Poor service from the DMV (gasp!)

I had an experience today that was a lot like discovering Santa Claus has the same handwriting as my mother. Today, when I called the California's Department of Motor Vehicles toll-free 'customer service' number, I received poor service. Yes, you read correctly, I received poor customer service from the DMV. You may want to stop reading for a moment to verify the earth is still spinning on its axis.

The situation started when I received a 'delinquent renewal notice' for my auto registration. This struck me as odd since I had not received an initial renewal notice. The part that stood out was the $154 late fee, so I made the call. I should have known things were not going to go well when (after 10 minutes on hold) the woman who answered the phone identified herself as "Agent G-7".

That may be the first problem...
Customer service at its best is between two human beings. At its worst, "Agent G-7" works diligently at getting "Customer 1234" off the phone as quickly as possible because the call is viewed as a cost rather than an opportunity to delight a customer.

It gets better (the story, not my situation)...
Agent G-7 looked up my account and informed me a renewal notice had been mailed in May. It didn't matter to her that I never received it. I asked her what she suggested I do and she replied, "I don't know, we don't take payments at this number." I again asked her what she suggested I do to resolve what I felt was an unreasonable fee and she suggested I go down to my local DMV office. What she didn't add, but I will, is that the trip would have likely resulted in a wait of one hour or more only to speak with an equally unsympathetic person who would tell me, "You have to pay the fee."

I asked Agent G-7 if she had any other ideas and she replied, "We don't take payments at this number." Um, yeah G-7, I got that part. So what else should I try? "Well, you could try calling Sacramento." With that, she gave me a phone number and hustled me off the phone. You may be surprised to learn the phone number Agent G-7 gave me didn't go anywhere -- it just rang and rang.

Thank goodness my call is very important to the IVR
A little editorial: I don't like "interactive voice response" or "IVR" systems. Those are systems where a computerized voice tries to interact with you and asks you to say "Yes" for English, "Si" for Spanish, or "Account Balance" to learn your account balance. I don't like IVR for two reasons. First, it sends the message to me that I'm not important enough for these people to pay a real human being to talk to me. Second, IVR often doesn't work too well.

Case in point was the DMV's IVR system. I called it next to pay my bill, but it couldn't understand a word I said. It even lectured me on how to say my license plate number so it could understand me better. I followed it's instructions, but it still didn't understand me. I got so frustrated, I briefly thought of giving Agent G-7 a call back before I remembered they don't take payments at her number.

OK, DMV, you got me.
The end of the story is I paid the fee. Not happily, not proudly, but because I felt it was the best of my terrible options. As a California resident, I know it would be tough to take my vehicle registration elsewhere (without moving), but I do have a few suggestions for the DMV to save a few dollars.

  1. Humanize your customer service representatives. Let people use their first names and give them the okay to empathize with their customers. Why? People like to be human, so your employee retention is likely to improve. People also like dealing with humans, so your average call time may go up a little, but your total number of calls will go down.
  2. Ditch your IVR. It doesn't work and annoys customers.
  3. Respond to the online customer service survey I completed. (The result on that one is still to be determined.)