Thursday, 26 June 2008

A Lesson In Customer Service

The DVLA (government department that issues driving licenses) is, according to their website and letterheads, an organisation that wins awards for 'Customer Service Excellence'. They don't let you forget it, either, until you're actually dealing with them, and then you begin to wonder why.

Last week I sent my first driving license application off. It's something I should have done when I was 17 and you didn't have to pay through the nose for it, but I was pseudo-pragmatic back then and rationalised not doing it because I wouldn't be able to afford to run and insure a car (£3000 a year insurance for young, inexperienced drivers) for a while. Now that I've finished uni, it's about time I started catching up on that front, so I got a license application form, filled it in and sent it off.

First off, filling in the form. You need to prove your identity, naturally, for which I sent off a birth certificate and my National Insurance card, as the birth certificate is not single-document proof of identity because anyone can get anyone's birth certificate. Of course, that means that an opportunist who finds someone's National Insurance card need only request their birth certificate et voila - instant identity theft. You also need to include a passport-size photo of yourself for them to use for the application. This photo needs to be signed on the back by someone, and that person then needs to fill in a section of the form attesting to the fact that they've known for at least two years, and that the photo is an accurate likeness of yourself. This person needs to be someone of reliable character, which you're not allowed to judge for yourself, so it gives you a list of people who are of reliable character: a local business person or shopkeeper, a librarian, a professionally qualified person (e.g. a lawyer, teacher, or engineer), a police officer, a bank or building society officer, a civil servant, a minister of religion, a magistrate, a local councillor (or Member of Parliament, Assembly Member, Member of the Scottish Parliament, or Member of the European Parliament). Of the people in that list, only one would I trust not to lie for the sake of it: the magistrate.

After filling in the form, you have to write a cheque or postal order for the correct fee. To find this fee, you look down the list of application types and find yours. First provisional license application: £45. Expensive, but what can I do? I write the cheque, put it all in the envelope and post it.

Today I got a letter back from them. Apparently, I did not enclose the correct fee. The correct fee is £50. They returned my application form, cheque, and identity documents, and told me to return the application form with correct payment. They didn't bother to tell me whether or not I need to send my National Insurance card back with the application, so now I've got to wait 'til they back to me via e-mail.

My main beef is that they didn't exactly do me a service by returning the whole damn thing for me to resubmit. I was £5 short, and it was clearly because I was given a form that had out of date fee information on it. The form was obtained in February, so obviously the fee had changed between then and now. They hardly chose the most efficient, customer-friendly method of dealing with this. They could have gone ahead and processed the damn application, took the £45, and upon sending me my provisional driving licence and identity details back, included a letter that explained that the fee submitted was £5 less than the current fee, a URL to the fees information online, and instructions about how to get the remaining £5 to them. It's hardly rocket science, but these money-grubbing public departments simply can't see past the next penny, so they would probably wax idiotic about having to chase up lost fivers.

I still owe UPS £8 in 'brokerage' for paying the import duty on an item that I had shipped into the U.K. earlier this year. They don't chase the small figures, though, so I've never had to pay up. It's just not worth their time. So the DVLA wouldn't even have to chase the lost £5 amounts. Most people, when told to pay up, will do so, and the vast majority of people will not find themselves using out of date application forms anyway. Of course, the DVLA shouldn't just accept all inadequate payments and just bill the applicant for the remaining payment. Only in cases where the fee submitted was clearly due to using an out of date application form should this apply, as that's the only time when an inadequate fee is excusable.

Of course, the smartest people don't work in the public sector; the money is in the private sector, and the smartest people don't need the job security inherent in the public sector. The price we pay is incompetence.


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