Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is Customer Service in the Government a Misnomer?

The other day at the registry of deeds, I researched the property I'm interested in buying. A friend of mine, who used to be a title examiner, and I spent the afternoon in the county's government building digging through old books. I wanted a clear understanding of the property line. Every time I go to a government office I'm always struck by the inefficiency of their operation.

For example, we found a really good map of the property line. It showed all the boundaries with measurements from the street, how far into the woods the line went. its northeast angle toward adjoining neighbors and back out again to the street. Perfect. So we printed it from the terminal and I then walked into the area that appeared to be of some importance: A mishmash of computers and people behind a counter. The antiquated signs and arrows were confusing and of no help.

There were five women behind the desk: Only three of which appeared to be doing anything. That is if you count sorting through papers and staring at a computer something. I stood waiting for the gossip that two closest to the desk where partaking in.

I waited.

They continued there chatter, something about their pensions was all I heard.

I stared at them till they could no longer ignore me.

Finally "are you looking for customer service?", one of them said without getting up front affront her colleague's desk. Her arms still folded across her chest.

"I don't know what I'm looking for. I just printed out copies. And don't know where to..."

"You have to see Judy."

I stood waiting for further instruction. I didn't know who Judy was. There were no name tags, no sign on the wall with an arrow saying Judy is this way.

Apparently intuiting my confusion she said, "right there" appearing troubled that I made here uncross her arms to point ten feet away.

I looked over and saw Judy, a middle aged women in glasses and ruddy complexion her head down. She was the one I'd seen earlier riffling through all the papers. I should have known.

'Okay now how do I get over to her,' I thought. The once again gossiping woman apparently frustrated by my stupidity had to uncross her arms, once again, to point to a gate, similar to ones I've seen in childproof homes, behind her.

I understood.

I proceeded through the gate. Silly me, not only should I have know that Judy was the printer girl but I also should have known that I need to cross the dog gate in order to get to her.

I approached Judy by walking up in front of her. I wanted to make the experience as efficient for her as possible. I didn't want her to have to get out of her way. As I got closer, she - without saying a word or even looking up from her stack of fifteen or so pieces of paper - adverted my direction by putting her hand up, stopping me like a student on a crosswalk and then slowly motioning with her index finger to move me around to her left and wait in the imaginary line. There was no one in front of me. No one's buying houses therefore no one is researching deeds. I saw the little cash register she used to collect the dollar per page. I should have known to wait in front of it. I apologized.

I waited for her to finish sorting her short stack of papers. She stopped and wheeled herself over to where I like the good obedient customer now stood. I now understood the process: it's all about efficiency for the employee.

"I printed out a couple of pages. I just wanted to pick them up."

"How long ago?"

"About five minutes ago?"

Frustrated she looked down at the stack of fifteen or so pieces of paper that she clearly hadn't finished compiling. "It must be in this stack."

I must have been early. Apparently, people print and wait a bit longer to give time for her to properly sort.

She then wheeled herself back to the stack's location, two feet from where I was. "What's the name?"

"Rick...Rick Bettencourt."

From the top of her short-stack, she began looking for my name on the top of each cover sheet.

I watched as she got to the last page. She looked up at me. "I don't see it. Are you sure you printed it?"


Then it came to her. "Was it a plan?"

"It was a property line map."

"You have to go to the Plan room for that!" She said, with an air of elitism - something she knew that I didn't.

"I'm so sorry for bothering you." I didn't want to trouble her any longer. Directions to the location seemed out of her realm. I would probably have to find "direction service" first. I went on my way, once again traversing the child safety gate and determined to make sense out of the hodgepodge of signs and criss-crossing arrows that should somehow lead me to my destination.

I eventually found it. I expected the worst and was prepared to rollover on my back for perhaps doing something else wrong. Yet this time I was pleasantly surprised. The man behind this counter had it right. Not only did he sense my beginner's knowledge to the world of real estate deeds, he also sensed I was doing this for personal reasons.

I had printed my map on standard 8 1/2 by 11 paper for that option was only a $1 per page as opposed to $6 for the full map size. Not only did he give me the two standard size copies for free. He went out of his way and printed the larger version for free as well! "This is what your tax money goes for anyhow. Good luck." He said.

I left with a sense of hope. There are some government employees out there that understand the true meaning of customer.


Donnie said...

Growing up as a military brat clued me in on the complete inefficiency of the government at an early age.

That last guy/employee is often the exception now, not the rule.

Continued good luck with the house Rick. :D

Charles said...

Not had all that much experience with dealing with the goverment expect for paying taxes. Sounds like though, you were luky to have the last guy there when you needed help.

Best of luck with the house!

Mason said...

Nice looking house.....Good luck!! :)

Don't even get me started on goverment efficieny, etc. lol


Greg said...

Wow... a model of inefficiency. Yay! At least one person knew how to help after all that mess.

afod said...

As a government employee (I'd tell you what I do, but then I'd have to kill you), you need to stop by my department to see efficiency and people at work. ;-)

But I so know what you mean and I myself get embarrassed by other government employees' inadequacies. And at the same time, it's those people that you dealt with that give us great government employees a bad rap. But hey, we get two 2-hour breaks, four months of vacation time, and two months of discretionary time. That's why our department is always happy to see you.

In all seriousness, I'm sorry to hear of all the running around you did and the misinformation you received.