Recently I visited a new car dealership, something millions of people in the United States do every month. Several weeks later I visited the Florida State Department of Motor Vehicles for a bit of license renewal. Contrasting the quality of these experiences says a lot about us as individuals, our conditioned acceptance of ineptitude and our limited appreciation for quality service.
I had done some on-line research and had identified the model and accessories I wanted in a new vehicle. I visited the store of the closest dealer of my model choice. I parked in the customer spot, right in front of the dealership’s door. I visited on a weekday evening. Upon entering, I saw a beautifully displayed array of a wide range of body styles. My target model was prominently displayed.
A nice, knowledgeable sales person approached and we discussed my needs. He answered all of my questions and handled several concerns. I was offered a leisurely test drive. My wife and I put the test model through its paces and were more than pleased with the car’s performance, handling and comfort. We returned and discussed price and terms with our sales person. Within minutes of agreement on transaction details, we were filling out paperwork; a slew of forms (most of them government related), and finance applications.
We were offered coffee, soda, water, and snacks as we awaited the Finance Manager to complete the transaction. All the while we noticed that at least 6 other sales persons were also involved in various stages of transactions. The place was busy, productive, well organized and thriving.
The sale was soon consummated, we were given the keys and the car detailed for us by the sales person. We had arrived at the store about 7:00 PM and were out the door with a new car, a major purchase, at 8:35 PM.
Now for the opposite end of the service experience spectrum: the DMV. Hours at the DMV are classic 1950’s bankers hours, 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. Upon entering you took a number and had a seat until called. I took a book to read, thankfully. An open office containing a sea of Steel Case desks was visible. The desks were populated by a lethargic team of seemingly disinterested bureaucrats. There was no way to quantify productivity because nothing seemed to be happening.
No concessions were in sight. I had arrived about 9:30 and there was a significant line ahead of me. I settled in for the long haul with John Grisham. As I frequently checked the monitor to note progress toward my number being called, I noticed, with amazement, that very few of the 12 customer service windows were continually manned.
At 11:40 AM, my number was finally called. Fortunately I had learned from past DMV experience in several states to bring every record, including plenty of cash. Cashing a check can be problematic and credit cards are not accepted. Many people ahead of me were turned away, very upset at not having their full complement of documents.
I finally conducted my business with a faceless, indifferent paper pusher. I had burnt half of my day to spend several hundred dollars with the state on license fees. As I left the office, I surprisingly realized that I was not upset, disappointed of surprised. I had just encountered a government bureaucracy. They had taken my money and given me permission to drive. It was a cold, heartless, slow, necessary transaction. I didn’t expect any more or less.
Equally surprising was my lack of appreciation for my new car buying experience. An amazingly complex transaction had been handled with professional diligence. My finances had been fully vetted; financing applied for and confirmed in minutes. I was provided amenities, the opportunity to shop at my convenience at night, and a motivated, knowledgeable sales person interested in securing my business by satisfying my needs. I expected to experience all of these elements when buying a new car. I was not particularly appreciative.
Private business succeeds by providing quality goods and services at the best possible price. Surly service surely exists, but not in many successful stores. We live in a service economy; we take good service for granted and when poor service is experienced we are almost always surprised. It seems to be an aberration. Business requires happy customers.
The government, on the other hand, does not require happy, satisfied customers. The populace is a captive audience. The government employee, except military, fire and policemen, does not face the opprobrium of the public or particularly high performance expectations. Well-paid, armed with handsome benefits and no stretch performance goals, the bureaucrat lives in a cocoon of safety. Not much is expected and not much is given beyond the minimum.
Consider a visit to the Post Office, and a similar trip to FedEx. Comparison of this service experience should be an embarrassment to the government. The flexibility and service business model of FedEx is a crushing indictment of the loss making, customer unfriendly policies and personnel of the Post Office.
I am a marketing consultant by trade. If hired by the government (and that would never happen) I would never allow the public to see any of the inner-workings of any government office. This scrutiny would be evidence of damnable waste, indifference and duplication. USA Today reported that the average government worker is paid over $25,000 more (salary and benefits) than a similarly tasked private sector worker. This is an outrage and yet we have many people and politicians who adamantly believe that we need more government. More bureaucrats are not needed. We do need to introduce incentives and entrepreneurial ideas and creativity into every layer of our bloated government.
After Hurricane Katrina every layer of government was exposed as incompetent. To this day, the performance of government at all levels, state, local and federal has been abysmal. And yet, very little publicity has been directed to private sector businesses such as Fluor, WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, FedEx and Valero that have performed heroically almost from the minute the storm passed. They are not playing with other people’s money. They have every incentive to produce positive results. Sadly, the government faces none of the same performance pressure.
It is time that we expect a contact with the IRS, the Census Bureau, the DMV or the local county court house to approximate a visit to Best Buy or Auto Nation. It is also time we appreciate the unbelievable level of service we take for granted every day. I do not expect a free latte when I visit Uncle Sam. I do expect prompt service, a smile and a thank you. After all, we are the paymasters for the bureaucratic class. They work for us. Public service employment should be a privilege that demands the highest levels of performance and zero tolerance for slackers or the attitudinally challenged.
Every bureaucrat should be tasked with a workload that puts a stretch premium on the taxpayer receiving a full compliment of benefits.
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B. A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.
Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (http://www.duquesamarketing.com ) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.