August 30, 2011

The DMV Experience

Image from libraryman

What’s the worst service experience you’ve had? For most, the DMV ranks near the top of that list. It takes forever, you’re should-to-shoulder with strangers you’d rather not sit next to, it’s loud, possibly full of unpleasant smells, and most likely you have forgotten some crucial and mysterious piece of paperwork that requires you to return after retrieving it. So today when I made my way to the Kansas DMV, I was not looking forward to the task... perhaps that’s why I put it off for two months and waited until one of the very last days of the month, right before my plates were to expire to get the dreaded chore done. Nothing like a deadline for motivation, right?

Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The Johnson County Treasurer’s office that I visited was very fancy-schmancy—a definite upgrade from the DMV in the not-nearly-as-affluent county I resided in in Missouri. It was clear this county had spent some serious money and time designing the service experience for their patrons, which may be expected from a county boasting one of the highest median incomes in the country (according to the 2000 census).

Now for the actual experience:

Upon entrance there were three kiosks that greeted you asking for a bit of information: First, language preference, offering English or Spanish and your cell phone number, which was used to serve as your virtual spot in line. After entering my information, the digital screen told me I would have an estimated wait of 37 minutes.

This is brilliant for many reasons:
  1. The Spanish-speaking customers are filtered to the Spanish-speaking service representatives. (Because how annoying is it to get to the front of the line to find out that person can’t help you? Pretty annoying. And with a language barrier, I’m sure it is ridiculously difficult.)
  2. Part of service design is looking at the psychology of waiting and what that does to your perceived experience, which highly effects the outcome as good or bad and 37 minutes is still a long time to wait. (My service rep later informed me that they were busier than usual because it was the end of the month and, like myself, everyone had been procrastinating.)
  3. Knowing my approximate wait time was awesome. I could’ve walked to the coffee shop or donut shop next door (that is, if I liked either of those options...), run a nearby errand, etc.
  4. Part of the texting system allowed you to get updates through your phone on where you stood in line and your estimated wait, you could even respond with an “M” to give you some more time. (I didn’t play with this feature, not knowing if it would push you back 5 people or at the end of the already 52-person-long list.)
  5. My service-rep also told me that I could reserve my spot in line from my computer at home. Or say, after I finish at the vehicle inspection place. Again, brilliant!

Other features that rocked:
  • The space was wide and open and had cool, clean air circulating. People had ample room to leave two or more chairs comfortable between them as their stranger-buffer-zone. No more shoulder-to-shoulder claustrophobia.
  • Rows as chairs, even some tables were provided, in case you needed to get a little work done during the wait.
  • Two TV monitors listed your place in line via the last four digits of your phone number, while two others played the news and cartoons. And as we’re a society dependent upon electronic connectivity, this is essential.
  • This system has been in place for a number of years and I also learned at the end of the year they are updating their systems, she said they’re “archaic, built in the 80’s.” So now they will no longer have to manually enter each persons information each time someone comes in, but instead and can retrieve your profile and do “customer maintenance.” That should make that 37 minute wait, dwindle even more.
All-in-all, I’d say my wait time was actually around 27 minutes. Not too bad for 52 people in front of me, right?

So, kudos to you, Johnson County DMV. Awesome job of the front-end customer experience improvements and dedication to updating your back-end systems. It’s not perfect and I doubt I’ll ever relish in the fact that I get to go to the DMV, but at least it wasn’t the dreaded task of yesteryear.

Now let’s work on improving the doctor visit waiting room experience...

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