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As It Is: Keep customers in loop

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By David Giuliani

Have you ever walked into a business and someone told you to take a number?

I haven’t.

That’s only happened to me in government offices, particularly the motor vehicle division.

When you don’t have any competition, it’s easier to stick it to your customers.

Until the 1990s, drivers had nowhere to go besides state motor vehicle offices for issues related to licenses and vehicle registrations. Since then, the state has allowed some private-sector operations to offer similar services for a fee.

That’s because the service stunk at state offices and the lines were too long. But the private-sector alternative was only a help to those who could afford it. What about the rest of New Mexicans?

Last year, I got a new car and went to the local motor vehicle office to get my registration and pay the relevant taxes. It was an ordeal. I had to go back and forth between the office and my house four times.

Could they have made it easier and given me a flier in plain language that told me exactly what I had to do? Instead, I suffered conflicting explanations from two clerks.

But let’s not beat up on our local motor vehicle office. Such poor service is endemic to motor vehicle operations across the country. An episode of the popular TV show, “Two and a Half Men,” had a field day with the long lines at a motor vehicle office in one of its episodes.

On March 12, our local office was down to two clerks. Ideally, the office has five employees, but one position hasn’t been filled because of the state hiring freeze. To make matters worse, the supervisor was out for training, and another clerk was sick.

In other words, the office was shorthanded.

Later in the morning, the clerks started limiting the number of people who could wait inside. They let people continue to take numbers, but around 15 people by lunchtime were told to stay outside.

Then, one of the clerks put up a sign on the door, “Closed for lunch — short on staff.” And they went out a back door and left for lunch in their cars.

No one warned the outside crowd beforehand. Needless to say, they were angry — and rightfully so. They played by the rules, but in their view, the clerks didn’t.

Mike Sandoval, the statewide director of the Motor Vehicle Division, later conceded the clerks could have communicated better with those waiting outside.

He’s right.  When people came in, the clerks could have explained they were shorthanded and would have to close for lunch. So if people still took numbers, they would realize that the office would be closed during lunch. They would have been understanding.

But customers get angry when they aren’t in the loop. And in this case, they weren’t happy when they saw what appeared to be the clerks sneaking off without serving them.

In contrast, any private-sector business competing for customers wouldn’t have treated their clientele this way. And this is one of the inherent problems of government; it has no competition, so there is no natural incentive for better service.

Years ago, I remember standing in a long line in a motor vehicle office, watching every movement of the clerks, hoping they could go just a bit faster and silently cursing bureaucracy.

To be fair, the motor vehicle division has made such waits a little more bearable in recent times. It has provided chairs, so people don’t have to stand in line for hours. And it has installed TVs to keep people’s minds occupied.

In response to the local criticism, the clerks at the motor vehicle office would probably argue that we should walk in their shoes for a day before pointing fingers.

I have never worked in a motor vehicle office — or in any government job for that matter. So I may be ignorant of some of the challenges the clerks face on a day-to-day basis.

But all I ask is that the clerks don’t keep their customers in the dark. Otherwise, they’ll incur the public’s wrath.

• • •

More and more people are living to 100 years old these days. But how many people live exactly a century’s time.

Las Vegan Ben Crespin’s mother, Josephine Crespin, was born on March 4, 1910, in Las Vegas and died March 4, 2010, in California. It was almost as if she were trying to make the century mark.

A homemaker, Josephine was diagnosed with a failing heart condition a few years ago.

“She never complained and took everything calmly,” Benjamin Crespin said in his eulogy to his mother. “In the past years, we witnessed how her health had deteriorated. Her spirits was always there crocheting, praying the rosary and reading a novena.”

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.