Next-Level Service

Next-Level Service

How motor vehicle agencies are adapting to meet growing customer expectations

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As industry veterans are well aware, customer service expectations for motor vehicle agencies have increased steadily over the years. And as customers interact more frequently with companies that provide near-instant gratification—whether that’s same-day package deliveries from Amazon or dinner delivered from GrubHub—these expectations will only grow.

“In the world of social media, it’s the ‘now’ mentality,” says Jason Brown, assistant commissioner for Customer Service Management at the Virginia DMV. “I think we have to adapt to that world.”

In many jurisdictions, this adaptation has been happening for years, whether that means improving customer interactions, employing online services and communication to better address problems and provide information, bringing driver services to the customer, or other techniques that evolve the concept of customer service in a motor vehicle agency environment.


When it comes to customer service contact centers, “the dynamic has changed,” says Justin Davis, director of Contact Center Operations at the Indiana BMV. “In the past five years, we have noticed it even more. With the tech boom, the expectation of great service is out there.”

Davis came to the Indiana BMV two years ago with a background in the tech industry, and he used that perspective to analyze the way their contact center approaches customer service. He noticed that the center had a high rate of attrition and agents focused too much on a “get them in, get them out” mentality.

“Increasing that hard number [of customers served] doesn’t do any good if you’re giving them the wrong information,” says Davis. “Customers don’t mind waiting a reasonable amount of time if they get the right information and their issue is resolved. We want agents to focus on giving the right information the first time and creating a great experience for customers.”

To achieve this, Davis and his team first looked at the experience of the agents. With an attrition rate approaching 200%, it was clear something was wrong. They started by modernizing agents’ schedules and giving them more breaks. “Look at your culture and the little things you can change, and often those will give you big wins,” says Davis. “Talk to your employees and take the time to learn what would make a difference for them. One guy can’t come in and change everything; it really comes down to the team.”

Davis explains that improving the schedule and working environment at the center then allowed him and his team to work on coaching agents on how to better respond to customer issues. After making these changes, Davis’ team now regularly receives 92–93% customer satisfaction in feedback surveys.

“When we got to the point of implementing the survey, the team was nervous. I made a bet with them, saying, ‘I guarantee you that the first month we’ll be above 90%,’” says Davis. “I sat here for a year and listened to the way the dynamic changed in our phone calls from negative language like ‘I can’t help you’ or ‘I can’t do that’ to ‘I’d love to help you with that’ or ‘Let me look into that.’ And in our first month, we got a 92%.”


Beyond the call center, Davis also notes that one of his goals for the Indiana BMV’s customer service is to provide “the same experience across all avenues—online, at kiosks, in the office or calling in to the contact center.”

At the Virginia DMV, Brown works with his team to keep the experience consistent by “pushing heavily for our folks to document in the file when they have an interaction with a customer. In urban centers, like Richmond, we probably have five or six DMVs in or around that area. Someone can easily go to one and a week later to a different one in the same area and we can pull up their previous transactions so they’re not starting over each time.”

For Davis and Brown, training has been extremely important, both in customer satisfaction on a transaction-by-transaction basis and in keeping consistency across all channels.

“Teaching front-line customer service representatives is key,” says Brown. “I was in our Portsmouth office last week and as I was sitting there the counter person called the customer by name and said, ‘I see you’re here to get a Real ID,’ and the customer commented, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ This was made possible by our queue flow system, but that kind of customer service is innate in some, and we try to train to it as well. Even if a customer has to wait longer than they anticipated, we want to make it worth the wait and give them that drop-dead awesome experience.”


Virginia’s DMV 2 Go van allows customers to have more convenient access to essential DMV services.

Another important way Brown and his team at the Virginia DMV are improving customer service is by bringing DMV services to customers where they already are. Since 2010, they have been working on a mobile operations system that now consists of DMV 2 Go vans and DMV Connect services, which are essentially a “DMV in a suitcase.”

“The program started with providing offenders who were about to be released with an ID card, and there was tangible evidence to show this reduced recidivism,” says Brown. “Now we have DMV Connect and DMV 2 Go all over the state. We run a program in Dulles International Airport where we regularly provide DMV services for Delta’s 6,000 employees there. We contacted 3,000 people who were due for a renewal in the Richmond area and asked them to set up appointments to renew at a local library. We were afraid no one would reply. We filled up so quickly the first day we ended up doing three days of renewals. These are all transactions that then take some of the weight off our offices.”

Bringing DMV services to the customer has worked in many jurisdictions. Walter Craddock, administrator at the Rhode Island DMV, explains that they had a lot of success with simply relocating an office to an area that had a higher demand for services. “The branch originally had five workstations and we had to increase that to eight because of the higher volume,” he says. “And it also improved the customer experience because parking was limited at the previous location and the new location has significantly better parking.”

Craddock also pointed to a reservation system the Rhode Island DMV is working on as another way to make the DMV work better for customers with increasingly busy schedules. The reservation program went through a three-week pilot period when the DMV recently updated its computer system. The pilot was such a success that they are working to roll it out system-wide.

“It’s a hybrid system,” says Craddock. “We’ll still take walk-ins, but people with reservations will be prioritized, almost like how a restaurant operates. We’re currently rolling it out for CDL holders and, by the end of the year, we plan to have it available across the system.”


Craddock notes that the reservation system they are implementing at the Rhode Island DMV will likely have a big impact on wait times, which is always an important metric for DMV administrators to judge customer service. Beyond the reservation system, Craddock says getting more people to use online services is also an important factor for wait times, because each transaction done online is one less transaction that has to be done in the office.

In Maryland, Christine Nizer, administrator of the Maryland MVA, and her team work with vendor NIC to take a holistic approach to improving customer service and experience. The strategy includes contact centers and MVA offices, of course, but it also focuses on online communications.

“We’re seeing a trend in customer expectations that they want service 24/7,” says Nancy Schmid, director of operations for NIC’s Maryland office. “Another trend is that, whether it’s through live chat or a chatbot, we’re getting fewer phone calls, and more people want to interact in real-time online. For example, I recently saw a statistic that said 65% of millennials would prefer to go online to get support rather than speak with someone.”

One of the projects NIC works on with the Maryland MVA is an online chatbot that can automatically respond to queries. To make this successful, NIC and the MVA sat down together to aggregate questions and answers, and then tested the chatbot, fine-tuning its responses based on user feedback.

In addition to the chatbot, the MVA developed a customer service dashboard that allows feedback to flow into one place, regardless of its source. This helps the MVA keep track of customers’ interactions and keep those interactions consistent, from online chats to phone calls to in-person service. The real-time feedback the MVA receives has greatly improved their customers’ satisfaction.

“After an interaction, we ask three questions to customers related to overall satisfaction,” says Nizer. “If all three responses are negative, a manager gets a message in real time and they’re able to engage the customer within 24 hours, if not before they leave an office. It’s amazing how that immediate follow-up can turn things around. We have 80% of customers respond to the survey and 98% rate our agents as professional, helpful and courteous.”

Regardless of where jurisdictions are interacting with customers, it’s clear there are many ways to improve the experience. While Indiana, Virginia, Rhode Island and Maryland have taken big strides in increasing customer satisfaction, these are just small steps on their customer service journey. As customer expectations increase, the most important step is taking the initiative to meet them.


One of the more recent developments in motor vehicle agency customer service is the use of social media. Here are a couple ways jurisdictions are incorporating social media into their overall customer service strategy.

Maryland MVA: “The Maryland MVA has a social media coordinator who works with our branch offices’ staff and engages directly to improve the customer experience,” says Christine Nizer, administrator of Maryland MVA. To resolve an issue, the coordinator will take the customer’s feedback—often from a direct, or non-public, message—and reach out to a branch manager to find that customer’s information and determine the best course of action. “We want to resolve issues quickly,” says Nizer.

Virginia DMV: The Virginia DMV has a social media consultant that is always looking at websites like Facebook and Twitter. “They can say to customers: ‘If you direct message your phone number, we can have a customer service representative call you,’” says Jason Brown, assistant commissioner for Customer Service Management at the Virginia DMV. Brown gives an example of a customer tweeting at the DMV that they’ve been on hold for 20 minutes. Their social media consultant will directly respond and let them know they will be taken care of shortly. “That way they feel like they’ve been heard,” says Brown. “We also have a feature at our DMVs where we can direct message customers to say they’ll be called next—the feedback from that is phenomenal.”

Indiana BMV: Indiana also has assets dedicated to social media interactions. “We have a dedicated resource within our Marketing & Communications team that manages Facebook and Twitter comments and messages as they come in,” says Justin Davis, director of Contact Center Operations at the Indiana BMV. “We are in the process of utilizing some existing technology to create a social media channel, where the interactions would automatically route to agents like phone calls do.”

Washington DOL: In Washington state, it’s not just Twitter and Facebook being monitored. “Our customers are also using sites like Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube to ask us questions,” says Gigi Zenk, communications director, Washington State Department of Licensing. DOL representatives are also making sure to keep sensitive customer information secure. “We can answer basic questions online, or direct them to our call center when the question involves personal information,” she says.

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