When the California Department of Motor Vehicles began moving transactions to the Internet last year, it was just the start of a broader effort to improve how the massive agency interacts with the state's millions of drivers.

Under a project dubbed "DMV of the Future," the agency held a series of stakeholder meetings to get a better idea of what citizens wanted. It also met with some of private industry's most respected companies to learn their secrets to customer satisfaction. The goal, according to state officials, is to refashion how the DMV conducts all of its business, regardless of whether citizens contact the agency online, over the telephone or in person.

"Just putting a new application on the Internet isn't going to revolutionize the way the DMV does business. You've also got to change the way the retail operation works and the way that people deal with customers face to face," said Steve Nissen, director of the Governor's Office for Innovation in Government, an organization charged with improving customer service throughout California government. "From that will flow more coherent approaches to telephone service centers and integrating mail with telephone, with Internet and with over-the-counter services."

Nissen's office worked with the DMV to arrange visits for DMV workers to Southwest Airlines, Disneyland, Nordstrom and Standard Oil. Another 20 companies traveled to DMV offices to give presentations.

"The companies are basically imparting their experiences and how they would approach designing the DMV from their customer-service perspective. State employees rarely get an opportunity to hear this," Nissen said. "We're looking at changing behavior at the state bureaucracy level, so that all of the customer-service initiatives - whether its high-tech like e-government or simple over-the-counter - serve the customer better."

Solving the Puzzle

Comprehensive approaches to improving service delivery remain rare in government organizations, said J. Paul Doty, chief operating officer for GovConnect, a Cincinnati-based e-government firm. He said public agencies routinely fail to tightly integrate Web, interactive voice response (IVR), call centers and other service delivery channels.

Doty contends that agencies must view Web-based applications as one piece of a larger service-delivery puzzle. "Historically, and to some extent today, there is this isolationism that occurs over whatever the hot technology is. So when governments set up e-government initiatives, the prevailing winds are Web-based," he said.

Agencies can broaden the reach of online initiatives by closely coupling them with IVR and call center operations, he said. "They should be coming in with multimedia solutions that really try to do service reengineering. If the objective is to use technology for the purpose of improving service and access to government, they need to do that through as many vehicles as they have at their disposal. Not too often does one tool fix every issue."

Integrated service delivery has been a key to success for the Minnesota Department of Revenue (DOR), which worked with GovConnect to create an electronic tax filing and payment system that accommodates both Web and telephone transactions. The application is closely linked to a call center staffed with DOR employees ready to lead taxpayers through the electronic filing process.

Members of the call center staff can stay on the line with taxpayers as they work their way through the telephone filing system, said Juli Peterson, DOR's project manager for the electronic filing implementation. "On the Web it's the same thing," she added. "We have a feature that allows our employees to talk customers through screen by screen while they are seeing it. That's been very beneficial."

Market research collected before the new system was installed warned the agency that although taxpayers would welcome electronic filing, they also would demand a high degree of support. "One of the things that came back pretty resoundingly was that our taxpayers wanted their hands held in a new process like this," Peterson said. "So

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.