Ambassadors for Government

Posted by jlubans on November 16, 2018

Caption: Image from new video on The Drive Test, from the Oregon DMV. Watch it here to see DMV service values in practice.

Who would think a governmental office – in this case a Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) – would provide a “best practice” model for customer service?
Or, as I term it, exemplary courtesy and kindness in service, (the C+K Factor.)
And, in the mix, expect staff to be “ambassadors for government”.
Well, the North Salem branch office (one of 60 in Oregon) does just that.
My conclusion is based on several trips to the DMV following a move to Oregon. During those visits, I was taken with how well this DMV works: fast and courteous service with knowledgeable and pleasant staff – how Oregonian! Not a sour puss in the bunch, not a one “afflicted with office.” I asked myself, how do they do it? What’s the secret sauce? Looking for answers, I interviewed - amidst their busy schedules - Bea Halbert, Customer Service Manager, of the North Salem DMV; Stefanie Coons, DMV Field Services Group Manager; and, Thomas L. McClellan, Oregon’s DMV Administrator.
Each state in the USA has separate DMVs and a driver is obligated to register her car – prove ownership and insurance -and to pass a written test prior to getting that state’s driver’s license. Newbie drivers - in an American coming-of-age ritual - have to pass, along with the written test, an on-road drive test, as illustrated above.
In brief, the DMV gets to say yea or nay on your driving.
Not everyone gets what they want: a failed driver’s test, an adjudicated loss of license, or an iffy car title, can result in unhappy clients
As Bea told me, “We deliver a lot of bad news every day”. Statewide the DMV “handles about 20,000 convictions and other orders from court.”
So, there’s no shortage of self-inflicted frustration to be dealt with amidst the daily volume of walk-ins: on average the North Salem branch sees 482 customers per day and on peak days as many as 700.
If you handle conflict well, your clients will respect you; if you don’t, well that’s how some DMVs get a bad reputation and become the poster child for what’s wrong with government.
My interview with Bea (a DMV employee since 1984 and a self professed “servant leader”*) revealed several clues to how her office’s 17 staff achieve such high levels of service. These points illustrate how the overall DMV gets high staff buy-in into its stated values.
1. Weekly staff meetings with expected input from staff. This hour-long meeting occurs each Wednesday prior to opening. It features a NOT ON AGENDA opportunity to bring up urgent items. Several customer service improvements, like express lanes, have resulted.
2. A regular rotation of staff (no one does the same thing over and over) among workstations. Staff then become familiar with all parts of the DMV, not just a narrow bailiwick.
3. Strong support for training, in house and at other venues, including state universities with paid time off. Bea regularly promotes training opportunities and frequently participates.
4. Strong support for and action on a promote-from-within policy. Bea has benefited from mentoring by her supervisors and others from the time she came on as a summer “temp” in 1984 to now managing the North Salem office. Bea told me that “reaching out, asking for help, describing scenarios and what ifs to her mentors” was very important to her career development. “The managers I have worked with all have the same mentality, how we coach and how we train.”
5. A very supportive top leadership with clearly stated expectations, e.g. in the published “DMV in Motion: A Strategic Vision” which uses acronyms like PACE (Public service, Amazing Quality, Customer focus and an Engaging Workplace). And, there are regular statistical measures to evaluate and monitor the service, business, and program aspects of the DMV. A current statewide goal: 70% of customers will be seen within 20 minutes.
Tom and Stefanie told me (confirmed by Bea) that managers have leeway to try out ideas and to see what happens; mistakes are not career ending. There’s freedom to problem solve and to propose solutions; it’s expected when someone identifies a problem, he will make recommendations on what to do differently.
6. Facility-wise, most Oregon DMVs are an open building, with a barrier-less lay out for the client. This is quite remarkable, as I have observed an ever-increasing trend for architectural barriers in many public offices.
7. Very well informed receptionists (see # 2) including at-the- door greeters and, on occasion, “floaters” among seated clients waiting to be seen by a DMV staffer. The floater makes sure no one gets “lost in the process.”
8. Stress on face-to-face, one-on-one communication between managers and staff. Problems are dealt with immediately.
9. Teamwork. Bea sees herself as the Coach of her team. In one way, she’s a player/coach, since she works out front once a week. One practice that takes teamwork well beyond the local office is that, when necessary, most offices share staff with other regional DMV offices.
10. Leadership role: When I asked Bea early in the interview about the many positive services and actions toward clients she told me without hesitation that the “Vision comes from Administrator Tom McClellan and from Field Services Group Manager Stefanie Coons (and regional managers)”.
In other words, the DMV leadership “practices what it preaches.” The five characteristics for DMV leadership (creativity, courage, communication, collaboration, and commitment) are not just office speak; they’re practiced.
Finally, an observation about my newly adopted Oregon:
When I comment about how helpful and courteous people are, the Oregonian response is: “This is Oregon, Why would you be surprised?”
I have to agree there’s something to that; it’s a widely prevalent attitude one encounters in many Oregon communities and I think that attitude, the so-called Oregon Way, just might come in the door with the staff. So, many of the pro-customer practices may derive from the state’s culture.
When I sought to define the “Oregon Way” I found a video done by Oregon State University. The people in the video refer to the state’s
Pioneer spirit, a “nostalgia for what we were and want to be”. We’re willing to try different things, to explore what Oregon has to offer. We are not complacent; we go out and enjoy the state’s natural resources. Everyone lends a hand. We are genuinely inclusive. A newcomer to the small community of Amity described what she, as a parent, likes about living there: “It’s a giant family”.

*Robert K. Greenleaf described servant leadership in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

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