Customer Service…From Six Feet Away
How vendors that support the driver services industry are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic
Stoney Hale, Executive Consultant, Business Information Systems (BIS)
At BIS, we’ve been very fortunate that we’re still able to provide 100% of our services and the same level of outstanding customer service we usually do. For disaster recovery purposes, our entire staff already had company-issued laptops and the ability to work from home. We also have certain employees who work remotely full-time, due to the logistics of providing services in multiple jurisdictions. So we knew how this process should work. To make the transition easier, our marketing team created some internal communications with tips for working from home and work/life balance.
The biggest change for us is using videoconferencing and messaging instead of having face-to-face meetings. However, this hasn’t created any major hiccups. Even our employees who are used to working with others in person, such as sales staff, are doing things like giving product demonstrations via web conferencing.
On the customer side, we know this crisis has been very challenging for DMVs, and we are grateful that our disaster preparedness has allowed us to help our customers through it. Unsurprisingly, we’re receiving more questions from our customers about online services and kiosks. For example, our Auto Assistant app, which allows users to present and renew their vehicle registration (among other functionality), has seen increased interest. But for basically every online service we offer, we have customers who want to take advantage of it.
While we should see an influx of customers as DMVs begin reopening, I also think this crisis will encourage more citizens to utilize online services. We’ve found there is very little friction with these services; when a customer uses it once and has a good experience, they almost always continue to do it that way. Website services, kiosks that allow for driver services while maintaining social distancing and other online services have been really valuable during the pandemic. I really see this as the way forward both for DMVs and customers.
Frank Dean, Business Development and David Alderson, Partner, Fast Enterprises, LLC
For Fast, we had to adapt to the stay-at-home policies just as our clients did. We had disaster-preparedness and business-continuity plans in place, but I don’t think anyone anticipated every jurisdiction would have the same crisis at the same time.
We didn’t have a work-from-home policy in place before the pandemic, so there was definitely a shift. Our teams were able to make that transition quite well given the circumstances, and, at the same time, support our clients and keep their systems up and running. This involved many of the practical challenges that other companies are dealing with: providing employees monitors, setting up VPN connections, managing work/life balance, etc. Since everything we do happens at a local level, with employees spread across the many jurisdictions we serve, this also created logistical challenges that we were fortunately able to solve without service interruptions for our clients.
What we’re doing hasn’t really changed, but the pace of things happening has. Ironically, with DMVs shut down, the pace of work has increased because there are so many new solutions that need to be figured out quickly. For example, in one jurisdiction where we provide services, the governor made an executive order that allowed senior citizens to renew their driver registrations online. We were able to get that functionality into production the same day as the announcement.
With COVID-19, we think we’re already seeing a paradigm shift in how people think of the DMV and how they relate to it. In the months of March and April, one jurisdiction we work with saw a 300% increase in usage volume of online sessions. The virus will be around for a while, and it’s going to change the way people think about going into places. Our customers and their customers—the consumer—are going to demand more options to do things remotely. We’ve heard from several executives who say they don’t see the DMV ever going back to business as usual.
We see this new normal as essentially phase three of the COVID-19 recovery process. Phase one is the immediate triage that is being done and has been done in the past few months (crisis management, extending deadlines, waiving penalties, etc.). Phase two is the reopening of DMVs and transitioning to how we used to do business, but with social distancing and mitigation of disease spread in mind. And then phase three is this new normal where we are thinking less about what happens in the DMV office and more about moving people out of the office to conduct their business.
If there is any silver lining in this crisis from the driver services perspective, it is that this becomes an impetus for DMVs to have a transformation. When we used to think about what is on the horizon for DMVs, we would think about the next five to 10 years. Now we’re looking at one or two years from now and seeing there will need to be a lot of innovation. When we’re talking to DMVs about this, our message is about the resilience of these solutions. If you’re not thinking about what will happen to your services if and when things change, you won’t be ready for the next crisis. We have the ability to adapt and act quickly, and supporting agencies to find solutions they (or we) may not even know they need yet is what we’ll continue to do.
Drew Nicholson, President & COO, Intellectual Technology, Inc. (ITI)
Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been able to process over 2 million transactions on behalf of our DMV customers and continue to safely offer the important services we perform every day.
Nearly every business was determining how to manage through the crisis, including how to keep business moving. For ITI, we had two immediate and primary focuses: the care and safety of our employees and helping our DMV customers face their challenges. Our employees rallied to open lines of communication with the customers they serve, and continue to deliver essential services. As we defined our plans to provide a safe environment for our employees, we communicated with many of our DMV partners to share those plans and jointly discuss how we might weather this situation together.
Through our communication with many DMV contacts, it was clear that they had a catch-22 on their hands. Close the offices for safety, while also providing services for citizens to keep operations moving forward. As such, our focus was to ensure the lines of communication remained open, carry whatever load we could in our facilities where we still had essential employees, and accelerate implementation of solutions that could transact DMV business outside the DMV offices.
Keeping the lines of communication open simply required an outreach to let our colleagues at the DMVs know we were available to them and ready to help. Whether working from home or in the office, our account managers and customer service representatives made phone calls and sent emails, alerting customers of our availability. In many cases, because of our relationships, a staff member may have a cell phone number to which they would send a text to check in.
Regarding helping to carry the load, ITI has several arrangements with DMVs ranging from complete turnkey license plate services to license plate or registration fulfillment. With these services, we can put the onus of being in a warehouse, printing, testing, validating, packaging and shipping on our team, allowing the DMVs to continue to respond to remote requests for license plates and vehicle registrations.
Relative to extending the DMV reach outside the office, our self-service kiosks are a primary way for citizens to continue to transact business when access to their DMV office is limited or not available. We took steps to work with our retail partners—typically your neighborhood grocery store or big box store—to make citizens aware of the self-service kiosks. Further, we mobilized our field technician staff to service the kiosks, essentially replacing consumables as they depleted. In some jurisdictions, during the COVID-19 shutdown, we processed thousands of transactions per day, maintaining service to the citizens and keeping DMV revenue flowing.
Another focus was our online driver-testing solution KnowTo Drive. Prior to the pandemic, we were implementing new fraud-prevention and identity-verification features to more effectively serve citizens at-home and at third-party agencies. When the pandemic hit, our engineering team put all other efforts aside and accelerated the completion of the advanced protection features to enable us to offer the KnowTo Drive sooner than expected with enhanced fraud prevention.
Kellie Benoit, Manager, NIC, and Vice Chair, Industry Advisory Board
NIC has been fortunate to draw on 28 years of experience serving DMVs, and our operations fundamentally have not changed due to COVID-19. A benefit of having a global threat-
monitoring program is that we began tracking the virus-related headlines in late-January and started to build a comprehensive pandemic management plan in early February. We were ahead of the curve and had finished moving all of our employees to remote work well before the first states started issuing shelter-in-place orders. As DMVs across the country were forced to close in March, NIC was running a 100% virtual operation, and we were ready to support agencies as they quickly shifted to all-online processes.
Digital government is NIC’s single focus, and our mission is to make it easier for citizens and businesses to access essential government services. As government offices closed, digital provided the only means to provide operational continuity. Our core DMV services have been well-suited to help DMVs manage through the COVID-19 crisis. Every transaction we can conduct online delivers a rapid result for a citizen, and it also helps move a person out of the line at a branch office.
We have seen spikes in online usage, and many of our DMV services are seeing transaction volumes that are often as high as double or triple the normal run rate. Customer service inquiries are also spiking, and the inbound email, chatbot and phone support requests we handle are estimated at threefold in many jurisdictions we serve. Additionally, DMVs we work with are now seeing adoption rates for key services at an all-time high.
We are also working closely with DMV leaders across the country on several innovative programs to support more online transactions and to digitize activities that previously have only taken place at branch offices. One jurisdiction we work with is about to test a new service that offers an online version of the driver permit test, and we’re also exploring how to proctor online exams for a variety of services in another jurisdiction. Each innovation moves the DMV office closer to a true virtual office environment, and we are honored to have a seat at the table for these brainstorming discussions.
NIC’s services are highly scalable and available on any device, and we’ve been both prepared for and able to handle large traffic spikes during COVID-19. Even as social-
distancing guidelines are relaxed, we believe digital services will continue to see very high usage, and we will be ready to support the demand. We will also continue to help our jurisdiction partners raise awareness for DMV digital services, so we can pull more citizens out of the lines at branch offices by using a variety of awareness-building tactics. It has been an honor to work collaboratively with our DMV partners to provide service continuity to citizens during this challenging time, and we are thankful they have put their trust in us.