Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise by the County Government

Virginia residents (in most jurisdictions) pay local personal property tax on their cars. As evidence of payment, each car must display that year's tax decal for the city or county of residence.

My 5 mile move placed me in another county. As a result, I had to get a new sticker. Since my old sticker expires October 5, and I knew that payment by mail or online wouldn't give me the decal in time, I decided to take a trip to the Arlington (VA) County Courthouse.

A trip to the DMV (Virginia's Motor Vehicle administration) is guaranteed to be at least a 1 hour trip - even if it is "not busy." Visiting other government bodies (in person) usually takes at least 2 hours (and that's if you have all of your stuff together). I was fully prepared to camp out for awhile.

I was in and out of the Arlington County courthouse in 15 minutes.

This includes waiting in 2 lines - 1 to process all of my paperwork. 1 to pay the bill. AND there was a reasonable-sized crowd. I suspect that I got somewhat lucky since I didn't have to wait very long (maybe 1 minute) to get to a person in the first line. Still - I was mighty impressed by the experience.

I had most of my information together. Sadly, I seem to have misplaced my vehicle registration in the move. I DO have the Vehicle Registration Renewal form so I brought that. Now - any other government office would have had the person looking at me and saying - "But I need your registration." We would have gone in circles until I either gave up in disgust or (if I were feeling particularly energetic) I called in 3 levels of management, then gave up in disgust.

The clerk processing my forms in Arlington County, however, said
"Great! I have the information I need here. Since they sent the renewal to you, you are obviously registered in Virginia. Hey - I can renew your tags if you want too!"

You mean I don't have to wait an hour + at the DMV or muddle through the user unfriendly online processing forms or confusing kiosks?

"Nope - I can do it right here, if you are ready. If not - you are welcome to come back. Just bring this renewal form and the inspections."

"Oh - let's change your voter registration too while you're here."

Everyone else also seemed to be getting the same level of customer service.

Not expected.

I did take a glance at the badges of the people working behind the first counter and noticed that everyone was a supervisor or senior level clerk. Even the guy who is the "face" of the Arlington County government on public access serves at the 1st window.

They were also obviously empowered to make decisions for themselves based on the circumstance.

Moving to the other line - I noticed that this is where the junior levels took payment. At least 3 senior-levels (that I could tell) were available. 1 to "direct traffic" to the appropriate windows (he made the decisions based on availablility and the strengths of the individual junior level at the booth). 1 to answer customer questions about what to do and where to go. At least 1 (there may have been 2 back there) to answer questions from the junior levels.

The idea behind this entire process seems to be that all of the difficult decision-making occurs at the first window by people with the authority to make decisions. By the time the customer reaches the second window for payment - it's simply a matter of taking money, copying 1 form, and handing the customer a copy of the form and the needed sticker. if it's more complicated than that - the junior levels have support right there. The senior levels are already there observing the interaction and can quickly step in before things get out of hand (and Northern Virginians are notoriously demanding and unreasonable. I know, I'm one of them.).

To the folks at the Arlington County, VA Treasurer's Office (and I WISH I took names) - count me seriously impressed. I hope this is a permanent thing.

1 comment:

Karyn Romeis said...

Empowerment of staff. Such a cool idea and so beneficial to the wider organisation. Why do so few organisations realise it?