Customer Service

August 2014

AAMVA jurisdictions strive to provide effective and efficient service to keep customers happy.

BY Kathleen Hagan

DMVs have gotten a bad rap. For one reason or another, many people have learned to dread their visits to their local DMV office to obtain government documents such as a driver’s license or car registration.

But that’s beginning to change, as many jurisdictions have made strides to improve their customer service in recent years. From lowering wait times and offering online services to developing mobile applications and improving queuing systems, there are many ways to more effectively and efficiently deliver quality service to customers. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

What Customers Want

“Customers like to have choices about how, when and where they do their transactions,” says Mike Rankin, registrar and leader of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which was ranked the No. 1 DMV in the nation for customer satisfaction according to a 2013 survey conducted by

“They also like convenience,” he adds. “They don’t want to go and stand in line for hours—they want to do things quickly, sometimes online or at an automated kiosk. Having said that, our short average wait times for customers at our Ohio BMV deputy registrar agencies is such that the majority of our customers prefer to come into our 190 agencies operated by small business owners under contract with the BMV.”

When Rankin arrived at the Ohio BMV seven years ago, he says the BMV was receiving four to five complaint letters or emails per week. Now, they get about one every three to four months. He attributes this significant drop in complaints to the reorganization of the BMV and the streamlining of BMV work processes.

“Good customer service is something that you plan for. It doesn’t happen by accident,” Rankin says. “We took the organization of some 2,300 people and made sure that we had the right people in the right leadership positions, and the right people on the front lines, in the call centers and in the various other customer service positions. We also sat down and looked at our processes and figured out how to take 11 steps down to four—without spending any additional money.”

Don Snemis, director of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, says that the first step toward improving long wait times at the Indiana BMV was having an accurate measure. “It wasn’t until we started measuring wait times that they improved,” he says. “If you can’t measure your performance, then you can’t judge whether your efforts to improve are effective.”

Today, the Indiana BMV closely calculates the amount of time customers spend inside its branches. Upon entering the BMV, customers touch a screen to get a ticket to track their visit. Once the customer is called up to the counter, the first thing the service rep does is note that the customer is being served, which calculates the wait time. In 2013, the average wait time was seven minutes and one second, according to Snemis.

The Indiana BMV also calculates the total visit time—the wait time plus the time it takes to conduct the transaction—for its customers. In 2013, the total visit time was 11 minutes and 39 seconds on average.

Indiana has found that there is a direct correlation between its low wait and visit times and customer satisfaction. So in order to help keep wait and visit times low, the BMV has developed a bonus program for its employees. If a branch keeps its average visit time under 15 minutes and meets other program standards, the employees all receive bonuses. This incentive helps motivate employees to continually strive to do their jobs well and keep customers happy, Snemis says.

The Digital Age

Offering services online has become a common and easy way for DMVs to make their services extremely convenient for customers. “Everyone likes to be able to renew a registration at home in pajamas rather than making the trip to the branch—no matter how good the service is,” Snemis says. Plus, offering online services can help DMVs be more accurate, more efficient and keep lines down at branches.

Indiana is happy to offer almost 20 services through its website, In fact, online services have become so popular—about 40 percent of all of the BMV’s transactions are conducted outside of a branch, according to Snemis—that the BMV developed an award-winning mobile app for Android and iOS, too.

“It really is just a natural extension of our website and online services,” says Kent Schroder, chief of staff at the Indiana BMV. “People live off of their phones [and tablets] today. They aren’t tied to their desks as much, so the app gives our customers a more user-friendly interface for transactions [on these devices].”

The capabilities of Indiana’s myBMV app include the ability to:

  • Renew license plates
  • Update insurance information
  • Update contact information
  • Update emergency contact information, which interfaces with law enforcement
  • Renew a driver’s license
  • View driver status
  • View recent transactions
  • View branch locations and hours of operation
India DMV Wins myBMV award
In 2013, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles won a Digital Government Achievement Award in the “Government-to-citizen State government” category for its myBMV website and mobile applications.

But DMVs need to remember that when offering services—whether it be in person or through digital methods—they need to perform due diligence to make sure the information they receive from customers is accurate. “DMVs have to walk a fine line in providing good customer service while at the same time protecting themselves against fraud,” says Sheila Prior, regional director, member support at AAMVA.

Additionally, the Internet serves as a platform for people to have conversations about their experiences with the DMV. “Like it or not, we live in the age of social media where any customer—whether it’s an accurate statement or not—can post comments to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to tell others what their experience at the DMV was like,” Rankin says. “Because of that, it really is incumbent on all of us to pay close attention to what is being said out there on social media so we can respond accordingly if need be.”

DMVs can also use social media to educate customers about any news or updates, or use it to assist customers and respond to their questions in real time.

Likewise, jurisdictions can have chat functionality on their websites to better serve customers. For example, in addition to a call center, the Delaware DMV has a “Live Chat” feature on its website where customers can interact directly with customer service reps to get their questions about driver services, vehicle services or general information answered.

But as good as technology can be, a computer cannot answer every complex problem, Rankin warns. “You need to give people easy access to a live person when a computer can’t give them an answer.”

Maryland Motor Vehicle Association bus
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s bus (above) is sent across the state and consistently receives 100 percent satisfaction ratings from customers.

People Matter 

While many citizens prefer to conduct their business online, that doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar branches are becoming obsolete. The Ohio BMV processes nearly 12 million vehicle registrations annually. More than 1 million transactions are completed online, and another 2.4 million are done via mail. The rest are completed in-person at the 190 deputy registrar offices around the state. “Even with the choices our customers have, it’s interesting to see how people still like dealing with a live person,” Rankin says.

Snemis finds that citizens in urban areas tend to place more of a value on quick service, but those living in rural areas tend to focus on the social aspects of the BMV and value friendliness. “We like to walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak,” he says. “We’re friendly and courteous, and at the same time we’re efficient.”

“Customer service is the keystone to any successful organization, regardless of government or private industry,” says Jennifer Cohan, director of the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles and outgoing AAMVA Chair of the Board. “If you have good customer service, you will have fewer complaints, happier employees and provide more efficient services.”

Having happier employees can make for happier customers. In Delaware, Cohan’s hiring strategy is “hire for attitude and train for skill,” because it’s much more difficult to do the reverse, she says. “We seek out folks who have great customer service attitudes and train them on the DMV skills, and we’ve found this to be effective.”

Another effective tactic for Delaware is what Cohan calls Butts in Seats. Delaware changed the times of its employees’ shifts so that there are always employees (“butts in seats”) on the front lines during peak hours. “People don’t want to see unmanned front-line stations while they’re waiting,” Cohan says. “This way they know we’re doing our best to serve them.”

Sharing Strategies

When it comes to customer service, learning from past experiences, asking customers what they want and taking notes from other jurisdictions are all factors an agency can take into consideration when looking to improve how it provides services.

And when a change in process or procedure occurs, jurisdictions may be forced to change tactics to cater to the customer. “When a new law that is going to change the patterns of people coming into the office is implemented, jurisdictions do need to change the way they do business to make sure they are properly staffed and that office sizes, locations and hours are sufficient,” Prior says.

Prior also notes that jurisdictions are open about sharing their successes and struggles, and subsequently learn a lot from each other when changes do occur. Rankin echoes these sentiments: “The DMV community in North America is very good at sharing information and helping each other through AAMVA,” he says. “You don’t find that in a whole lot of professional organizations.”