Road Worrier

Road Worrier: NC DMV tries to improve 'customer service'

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

— Gary LeBoeuf hoped he had brought all the paperwork he needed for a new North Carolina driver’s license, but he wasn’t surprised to learn he would need something else.

He had his old Massachusetts license, his military ID card and proof that he had bought a home in Raleigh. There was a USAA auto insurance card in his wallet – but nothing to show that LeBoeuf’s liability coverage was up to date. He shrugged.

“I’ll have to go home and get it and come back,” LeBoeuf, 67, retired from an Army career, said Monday at the Division of Motor Vehicles office on Spring Forest Road in North Raleigh. “It’s not a big deal.”

Daniel Johnson, who has the new DMV job title of “facilitator,” didn’t want to let that happen. He suggested that LeBoeuf ask USAA to fax his proof-of-coverage form so the DMV license examiner would receive it by the time LeBoeuf finished his traffic-signs test. Alas, LeBoeuf had left home without his phone.

“Tell you what,” Johnson said, pulling his own phone out of his pocket. “Let me see that USAA card. I don’t mind doing this at all.”

Johnson is part of DMV’s effort to start treating North Carolinians better. Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned last year on “fixing DMV,” and he promised this year that state agencies would make “customer service” a new priority.

Two-hour waits were not unusual at the North Raleigh driver’s license office, one of the busiest in the state, so it was picked as one of several test sites for a slew of changes.

The office keeps longer hours on weekdays (8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), and it reopens Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. The new facilitator checks with folks coming in the door to see what they need from DMV and whether they’ve brought everything DMV will need from them. This is an idea borrowed from businesses across the country.

“When you walk into an Apple store or maybe an airline ticket counter, you have that person that greets you – that’s the triage, as we called it in the military,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, a retired Army general, said at a recent meeting with News & Observer editors.

The idea is to keep someone from waiting a wasted hour to see a license examiner, only to learn that she’ll have to come back some other time with more paperwork.

And it’s more than that: Maybe those missing documents can be printed out right in the DMV office, at the new computer kiosk.

If you’ve set up an online account with your cable or power company, you can print out a recent bill that shows your name at your address. Johnson has configured the computer with quick links to utility companies and auto insurance companies, and to a few federal agencies that can provide some of the needed documents.

“If a person doesn’t have to leave and come back, that makes a big difference for us as well as the customer,” Fernandez O’Neal, lead examiner at the North Raleigh office, said Monday.

There are still cases where DMV visitors will have to come back another day with passports, Social Security cards or certified copies of birth certificates or marriage licenses.

But early indications are that some of the changes are reducing wait times at busy offices. When DMV compared North Raleigh’s wait times during four weeks before and four weeks after the changes took effect in mid-August, the improvements were substantial: the average wait fell almost by half, from 59 minutes to 30 minutes.

Saturday morning is now the most popular day of the week for DMV in many of the 19 driver’s license offices – out of a total 117 statewide – that offer the new weekend hours.

“It’s parents and their teenagers,” Tata said. “Parents don’t have to work on Saturday, and teenagers are not in school.”

Allen Spalt of Carrboro said he’s glad to hear of DMV’s efforts. He wasn’t happy about his own two-hour wait this past summer at the Carrboro office. But Spalt doesn’t agree with McCrory’s “customer service” philosophy. He says he can’t bargain with those license examiners, and he can’t take his business to a competitor if he doesn’t like DMV.

“That’s what a customer is – there’s choice involved,” said Spalt, 70. “I think government agencies should be friendly and cooperative with the people that are using them, but I'm not a customer of the DMV. It's a legal requirement that I get a license to drive.”

Gary LeBoeuf was happy with his 45-minute stop at the DMV office. His insurance form arrived by fax, and he left with a promise that his new driver’s license will arrive soon in his mailbox.

“It went great,” LeBoeuf said later. “I can’t get over how nice and efficient they were down there. So, so much better than DMV in Massachusetts.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com; blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown On Twitter @Road_Worrier

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