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Sonoma County Gazette
Spending as much time as we did in line at the DMV gave me lots of time to observe customer relations.
Spending as much time as we did in line at the DMV gave me lots of time to observe customer relations. Photo: DMV Yelp

Customer Service Lessons 

at the DMV

Feb 27, 2019
by Elizabeth Slater


Lessons Learned

We had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles last week. We had made an appointment as there are almost 500,000 people in the county in which we live and two DMV offices, so they tend to be busy. We had one car to register and an address change.

When we arrived, twenty-five minutes early we got into a line for those people with appointments. By the time we got to the person whose job it was to check us in and give us a number we were already ten minutes past our scheduled appointment time.

Spending as much time as we did in line gave me lots of time to observe the person who was the first person that customers interact with.  The couple at the counter when I got into line were having difficulty understanding what the DMV employee wanted from them.

Lesson One:  Be Aware That People Are Having A Hard Time Understanding

If you are talking to people who are having a hard time understanding what you are saying do not keep repeating the same phrase over and over again. It may be that English is not their first language or that you are using terms that they don’t understand because they are technical terms.

Instead try to use different words or concepts that they may understand.

The next person to go up to counter said something about why it was taking so long as they were worried about missing their appointment, to the employee at the desk. The clerk’s snappish reply, which could be heard by everyone in the long line was, “Because no one wants to work here…we have nine vacancies.”

Lesson Two: Need to know

As a customer I don’t need to know that employees do not like their jobs. Truly, I may not want to be there either, but have an important reason to be there. If we could have taken care of everything online, we would have.

After twenty minutes in line we approached the desk and explained that we wanted to register a vehicle. There had been a mistake at the dealership in completing the sales forms that could not be corrected online so we had to do it in person. We were given a number and told to wait until called. We also said we would like to change our address (which involves completing a form and getting a little card that we wrote the new address on).

We were curtly informed that changing the address was not stated as part of the reason for our appointment and that we had to wait in another line.

Lesson Three: Streamline systems so they work for the customers

If you can simplify your procedures to the advantage for your customers, do so. It would not have been difficult to have a stack of the change of address forms at the check-in desk to hand to the customer, letting them know at the same time where to return them.

At that point we split up with Jack going off to get his registration while I lined up to get the form for the address change. I waited in line for another twenty minutes while Jack waited to be called for his appointment.

The employee who gave me the address change forms was very helpful. He smiled and answered a question that I had.  I was told to take the forms, complete them and return them when they were completed. I asked if I had to get in line again and was told I could just bring the forms right back up to him.

Just as we completed the forms, Jack was called to the window to organize his registration. Once again, no smiles and when Jack asked a question the employee seemed quite put out at having to answer it.

We finished back at the counter with the person who checked our Change of Address forms and gave us the cards to carry with our driver’s licenses.  Once again, he was smiling, helpful and efficient. He answered my questions and smiled and said goodbye as we left.  At least our visit to the DMV ended on a high note. 

I understand that it cannot be easy to work at the DMV when they are too many customers and too few staff. I also know that some customers are not as polite as they could or should be. However, if customers are being polite, match their mood, smile and help them in any way you can.  If they are angry or frustrated, try to find out the source of their frustration. Then work towards solving the problem.

I hope that if I have to make another visit that they have managed to hire more and lessened the stress level of their employees.

Elizabeth Slater
In Short Direct Marketing
Specializing in Customer Service & Sales Training That Works

T: 707.836.8730
C: 707.953.1289







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