We traded in our 11-year-old VW for a new car this week, creating a series of governmental department interactions. Since we live in the city, a new parking sticker is required, along with Fast Pass, plate registration and excise abatement on the docket as well.
Net net on the experience – Boston city government gets an A for effort, B- for execution. Giving each function a grade just like sports reporters do after each week’s Patriot’s game….
* Registration – Through the “Drive” program and with insurance info coordinated on my end, the dealer was able to electronically register the car on my behalf and print a new registration on premise. No lines, no fuss, all electronic. Grade – A.
* Fast Pass – With username and password on hand, was able to update the car info online. However I had to call the next day to have them send me a new adhesive set for the windshield. I understand they don’t want to just greenlight new adhesive to avoid people gaming the system with one pass on multiple cars, but the password and online input makes my request documented and traceable. I should be able to order those online easily enough, and all those calls add cost and carbon footprint via extra call center reps/location/phone lines, etc. Grade – B.
* Excise Abatement – cityofboston.gov site was personally very hard to navigate, and after searching for 15 minutes and only finding housing abatement info on hand, I decided to call the next day. There is an online form available, however I needed to print it out and mail it along with a few copies of the new car details. Why not have the option to scan and submit everything online? My previous excise bills were available online, so I assume everything from that department gets manually entered/scanned at some point. Automation could save significant time and money here. Grade – C.
* Parking Sticker – Requires in-person visit to City Hall with multiple documents. To ensure there’s no freeloading and reduced street parking congestion, it’s a good system. 9-4:30 daily hours and no online expediting = huge pain and no efficiency. These stickers are tied directly to plate numbers, and I have to think there’s some automation that can take place, since I can re-order stickers for the same car every year online. Grade – F.
The city officials a few years ago talked about moving much of the government functions line the ones above online for efficiency and positive environmental impact. They have also been promoting a new recycling program over the past 6 months (ironically via direct mail.) Like any corporation or brand, once you announce you’re going to be more sustainable, you have to walk the walk.
This experience was a reminder for me that some departments (like some brands) have truly embraced the power of online customer service in the name of efficiency and sustainability, while others are (predictably) lagging behind. I can’t remember the last time I stepped into the DMV, however the parking department needs to see my smiling face each time I transfer to a new vehicle. And yet to me, it’s all one megalith under the “city government” moniker – something to keep in mind for larger brands like GE or P&G that have silo departments or sub-brands.
It’s an evolution, and although there is still work to be done I applaud Boston for stepping up and making progress to date. Now if only I could add value to my Charlie card online….