Thursday, June 14, 2007

Living in DC: 5 Ideas to Make My Friendly Neighborhood DMV More Customer-Friendly

To renew my driver's license, I spent close to two hours this afternoon at the Georgetown DMV office -

10 minutes waiting in line to get a form and number from the person at the first counter.
5 minutes waiting to take the eye test and pay the fee.
95 minutes waiting to get my picture taken.

Here are some ways I came up with to remedy the situation - developed during the standing-in-line part, as I was reading The 4-Hour Work Week while I waited to be photographed:

1. Distribute numbers the way they do at the deli. Hook it up to a computer, and remove the need for a live person handing out each slip of paper.

2. Mount the forms on wall racks. They've already got the forms available online. You may ask, "why didn't you just run the form off at home?" I experienced computer problems when I tried - my problem. However, I would still have to wait in line for the number.

3. Designate more "information kiosk" staff during the crush time - which will always be the lunch hours. They can help those people who need to do more than fill out the form. I'll gladly stand in line if I have specific questions.

4. Buy more cameras. There was only one, which caused the 90-minute bottleneck.

5. Track lighting. Fluorescent lighting screams "YOU'RE STUCK IN A BUREAUCRACY OF OUR CREATION AND WE DON'T CARE!"

I did have one good experience today, when I called the DMV number with a question. The employee at the other end (I didn't get her name) quickly and accurately gave me the information I needed.

Still, I'm going to forward this post to the DC DMV and see if they can use any of my suggestions. I fully expect to hear back from them something along the lines of "The lunch hours are always our most busy times of the day. Customers should be aware that they may be required to wait for services. If you can plan on arriving at off hours, the DMV will most likely be able to handle your request more quickly."

I'm sure the DMV knows when they'll be swamped with people. And if they know what the problem times are, they can do something about it. Like institute one of my ideas, or better yet, come up with their own. I'll bet DMV employees, being on the front lines, have a wealth of ideas to bring to the table. They may never have been asked.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Living In DC: A Customer Service Spectrum
There's a perfectly-situated mom&pop non-chain no-place-better-to-sit-in-the-city establishment on my block called Java House. I use it as my office daily from 2-5pm and sometimes later. The food's marvelous. Usually all you have to do is take a seat in the patio and one of the employees will take your order. Sooner or later.

There's enormous variation in the customer service I experience here, though. I'm talking light-years of difference. It all depends on who's working.

The weekend daily guy is absolutely awesome. After inquiring how your are (with genuine interest), he asks what kind of sugar you want with your ice tea (sweet-n-low, splenda, equal, sugar in the raw, or just plain old white), and wants to know many packets. Which he then he immediately delivers.

The weekday woman
is middle-aged and has been here for awhile. She's attentive and efficient, wastes no words, and appears often on the patio, so you're assured you won't have to wait. I've become such a regular that she'll just bring me my ice tea less than five minutes after I've sat down.

The weekday afternoon guy
is quiet but professional. He doesn't work every day, so you're not sure when you'll see him. More of an assistant manager, which means if he's the only one on, it may be a few minutes before you see him outside. In these cases, you can see him working inside, often tending to the big coffee bean roaster. He'll also bring me my drink before I order it.

The weekday afternoon young lady will often make you wait. She's always smiling, but sometimes you won't see that smile for 20 minutes. Sometimes it looks as if she's ignoring customers when she passes among the patio tables. While I wrote this post, I had to go inside to order.

Quirky, yes. Maddeningly annoying? Not really. No one who works here makes all that much money. But with the infestation of all those chain shops (Dupont Circle has three Starbucks - and you can see all three at once!) it makes me wonder if sometimes, the mom and pops count on quirky to save the day.


The accompanying picture to this post is from a Washington Post article on this very cafe. The author gets the atmosphere right, and I can see some of the patrons she describes. But there has been a huge increase in laptop use, which includes me!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nobody Ever Asked Me To:

#1: Get my first raise.

I'm reading Timothy Ferriss's The 4-Hour Work Week and I was particularly impressed with the risks and chances he's taken throughout his life. It made me look at my background in a different light. I've always thought of myself as a low-risk/no-risk taker, a guy who'd rather be miserable with the status quo than chance getting called on the carpet for his actions.

But I've been able to identify times in my life when I actually did take risks. Tim's examples have helped me see that what I've previously thought were errors and faux pas actions can be taken as assertive and positive. In each case, I noticed that my success in the risk taking was due to my having started along the path, and nobody asked me to begin that journey.

Take my first job out of college, with the federal government. I noticed I should have been hired at a higher grade level since I had a college degree. I asked the personnel office about getting a raise. They said "we'll see what we can do." I went back to work.

A few days later, I get called into the Director's office. She's holding a form. She says: "I just received this from Personnel. They're asking me to sign it in order to raise your grade level. What do you have to do with this?"

"Well, I said, "I saw that people with a college degree should be hired at that grade level, and I just went to Personnel to talk to them about it."

The director continued. "We don't do things that way here. Employees should not be requesting pay raises. They must be approved by either myself or, to start with, your supervisor before official paperwork is started."

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't know, since I've just been here a month."

The director sits down, takes out a pen and signs the form. "However, I'm going to put this through and approve your new pay level."

I was a bit shocked. "Did I do something right or wrong here?" I wondered. "She's telling me I did something wrong, yet acting as if I did something right."

"Thank you," I said. "I won't do it again."

And that's how I got my first raise.

I need to remember that more often, and concentrate more on other times when I asserted myself, especially now since I'm trying to get myself to take more chances.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Broadway Tony Loses to Tony Soprano
and what the American Theatre Wing can do about it...

The Washington Post is reporting that this year's Tony Awards show (aired Sunday night, June 10) could be the least-watched Tony Awards ever. The American Theatre Wing (which co-produces the Tonys) blames The Sopranos finale over on HBO. I think it's because, for the majority of Americans, live theater (much less Broadway itself) is not relevant to their lives.

I propose that the awards be broadcast in an entirely different way, with grassroots support from those people across the world who are genuinely interested in the proceedings. The Tonys could take a lesson from Timothy Ferriss, who tells us on page 34 of his book The 4-Hour Work Week that we should "Emphasize Strengths, Don't Fix Weaknesses."

Broadway has a rabidly committed audience out there. The Tonys should stop playing to the general public.

Exactly how could they do this?

1. Broadcast the show in high definition not only nationwide, but to movie theaters in medium-large cities with active theater communities and to schools with good drama programs (as the Metropolitan Opera does now.)

2. Create "Throw Your Own Tony Awards" materials containing ideas (such as "gather people together and find a large-screen television to watch the show on") that will not only market the awards but show the fans that Broadway cares about their opinion (more on that below.) Include tips for everything - party theme, getting the best high definition signal, etc. Send it to anyone who wants it.

3. Hand out most of the awards before the curtain goes up on the actual ceremony itself.

4. Now for the big change: instead of mind-numbing presenter after presenter reading lists from cue cards, broadcast extended sections of the shows up for "Best Musical," as well as those with top actor/actress nominations. Give the audience background info in the toolkits. Let them know What The Story Is. The two musical excerpts I saw - from "Grey Gardens" and "Spring Awakening" - were energetic, but I can't tell you the most basic plot line for either of them.

5. Develop a new award category: America Votes for Tonys.

6. Allow the fans to vote, either by phone or online during the show, for their favorite musical (in each category) based on the scenes they've just seen (like on American Idol.)

7. Ignore the plays, at least for the telecast. In past shows, I've never seen an excerpt from a play work in generating my interest when shown on TV.

I'm sure the American Theatre Wing, home of the Tony Awards, struggles every year with making their awards telecast relevant to a national audience of non-theatergoers. But they're selling a product that most of us cannot purchase without committing a major amount of time and money to do so. In order to actually see a Broadway show, you have to reserve a hotel room (in advance, at least $250/night), travel to New York city (another outlay of at least $250), and purchase tickets (again, in advance, at around $100 per seat.) I've just spent over $500 and the orchestra hasn't even tuned up.

And while the American Theatre Wing may have data that shows an upturn in box office receipts for winning shows, have they ever tried to figure out if the awards telecast is responsible for developing interest in people who up until now have no interest in Broadway (or even just a little?)

I know they're trying to develop that interest. Last night's tag line was "There's a little bit of Broadway in everyone." But I didn't understand what they meant by that.

The show itself looked and felt just like any other awards show.

Support the audience that cares. Let them convert the masses.