has to deal with in simply getting your child to school.

The traffic is worse and finding a parking space that a) isn’t a daft and unsafe place to park b) isn’t inconsiderate to residents. And then there’s always the risk that residents will simply object to you parking outside their house, even if it’s not unsafe or illegal to do so. I had this the other day (not on a school day) but on a new estate where there were no road markings at all. I was a visitor to the area, there were no yellow lines, no parking signs at all but a resident wrote me a snotty note and put it on my windscreen informing me that I should ‘park round the back or else’. Clearly he or she thought I was psychic and would know by osmosis that there were parking spaces elsewhere.

 

Back to today, my child gave me a quick kiss and disappeared, eager to see her friends and to find her way around a new classroom.

 

I then had to have at least five conversations with other parents about their particular experiences. Some clearly were parents who were short of adult company over the previous six weeks. I had the time, so it was no problem. But when you are working it’s so rude to say ‘that’s great, bye!’. Then I remembered her new cardigans and also the medical form for her asthma medication.

 

On entering the school office, there was a queue of mums waiting to do similar things.

I could see those eager to be away, hopping from one foot to another – knowing how they felt, I was relaxed about letting them jump the queue.

But then the form-filling – is it really necessary to fill out at least two forms saying the same thing? My child has asthma, she can self-administer her medication when she needs it – which is about once a week. She’s proficient at it, she’s learning to carry her inhalers herself at all times – but she’s not allowed to at school. This I know and accept. But there must be a more efficient way of dealing with this. There was one form and then another, both asking the same thing. This exercise took about 20 minutes and then I had to wait for her new cardigans – luckily that took about a minute.

So my youngest child was pretty bored by the time we left school at about 9.30am – goodness knows what it will be like on Friday when he starts for the first time. I’ll be lucky to get a coffee in before I’ve got to pick him up at lunchtime. Oh joy!

First day at school can seem like a long, uphill slog

Road users who drive me mad!

This morning as I drove down a dual carriage way in Swindon – a cyclist, making his way out of town on the other side of the road, crossed the very wide green verge and then crossed in front of two lines of cars on my side of the road.

Luckily there were roadworks and all the cars were moving slowly so his U-turn was not that dangerous.

But it was annoying.

 

Annoying because within metres of this dual carriageway on both sides is a dedicated cycle path. There is no where on that stretch of road that could not be reached by this cycle path.

 

It was the second day in a row that I had to avoid a mad cyclist when a cycle path was a mere two seconds away.

Both of these road users were cyclists in all the gear – aero-dynamically shaped helmet, lycra body suits, lightweight shoes. Does this mean that they feel they are a cut above the cycle paths – which let’s face it are suitable for all of those on bikes?

I’m not against cyclists per se – as a family we do go out cycling but we do avoid traffic and roads as much as we can. This is easy to do in Swindon which has been designed with the cyclist and pedestrian in mind. Places are easy to get to via road, cycle and on foot.

It infuriates me when cyclists fanny about on the main roads when there’s a safer and better alternative nearby.

 

 

However there’s a breed a road-user that annoys me even more. It’s the mum (or dad) who parks as close to his/her child’s school as possible regardless of whether it’s safe or not. Often not.

 

 

This is a problem I encounter every day. I was brought up across the road from a infants school so I know about inconsiderate parking. But at my children’s school in Swindon, this lack of care has reached epic proportions. I’m not being santimonious – I drive my children to school but I always think about where I park – am I blocking someone in? Is this a safe place to park?

I’ve even had words with a resident who didn’t want me to park in her street, even though I was perfectly legal to do so and was not blocking anyone. She just didn’t want the likes of me (annoying parent dropping child at school) near her house. Well, she chose to live there, so get used to it.

However I do hate the  ‘mad mums’ syndrome. The aim is to choose the worst parking position possible and cause maximum havoc. The minimum standard is to park across a resident’s drive. The best strategy is to park on a corner of a road, blocking every other vehicle’s view or to park on the pavement next to the school and then doing a three-point turn from that position.

In spite of increasingly angry letters home from the headteacher, it’s a losing battle. In the last letter it was as close to a tantrum as you could get in a letter. I’m not surprised as children’s safety is at risk on a daily basis. Many (though not all) of these drivers are young (under 30) and often seem to think they have a right to park in the most dangerous way.

picture of a car, side view with one wheel showing

Just how much disruption can you cause when parking near a school?

So I’d welcome some creative suggestions as to how to shame these drivers into being safe – without breaking the law of course!

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