Saturday, August 16, 2008

NC DMV- Driving's a privilege- one worth waiting for!

If ever anyone accuses the state of North Carolina of a lack of productivity, I have one potential solution- fully staff the DMV centers where driver's permits are issued, renewed, etc. I saw about 100 man hours of labor wasted as folks sat and stood for hours waiting for a process that takes minutes per person. The license plate issue and vehicle registration is contracted out, and is quick and easy. Yesterday, after acquiring the necessary documentation, I made both trips, for an interesting contrast.

You know you're in for it when you have to wait 5 minutes just to get the numbered ticket to wait.

And then I waited for almost 2 hours. During that time, I read through the driver's test booklet (had to take the test, and passed... woo-hoo!).

Most interesting driving rule in North Carolina, one I've never observed in action despite plenty of time in the state: when passing on a two-lane road, after checking that the path is clear from oncoming traffic and signaling with your blinkers, you apparently also notify the slower vehicle to your front of your intentions by "blowing your horn"! As my wife noted with a giggle, you do that around her neighborhood, they pull a gun on you. And in most places we've lived, you use the horn mostly to say "hi" to folks. Now, we'll have to remember it means "hi, we're passing you!" Of course, given how I've never seen this happen, I don't think anyone will have any clue why we're honking.

Anyway, here are a few other observations about my extended visit to the DMV. The wait was pretty much standard- my wife had to do the same thing later in the day while I watched the kids. Some poor folks at the DMV had to wait with their children in tow. Not a great place to entertain infants. The workers had to deal a number of times with the waiting clients- "stand behind the rope, please, this is a testing area"- I think I heard that about once every five minutes- because the waiting area was pretty much full, and so people were spilling out to the outside as well as into the testing area.

One guy was borderline "postal"- he made the mistake of leaving and coming back because one of the employees had estimated a 2 hour wait and he missed his turn (his ticket was called and he was not there- go to the end of the line!!!!). That was fun to watch- that is one of the benefits of my lack of empathy- things like this can be immensely entertaining.

I thought a few times about a phrase that I'll butcher from my organizational behavior training- something to the effect that "an organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets." Here are a few of the design elements that result in this DMV experience:

1. Not enough workers, especially to allow specialization- the same people were having to check people in, answer phones, do the documenting, and testing. When I finally got to the back area I observed employees working very hard- so it is not a question of them sitting on their hands....

2. There's something unsettling about waiting for almost two hours to be seen for something that takes less than 15 minutes total, and getting interrupted while your traffic officer answers the phone over 5 times giving directions to the DMV and answering other related questions. It screams "you are the least important person in the room!" (as well as "this is why it took almost 2 hours to get to you")- always a customer service winner! They need to get one of those incredibly annoying answering systems with the menu...for directions press 1, for required documents for initial permits press 2... etc. They could then get a head start on disturbing clients who make the mistake of calling, and not have to interrupt their work.

3. Physical layouts matter. The waiting room area is adjacent to the area where the officers have their desks, you do your testing, etc. But there's a large wall which obscures the view from one area to the other.

3a. Effects to employees: So on one side, the understaffed group works continuously, but can't see the waiting hopeful drivers to be. But they know we're out there, and to a degree they know we've all been waiting a long time (someone asked one of the officers if they should come back at a better time, to which the officer responded, "Lady, it is always like this...."). This waiting has an understandable effect on our moods, and their eager anticipation to meet us.

3b. Effects to "clients": we can't see them working, we see little progress as only from time to time is someone released from our Dante's ring of waiting in DMV purgatory, while the huddled masses curse our fate. We just sit and stew. This is the perfect storm and if anyone ever goes postal in Mooresville, I expect it to be here (or at one of the NASCAR garages- racing fanaticism knows no bounds here). On the bright side, the long wait gives plenty of time to study that DMV testing book, and the wall leaves privacy- you can study in seclusion with the other 30 people in a waiting area designed for 15!

My wife, much more social than I, took the opportunity to visit her fellows in waiting. She discovered that this is actually one of the better DMV locations- they actually have chairs in the waiting area, and given their pristine reputation, folks travel from afar to come get the customer service that we have the privilege of enjoying here in Mooresville. How 'bout that!? We're so blessed in Mooresville!

HONK! HONK! I'm passing!


Andrea said...

That was an entertaining post. I'm hoping the VA DMV is better, but we'll see. I'm still waiting for an important piece of mail on it with my name on it so I can prove I'm a native.

Corry Cropper said...

Your post reminds me of a good line from a novel by Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit. He writes that living in Paris, every day at least ten people want to kill you, most of them standing in line behind you at the bank or at the ticket counter in the metro.

Way to pass the test...