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In my old state of residence, when I purchased a new car, the dealership was able to provide me with plates and handle all of the registration issues on-the-spot. All I had to do was write a check, sign a contract and drive away. Fast forward to last Fall when I decided to buy a car in my new state of residence. I gave the dealership a check, signed on the dotted line and drove off with temporary paper license plates. The dealership told me that I’d be receiving a card in the mail from the DMV roughly a week before my temporary plates expired that would tell me the cost and when and where to pick up my plates. That seemed easy enough.

It was roughly a week before my temporary plates expired, and I still hadn’t received a notification. Soon, my plates were officially expired, and I was officially breaking the law. As a good citizen, I wanted to address the issue immediately so I called the DMV for further guidance. Their first words were, “I cannot help you unless you have the vehicle’s VIN.” They could neither look up my record under my last name, SSN or temporary plate number. I hung up because I did not bring the VIN number to work and resolved to just go to the DMV in person.

I woke up early the next day to arrive at the DMV before it opened. In my purse was everything imaginable that the DMV could require. I wasn’t going to be defeated in person. When my number was called, I told them, “I don’t have my card but I am hoping to get some license plates.” The DMV worker told me, “You don’t need the card to get plates; I’ll just need your license, proof of insurance and a check.” Why wasn’t this VERY RELEVANT piece of information written anywhere?!

I realize this is long-winded on the anecdote, but it perfectly highlights the frustrations that the average citizen may experience when trying to access or receive services from an agency or organization. Return on citizenship (ROC) is the value of services that a citizen feels he or she receives from a public entity in exchange for his or her tax dollars. While it isn’t objectively quantifiable, I’d rate my experience at the DMV as a negative one hundred. I had wasted so much time and energy on a process that I knew could be so much simpler.

When trying to determine whether a citizen is receiving an acceptable level of ROC, agencies and organizations should first look at what their peers are offering to help determine a baseline. In this case, my local DMV would have been shocked at how quickly a resident from my previous state could receive plates from his or her DMV. This analysis could help determine what the DMV best practices are and set baselines for performance.

Once the industry best practices are set, the DMV could to look outside of the DMV to other service-oriented government agencies as well as the private sector organizations. It would give the DMV a good sample space of what citizens are expecting in other service areas. For example, I may get grumpy at standing in a ten-minute line at the grocery store but I would be thrilled to stand in a ten-minute line to send a package at the post office.

Once observations are made, the DMV should set some reasonable goals and steps to realize these goals. One of my biggest sore spots during the DMV debacle was my inability to find the information I needed from the DMV website. Two simple solutions would be to expand the FAQs section and provide an email address where citizens could submit questions and receive answers within a reasonable amount of time. If the same question is repeatedly asked via email, the answer should be posted on the FAQs page.

By observing best practices, organizations can make small improvements that greatly improve citizens’ experiences. These improvements, in turn, increase citizens’ return on citizenship. Working with a consulting firm that understands citizens’ needs will help your organization discover best practices and select the right technology to support improved processes.

Learn more by downloading our white paper, The Need for Public Sector Innovation: Facing the Challenges Posed by Public Sector IT Initiatives.

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