Jul 18 2013

How to Improve Customer Service at the DMV

Put the power to renew licenses and registration online into the hands of the people.

Few people look forward to a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles with excitement and anticipation, unless perhaps they're first-time drivers. It's difficult to come up with another government agency that's under as much fire from its customers as the DMV.

So what's the deal — doesn't anyone care? The answer is, emphatically, yes we do! Agencies that provide motor vehicle services are under tremendous pressure to improve, from residents, legislators, governors and county commissioners. It's a tall order because there's not just one problem, but a combination of challenges.

If the solution were straightforward, it already would have been done. However, IT can help significantly. When governments have an opportunity to use technology to improve the experience of citizens, they must seize it.

Avoiding a Tailspin

Legacy technology, staffing and a lack of outreach are three problem areas where motor vehicle departments must focus their attention. Many of the DMV systems in existence today are on a mainframe computer or are part of some other legacy environment. Full system replacements are expensive and risky. It's critical for agencies to perform a careful analysis of current processes in conjunction with technology upgrades. Solutions vary — from commercial off-the-shelf systems that are configurable but offer no access to the code, to multilayered modernization initiatives that offer more control but tend to move more slowly.

Staffing is a challenge in most public-sector agencies, but especially so in the DMV, where finding, training and retaining workers is a constant struggle. DMV employees use legacy systems with green screens, which take a long time to master. Then, factor in customers who may be hot under the collar from having waited too long in line. IT leaders can help by developing systems that are more intuitive, with point-and-click applications. This would greatly reduce the time it takes for new employees to become proficient with an agency's systems and able to serve the customer.

Driving Forward

So what's the best way to reduce wait times at the DMV? Minimize the number of customers who need to visit a DMV office, and let customers help themselves. Several states allow customers to avoid the DMV branch office by going online for services. For example, Colorado offers online vehicle registration renewals and driver's license renewals to those who qualify. Although these systems are hosted in legacy environments, the technology to implement web services is not that complicated.

Both California and Nevada offer self-service terminals or kiosks. These strategically placed systems provide motor vehicle services to customers outside traditional DMV offices. Here in Colorado, customers may schedule an appointment at their local DMV office through the state portal, Colorado.gov. And Nevada offers a mobile app that informs customers of DMV office wait times. Now the challenge becomes one of marketing to increase the adoption rate for these services, rather than a technology problem.

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