When the subject of abysmal customer services comes up, I usually think of flight attendants, New Jersey Transit train conductors, the teenage girls behind the counter at my local Italian delicatessen and, of course, those fine folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
As readers may recall, I recently leased a new BMW M3 convertible. Sadly, though, at the same time, my five-year-old NJ driver’s license was about to expire. So, while I was digging my ultimate driving experience, there was one big downer looming large on the horizon: having to visit the DMV facility in lovely Eatontown, NJ. And, as I tossed and turned the night before my trip to DMV, I recalled all those horrific previous experiences: the endless waits, the surly, nasty clerks and the shared frustration among my fellow drivers.
As I tooled up to the DMV a few weeks back, my Pavlovian responses shifted into overdrive. I steeled myself for several hours of pure hell. What I experienced, however, was the exact opposite. The lines were short, the clerks were efficient and the process went very smoothly. In fact, the clerks were actually polite and uttered "please" and "thank you" a few times. I was astonished.
Is it the dawning of a new era at the DMV? Will these ultimate bureaucrats become role models for their peers in aviation, transportation and retail? Or, did I just happen to catch them on a very, very good day? Either way, I was one happy driver when I cruised out of the Eatontown lot, and I even had a new photo ID to boot.
It’s true that DMVs have gotten better. Call it the influence of the private sector if you like, but two things have happened.
One is that the traditional bureaucrats who headed these agencies have been replaced by a new breed. Acting with enlightened self-interest, they’ve adapted modern customer service techniques to interacting with us, the taxpayers.
The second part is that the classic DMV clerks we grew up with — surly, dissaffected clock-watchers — have probably retired. The ones that didn’t either adapted to the new mantra or ended up working someplace where lousy interpersonal skills don’t matter as much.
Three years ago I had to go to the DMV in New York City to have my license renewed. I went to the Express Office on 34th Street and was waiting when the doors opened at 8am. I’d told my employer I might not be in until lunchtime. I walked out of there at 8:45am, with my license and a dazed look on my face. Two for two. Anyone else?