The Value of Valet
(Left to Right: Carlos Diaz, Domingos Teixeira, Rob Jones, Craig Doster, Jim Smith)
Whether they're coming or going from Children’s Hospital Boston, the last thing a patient’s family should be worrying about is how to get in and out of the hospital, or where to leave their car. “Boston traffic is bad enough, but some days it seems like it can take forever just to cross Longwood from the garage to the hospital,” says Jim Smith , manager of Parking and Commuter Services at Children’s. Valet services are intended to improve access for families. “If you have to go to the hospital, it’s one little thing we can do to make the experience easier.”
Last winter, Smith and his team realized that Valet Parking wasn’t making it as easy as they’d hoped. Surveying the families using the service, they found that families rated their interactions with the parking staff highly, but long wait times to get in and out were a problem. Cars were backing up in the traffic circle and some families were waiting 30 minutes or more for valets to retrieve their vehicles.
The Valet Parking Team immediately began collecting data to figure out how long it was taking to return vehicles, when their peak operating times were, and what areas could specifically be targeted for improvement. In December 2010, Smith’s team monitored more than 5,000 valet experiences to establish a baseline. The average return times ranged between 11 and 20 minutes, with hourly averages jumping as high as 38 minutes during evening rush hour. Only 67 percent of vehicles were returned in less than 15 minutes. Smith believed they could do better.
The team evaluated every step of the valet process, from arrival in the main driveway, to the return of the vehicle to its owner, taking special note of points where attendants, cashiers and greeters interacted with families, providing opportunities to personally impact their hospital experience. The key problems they noted included overwhelming traffic congestion, inadequate signage and lane markings around the driveway, and treacherous conditions as families unloaded in a busy traffic circle.
Through this evaluation process, the team developed nearly 100 suggestions for improvements, which were crafted into an action list. The range of suggestions covered every possible option for improvement, from the simple—restriping the traffic lanes in Children’s Way, working with the cashiers to provide families with accurate wait times—to the…not-so-easy—building a bridge from the patient family garage, or a traffic tunnel under Longwood Avenue. Each item on the list was graded on a scale of 1 to 5 for ease of implementation as well as positive impact that it would have on overall operations and the patient experience. They immediately begin to implement the easiest changes that would have the highest impact—improved signage and staff training, redeploying staff to insure the best coverage, and keeping a closer eye on traffic violators.
One frequent complaint families had was that it’s hard to see from inside the lobby when their vehicle arrives. Since the improvement plan started during one of the worst winters in Boston’s history, heat lamps were installed around the entire covered parking circle, making it more pleasant for families to wait outside.
By May 2011, the average return time was lowered to between 8 and 15 minutes, with the majority of trips remaining below 12 minutes. Eighty-nine percent of vehicles were returned to patient parkers in less than 15 minutes, a significant improvement on the previous return rate. The group is measuring its progress monthly and reporting results directly to the Patient Family Experience Committee.
Smith and his team aren’t content to settle for the progress they’ve made already. By August, they plan to be returning at least 90 percent of family vehicles in under 15 minutes. “The team came up with so many suggestions for possible ways to improve the Valet Parking Experience,” says Smith. “Even if we don’t get that tunnel dug under Longwood, we’ve still got plenty of great ideas to work with and we’re only just getting started.”
Don't miss out on your chance to see Jim Smith talk about how his team went about improving the Valet Parking Program in person at the Innovation Acceleration Program's monthly Innovators' Forum on Tuesday, July 19, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Center for Life Sciences 12 Floor Conference Room. The Forum is open to all Children's employees. Lunch will be provided, but space is limited, so be sure to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.