Looking Outwards for an Answer to DMV Overload: New Tech which Could Lighten the Load


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Department of Motor Vehicle
Department of Motor Vehicle

Nowadays, mentioning an upcoming trip to the DMV is likely to be met a look of pity, on par with a looming root canal or wisdom tooth operation. However, unlike an optional trip to the dentist, more than 214 million registered drivers are legally obliged to attend their local DMV centers to remain a lawful driver, and for many the process of has become a nightmare. Common grievances included long wait times, disorganized queuing systems, poor facilities and unfriendly and incompetent staff.

With users describing the DMV experience as “draconian”, a ‘bureaucratic maze’ and a ‘broken system’, it is obvious that something needs to be done. In other public service industries in the U.S. and beyond, organizations have turned to technology to streamline the process, allowing users to undertake processes online, book appointments and assess what time is best to visit. In a recent article, Richard Medina, argues that the three main problems for DMVs relate to outdated ‘legacy’ technology, staffing and a lack of outreach and are reducing efficiency which combine to create a time-consuming and frustrating overall user experience.

So what lessons can the DMV learn from public service centers across the world?

The Waiting Game – a Nationwide Issue

Image Source: Wavetec Customer Flow

At DMV centers in states such as North and South Carolina –which are rated as some of the worst in the country— authorities claim to be tackling the issue. However locals complain that people still need to take holiday days from work to be able to attend their DMV, regaling horror stories of waits lasting four hours or more, arriving at 5.30am — three hours before the office opens– to guarantee a quick service, and scenes of chaos and disorder.

In August of this year, after a dooming report by NBC’s I-Team, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pledged action to reduce the time New Jersey drivers spend in line at motor vehicle offices. The DMV organization in Connecticut also stated that it would be undertaking reviews to tackle the growing problem. However, as the DMV is state-level agency, improvements are slow to non-existent in other parts of the U.S.

Some local offices have rolled out initiatives to reduce congestion, including publishing peak times online, adding extra Saturday hours and extending hours at more popular offices. Chris Christie has stated that all DMV staff will need to complete customer service training, and that two mobile units will be deployed in the event of any “unforeseen agency outages” at busy centers, beginning in 2017.

A Modern response for a Modern Problem

While it is positive that politicians like Christie are taking wait times seriously, approaching the issue state by state with different time-saving initiatives isn’t a quick fix.

The answer lies in a technological response which can be rolled out nationwide, offering the same level of high service regardless of which state you live in.

Across the world, other sectors have made the most of technology to fight waiting times and improve operational efficiency. From using video calls to cut waiting times for medical appointments for long term patients in Sweden, using patient flow applications to increase patient admissions by 30% in Florida hospitals, to offering fingerprint identification in app to reduce waits at the Bank of Melbourne. So what response could work for specific case of the DMV?

Starting from scratch

Image Source: Wavetec DMV Customer Flow

The sad reality is that there is no ‘magic wand’ response for the DMV problem. Improving efficiency and the overall staff and customer experience would involve a total rehaul of the customer journey in DMV offices. Here is how such a journey might look:

To reduce the flow of attendees to physical centers and reduce congestion, centers should roll out more online functions for certain tasks that don’t require a face-to-face interaction for security purposes. The California DMV — which is rated fourth best in the U.S.–allows users to do a range of tasks like license renewal, notice of transfer, submitting insurance information and paying some fines online. These same procedures were reportedly taking up to four hours in DMVs in other states.

Centers should encourage users to call an interactive voice response (IVR) powered line which can guide them towards the most time efficient manner to complete the action they want to do at the DMV. This allows the clients to effectively solve their own problems without taking up the time of essential trained staff, allowing them to focus on other tasks. If a client needs to come to an office, they will be directed to one, but if not, then they will be encouraged to complete their transaction online.

In the case that users need to attend a center in person, data gathered from predictive analytics should be used for expectation management. If estimated wait times are clearly communicated clients are much less likely to be unhappy than if they are left in the dark.

For those users who need to attend in person, mobile apps should offer a pre-qualification process, allowing them to schedule appointments before they arrive. Such a schedule allows to regulate the load management and flow, and promote people visiting an ‘off-peak’ hours. Using predictive analysis, local centers would be able to report peak times during the week to plan the DMV’s capacities, and assign appointment times outside of these. This would also allow people to book times which would not require them to take time off work.

Staff training has also been raised as an issue in many DMV centers. Alongside basic customer service training, staff should also be cross-trained. With cross-trained staff waiting times can be reduced as managers can move staff around different departments at peak times, or when there are unforeseen staffing shortages.

As mentioned above, there is no silver bullet that would totally fix the DMV dilemma. The decentralized nature of the organization means that each state will have to come up with its own mix of technology– in the form of website and apps– and training to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. Some centers have been creative, offering perks such as cupcakes, smoothies, comfy furniture and kids play areas to make the waiting times more bearable. However, as much as everyone loves cupcakes, this is just a short term and superficial fix. It is technology, not treats, which will really boost efficiency and client satisfaction in DMVs around the country.

Tobias Bessone
Tobias is a renowned professional specializing in customer journey. Currently holding the position with Wavetec Group as Deputy CEO. Tobias is leading the European, Latin America and Middle East markets in sales, marketing & product development. He has an an obsessive passion for customer facing technologies that help corporations improve their service areas & customer journey. He consults to some of the world's largest brands on their customer experience strategy and journey; his focus areas are New Product Development and Customer Journey Design.


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