A tech startup to serve a low-tech business?

January 15, 2012

You’ve been there. It’s a cold and rainy evening here in Chicago as you stand outside a restaurant waiting for your valet parked vehicle to be pulled up for you. While waiting, you realize that you do not have enough cash on hand to pay for your valet ticket (let alone tip the attendant) but you do have a wallet full of credit (or debit) cards.

Why is it that in this day and age, a service operation continues to only accept paper currency as a means of payment?

That is the question I asked myself, and the valet parking attendant who eventually pulled up my vehicle. The answer I got led to an observation that maybe not all business operations want to embrace technology - unless they have to!

I spent sometime digging deeper into why a service business such as a car parking operation would not want to accept credit cards, allow customers to request vehicles ahead of time, or even print out receipts for business travelers who would like to expense a valet tab? Luckily, I was able to get in touch with a contact down in Atlanta who works with a small car parking operation such as one you will find at a Chicago restaurant. His answer was simple. It is most advantageous to the car parking company to remain low tech regardless of the customer experience because it keeps cost down thereby maximizing profits. He goes on to say that a car parking business offers a unique value proposition to its customers to the point where the service itself becomes somewhat of a necessity - especially in cities such as Chicago where parking on a weekend night at a busy restaurant can be a nightmare. It is this combination that provides little incentive to invest in technology that would improve the customer's experience.

Whether his assertion that these car parking businesses are indeed a necessity is true or not, there is something to his point. Take a look at another business with similar characteristics - the Chicago taxi cab business. How many times have you heard your cab driver say the credit card reader is not working? It took city mandates, companies such as Uber, and visionaries like @chicagocabbie to force the hand of taxi cabs into adopting new technology that serve to improve the customer experience. That is what it is going to take to move the car parking industry as well.

Currently, there aren't a lot of strides being made to improve the overall customer experience at a valet station - especially at the local restaurant, bar, or night club. This is probably because of the close-knit nature of the industry, or because many of us, customers, are not making enough noise about our experiences. How can we make a better customer experience if the service providers themselves are not willing to do so?

This is the beginning of a Chicago startup.