10 Things the DMV Teaches About Quality Customer Service


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It may sound unintuitive, but we can learn much about customer service by observing how the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) treats (or mistreats) its customers. Comprised of state-run institutions with no competition, whose services are in great demand, the DMV has no reason to invest in better customer service. In this way, the DMV is the opposite of a customer-centric organization, and the customer experience suffers as a consequence.

Bad examples are useful instruments for learning what not to do and brainstorm better alternatives, so here are ten lessons about customer service that we can learn from the DMV’s bad example. Most of these recommendations are tuned for businesses providing face-to-face services for walk-in customers, but some general ideas for best practices can also be gleaned for any type of business.

1. Be Friendly

Greet your customers. Don’t just have them take a number and sit down somewhere and wait, like at the DMV: greet them promptly, take their names and call them by name.

The DMV sometimes seems to treat the public with coldness approaching contempt, almost like the people they’re serving are adversaries rather than clients. Some of this cynicism comes from dealing regularly with people who have potentially broken the law. “In California, people who have been arrested for drunk driving have ten days to request a hearing through the DMV or their license will be automatically suspended 30 days after arrest,” says Jason Hennessey, an attorney at Los Angeles DUI Attorney. That means a lot of people who visit the DMV are facing personal judgment by some DMV staff regardless of their guilt, which is a recipe for terrible customer service.

In any business where people are dealing with incriminating or embarrassing matters, it’s extra-important to constantly remind staff to smile, help and encourage their customers as they work through uncomfortable and stressful situations.

2. Establish personal relationships
The DMV is like a box of (bad) chocolates — you never know what staff you’re gonna get. From the public’s perspective, such an anonymous interaction indicates that the DMV doesn’t really care who they are or what they need.

Unlike the DMV, businesses should seek to establish personal relationships by dedicating staff to serving particular customers, getting to know them and showing genuine interest in delivering a good experience.

3. Make your customers comfortable
Taking one’s place in the DMV among the dreaded rows of rock-hard seats facing the counter is enough to put anyone in a bad mood.
If your customers must wait, at least provide comfortable seating for them.

As for the counter, if your transactions take longer than a couple minutes to complete, don’t require your customers to stand the whole time. Serve these customers with longer transactions at tables, not counters. Banks often use a mixed approach, for example.

4. Scale staff according to demand

Nobody likes to wait, but the DMV is notorious for inflicting long wait times.

Ramp up customer service or scale it down as needed by shifting roles on demand between back-office work and front-facing work. Retail stores move workers between stocking and checkout duties, for example, thereby utilizing their time on the clock to the greatest efficiency.

5. Arrange appointments in advance

A few states, like California, provide an appointment system for services like driver’s licenses and registration, but most states only allow appointments for driving tests.

Arranged online or over the phone, appointments drastically reduce wait times and the need for lots of seating.

6. Provide a waiting area

If you will have your customers waiting for some time, try to provide a lounge area with coffee and tea, vending machines and TVs. Another option for providing hospitality to your waiting customers is to give space to an independent coffee cart operator, or even to host an adjoining cafe. Not only do these extra services drastically improve the customer experience, but they can generate additional revenue.

7. Page waiting customers

Some busy restaurants distribute pagers to waiting customers, allowing them to wander and amuse themselves until their table is ready. In this age of ubiquitous mobile phone access, customers can be paged by text message instead, which also has the benefit of registering customer phone numbers.

8. Location, location, location
Locate among friendly businesses willing to entertain your waiting customers, whether with shopping or dining. Combined with a paging system, as mentioned previously, a good location can eliminate the need for a dedicated waiting area.

9. Make forms easy to fill out

The DMV’s many forms are infamously burdensome in part because they require so much repeated basic information. Perhaps this busywork keeps heads down and hands occupied, averting a potential rebellion from breaking out, but it hardly makes good business sense.

E-commerce sites know that making purchases easy and seamless is key to gaining and keeping happy customers, and one important way of achieving that ease is to gather customer profile information once, store it and reuse it for pre-filling forms used for future transactions.

10. Gather customer feedback (and read it)

The DMV probably doesn’t care to hear from people about the quality of their customer service — they already know it’s bad, and they’re not going to do anything about it.

Businesses ought to care very deeply about what their customers are saying, though. It’s now common practice in restaurants to provide feedback forms on every table to rate the level of service they received. Any good business ought to care about customer feedback, and try to shore up any shortcomings.

Lessons learned

You can be assured that the DMV will never implement most of these ideas, and not all of them will fit any particular business, but we have many examples of successful businesses doing each one of them with real results that achieve a positive return on investment.

Image Source: consumeraffairs.com


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