Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Is it true? Could VDH be a pantywaist?

I'm sorry to have to raise this question, but one of my literary heroes, Victor Davis Hanson, yesterday seemed to unveil himself as a fraidy-cat.
I know, I know, military historian and columnist extraordinaire and all that, but this rough and tough professor and straight-talking raisin-farmer from the Central Valley practically admitted to being intimidated and humiliated by lowly clerks at the DMV.
A retired DMV office manager, this author spent a portion of his career, including two years as administrative assistant to the region manager, working in offices in VDH's neck of the woods.
"Going into the DMV to deal with SEIU T-shirted employees is to face petty humiliation and impediment."
OK, the purple SEIU shirts are stupid, but these not-that-well-paid people are striving to move customers in and out as quickly as possible, be as accurate as can be, and get everything done correctly the "first time" during the customer's current visit. That's the way they're judged by their bosses, and as with any concern - a boss is a boss is a boss.
For a grown man to feel humiliation and obstruction in the face of an employee who only hopes the customer doesn't have halitosis and remembered to bring all of his documents is way too "sensitive" and touchy-feely. Does the professor have the same feelings on opening day of his classes, facing a classroom full of new students? Or when the picking crew arrives for the first day of harvest each year? I doubt it. Methinks he overstates the point here.
As a California DMV customer VDH - and every other patron - is in the position of power. A front-line technician must be courteous and provide the patron with what he needs WHEN the application process is finished. If that doesn't happen, a simple conversation with the employee's supervisor usually will suffice. And beyond that supervisor is an office manager. Beyond her - or him - is a regional manager. None of them want to answer a service compliant when it comes down from the Governator's office, so trust me - they want customers to leave happy and fulfilled! Kaput! Satisfied! In fact, they'll provide them with a mail-in survey form afterward just to confirm it.
"I watched dozens of hurried customers stand in line while bored employees at the window lackadaisically redirected them to other bored employees."
This one is cute. VDH can see the same thing at every busy grocery store, bank, train station, college admission offices at the beginning of semesters, etc. People stand in line. But in virtually every California DMV they only stand in the "start here" line once, when they first walk in.
"Why are you here"? It might not have occurred to Dr. Hanson, but each DMV office is set-up to perform from two to three dozen different tasks. Not all offices do all things. One needs to be screened on arrival to ensure he or she is properly served. Why do hospitals triage patients arriving at emergency rooms? Would you want to walk up to any old window, interrupt the customer being served and tell them what you want to do? That seems rude and inefficient. Do the harvesters jump from vine-to-vine and row-to-row, going back and forth repeatedly over just-picked vines when something catches their eye - or do they carefully harvest each vine thoroughly so as to pick all the fruit that's ripe as they go along that day? It's more efficient for both the user and the service provider to find out what a customer wants and is served by a properly prepared person.
Then, after a customer passes through that one line in each of the seven DMV offices surrounding the Fresno - Kingsburg area, the extended community where VDH lives, customers are given a coded number and offered the opportunity to wait in chairs in the lobby until their number is called. At the time of this is writing the longest wait time posted in real time on-line in any of those seven offices was 22 minutes - while seated. The shortest wait was 12. "Hurried customers"? While sitting in chairs? Seems unlikely.
Likewise "bored employees" is an interesting comment. When I worked the front line I used lots of friendly humor, trying to make the process fun. Most customers responded in kind, but several times my display of levity offended customers because in their minds what they were doing was, to them, "very serious". The point is front line workers are forced to draw a fine line. Sometimes just maintaining an non-judgmental appearance is the best that can be done. A little empathy, please, professor.
"The subtext was 'You need my form and stamp, so calm down, take a deep breath, and wait on my time. It’s not like I have to work for your rat-race company.'”
California DMV offers one of the most elaborate web sites with hours and hours of advice and information for customers needing to "do" something requiring licensure, vehicle or vessel registration or any of the other myriad of disciplines DMV handles. About one person in a hundred, or less, uses that site to thoroughly simplify and speed up their office visit. Most folks just skim it and then wait till they're there, and ask the technician what to do? TRANSLATION: Most customers are not quite prepared to complete their transactions during their first trip. This makes more work for the technician and customer. And that counts against the worker. So most technicians try to figure out a way to get around those problems. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can't. Dr. Hanson sounds as if he is chiding the underling because the power person messed up. Isn't that like blaming the messenger, or something?

I hope I've totally misconstrued the professor's remarks. On the subject matter of his post I'm mostly in agreement. But I think in this case he resorted to hyperbole, stretching the DMV example by blending his memories of the old days with modern times. If not, then if going into today's California DMV really intimidates him, in my view he's a scaredy cat.
As usual, I am humbly open to corrective and instructive comments.


Wilpert Aloyisious Gobsmacked said...

I think you're too hard on the professor. We've all had bad experiences at the DMV, so what he's saying is just generic. Why don't other CA agencies, and DMV's from other large states use the same methods you outlined. Any ideas?

49erDweet said...

Well yes. Other CA agencies don't process the same numbers or types of transactions, thus don't approach the task the same way. Back in the late 80's a breed of new DMV office managers and their bosses began pushing for more customer friendly service methods. As you can expect many old-timers fought against change but eventually a new process and service culture were born.

As for other states, many separate out licensure and registration to different offices, not all of which are actually operated by the state. [Some by county tax collectors]. Few states approach the customer volumes of CA, so the extent of the problem is usually not as severe.