Thursday, December 23, 2010

DMV doo-doo or do-do?

Mr. Valverde, (State Director of the DMV)

On the morning of November 4, 2010, I arrived at the DMV office on Bidwell St. in Folsom, CA for my appointment. The first sign inside the door reads:

Drive Test



At a glance the sign appeared like a “list” so I stood at the counter and waited for the employee bent at her desk. She looked up and glared. “I have a 9:30 appointment,” I said.

“For a driver’s test?”

“No, for a name change.”

“What does that sign above your head say?” She barked. “Lady, can you read?” Her volume rose with the sneer and a hush fell over the department. “It says driver’s test appointments.”

“I thought it was a list,” I started to explain, “Driving tests and appointments.”

“Read the sign,” she snarled, “You’re in the wrong line.”

“Where is the line I should be in?”

“Over there,” she waved, dismissing me and turning back to her empty desktop.

The customers queued behind me were as wide-eyed as I. Someone pointed to a second overhead sign that read: Appointments.

Let me start with we, the general public, are infrequent visitors to the DMV. Signs that seem to obviously communicate - might not. It is likely the person sitting at that desk, the first station inside, has the unofficial and perhaps unwanted job of traffic cop, directing people to other stations within the DMV office.

Many lessons can be learned from my experience: 1. I undoubtedly misread the sign. 2. The sign might be unclear. 3. There may be need for a traffic cop. 4. The person seated at that desk COULD be the ambassador of the Folsom DMV office, a well of goodwill and assistance.

Few places of business tolerate bad employee behavior. Employees who bark and snipe at customers are a liability. May I suggest posting employee’s names at their workstations, much like bank tellers, such that a nameplate is clearly visible to the public. This minimal form of reckoning can improve behavior.

State workers have long been maligned; incidents like this fuel that fire. The employee’s name seems inconsequential because no one, excepting queued customers, seemed aghast or appalled by a coworker yelling at a customer, as if it is accepted behavior at the Folsom DMV. No one apologized – as often coworkers will – when one of their own acts out. I dare say, my inquiry to obtain her name created more of a stir.

Perhaps this staff needs a refresher in basic courtesy and a reminder that the job IS customer service. Should customers and service be distasteful, they might seek different employ. Lastly, the people of California are their customers and they are expected, nay charged, to treat customers with civility if not care.

Response requested.

Respectfully Submitted,



I delayed mailing this letter for a full 30-days, weighing and evaluating its necessity. But send it I did and recently received a call from Gary, a nice fellow "assigned" to my case. He apologized, "You're right, our job IS customer service. I'm sorry that happened to you. You write well," he continued, "I think you captured the emotions of it pretty well."

Actually, I did not. I'd said nothing of my red-faced agitation that consumed the next hour. I have no tolerance for yelling; zip, zero, nada. It triggers both fight and flight in me, the desire to annihilate then flee.

"That's why I wanted to call,” Gary continued, “Instead of sending a letter. I wanted to apologize and let you know what happens next. I've faxed your letter to the manager at the Folsom DMV. We’ve discussed it. They hold staff meetings every Wednesday. Your letter will be read and will be used as a teachable moment."

"My name and address will be kept confidential?"

"Yes. Thank you for sending your letter, it gives us an opportunity to work with our staff, to better our customer service."

"I didn't know if I should send it. I delayed a full month before sending it."

"I'm glad you did send it. Thank you.”

What did I learn? I learned that in many ways, nothing’s changed. In the face of verbal confrontation, I am a deer in headlights. I silently seethe, I plot, I plan, and I get even. I spared Rebecca however. I did not serve her, trussed like the holiday ham, to her superiors. I could have; I didn’t. Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe her cat was missing, maybe her Dad - lost in Alzheimer’s fuzzy world - had quit eating, maybe… Chalk one up for compassion?