By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

When government gets it right

Shutterstock image (by Gajus): businessman giving a thumbs up.

My wife and I own a condo in Miami. Since the property comes with a parking space, last year we decided to ship one of our cars there to have it available to use for the month or so each year we planned to be in Florida.

This turned out to be less than an ideal arrangement. Our property manager was unable to drive the car enough to keep the battery in reasonable shape, so every time we came we had to get the car jump-started. Also, if you drive the car only one month a year, it tends to develop problems beyond a dead battery, such as brake issues. Over Thanksgiving, AAA was unable even to jump start the car and said we needed either a new starter motor or something even more radical.

After this latest experience, we gave up: We would donate the vehicle to Boston's public radio network, get a tax deduction, and just rent a car in Miami one month a year. The organization told us they could actually pick up the car in Miami, which they proceeded to do when we arrived before Christmas.

I asked the public radio folks how I should deregister the car once I had donated it. They weren't sure, but said I should make sure I got the plates off the car when I donated it, and then afterwards call my insurance carrier for further instructions. I assumed that somehow I would have to enclose my plates in an envelope with some letter to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, hope my letter didn't get lost down a memory hole, and wait for them to get back to me.

When the car had been picked up, I called my insurance company.

No, they told me. No need to mail the plates in. I could go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles website and deregister it online.

I did. When I got there, I saw an icon reading "deregister a car." I clicked it, and was asked to provide my vehicle registration number, and either my driver's license number or my Social Security number (I gave them the latter). Almost immediately, I received an email saying that my car had been successfully deregistered and including a scanned attachment of a document that confirmed the cancellation. The entire transaction, from when I got to the website, lasted one minute.

It gets better. Having received the email from the RMV with the scanned copy of the registration cancellation, I called my insurance carrier again to find out how to report the cancellation to them. I assumed I would need to scan the document and email it to them to get my insurance cancelled. I called the company and told them I had deregistered the car. "Wait a moment," the insurance company guy said. Quickly, he was back to me. The RMV had already sent the company a record of the cancellation (this was perhaps a half an hour after my original transaction). I didn't need to do anything else. Everything had been taken care of; my insurance could be cancelled, with no further action on my part necessary.

It is hard to imagine that a customer experience with Amazon for this kind of transaction would have been significantly better, or even better at all, than what I experienced. In this case, government got it right.

What needs to happen for government to get it right? (In tech especially, but in other domains as well.) The answer is there needs to be both a will and a way.

The will is the motivation on the part of managers, leaders, and/or frontline folks to improve the customer experience (or to improve performance more broadly). That motivation can come from inside -- the pride or commitment to doing a better job -- or from competition among organizations with a similar mission, or pressure from outsiders, such as politicians or the media.

The way, in the tech domain, comes from advancement over time in what technologies can accomplish -- many working today can remember a day when computers in different parts of the same office had trouble communicating with each other.

Of these two -- the will and the way -- the will is more important. Without RMV folks who wanted to upgrade the customer experience, the technological changes that have allowed the RMV so quickly to cancel a registration and inform the auto insurance company of the cancellation would have remained unexploited. In addition, when there is the will to improve, government folks also do a better job scanning the environment to learn about technological advances enabling performance improvement. I also believe that, since many of these improvements are relatively low-visibility and below the media or politician radar screen, the most common source of the will to improve is the internal motivation of the manager or employee.

With a will and a way, government can get it right.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 08, 2018 at 1:24 PM


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