Mobile Parking.

I am deeply, deeply cross about the car parking charges at my local train station.

There isn’t a bus I can take to the station, I can’t be dropped off every day and I have no friends. I have to drive to the station. And park. They put up the price of parking every year – I can’t understand why, it’s hardly a high maintenance facility. I’m so cross about the parking that, despite the operator’s attempts to make me pay for parking using a mobile phone, I have resolutely refused. I want them to have the inconvenience of counting the coins that I so religiously pump into the machine every day. It’s not easy, let me tell you. I stagger around most of the week, bow-legged under the weight of silver coinage collected to feed the ‘No Change Given’ monster.

The other day, however, I was caught short. Being able to muster only £4.50 of the requisite £5.50, I was forced to concede and call the parking hotline. Imagine my surprise when I completed the entire registration and parking transaction in less than two minutes – entirely without defaulting to ‘operator assistance’. RingGo has the best voice recognition system and user experience I have ever encountered on a phone. I was so impressed, I did it again a few days later from a different station and I audibly squeaked with excitement when the automated voice recognised me, my car and my new location using geo-positioning on my mobile. I simply confirmed and was on my way, barely breaking stride.

I assumed that every mobile transaction would be as simple when I parked my car. Oh no. Why on earth would life be that simple?

Having been lured into mobile voice transactions, I returned to my normal car park and decided I should embrace the change that mobile transactions could enable. But this was a different system. It didn’t have voice recognition, it wasn’t a seamless, intuitive process and it didn’t work. It wasn’t RingGo. I had to punch out every letter of my number plate, and my credit card, and my address. The menu system was appalling and just as I neared the end of the registration torture I was kicked out of the system. 12 times. Oh, how I laughed…

If there had been a mobile internet application, the whole transaction could have been so much easier. With a quick click and a couple of swipes the job would have been done. Which means there’s an opportunity, and a danger, for brands engaging in the mobile space.

The opportunity is to get it right. I didn’t just buy a ticket the first time I used my phone to pay for parking, I bought a mobile experience. It was one that worked initially, and then I discovered I had to be selective about the brands that I trusted for mobile engagement. If it says RingGo on the parking sign, I can trust it. RingGo is good, their competitors are shit. Had I tried the crap system first, I would have stuck to coins. The same is true of any other mobile experience. It will be important to make sure that the online brand experience we have created for our audiences actually works on mobile.

How, for example, does your glorious new corporate website perform and engage your audience on a small mobile phone screen? Mmmm. That part’s easily fixed, but beyond WAP enablement and iPhone apps, there’s a world of mobile that everyone’s using, except the B2B marketing community. As we increasingly migrate our business communications to mobile devices, it’s going to be important to distinguish between the brands that can migrate seamlessly, and those left standing around in the car park jiggling the loose change in their pockets. Let’s hope it’s loose change at least.

Scot McKee