Saturday, May 19, 2012

How confident am I that cultural branding works? I'd like to prove it in this worst-case scenario

 When I first moved from California to Kansas City, I met with a top-ranked local graphic design consultant, Ann Willoughby, who's redesigned several big American brands. We talked about cultural branding, and I argued that the customer's direct emotional experience always overwrites any of the old design-and-advertising strategic branding techniques. 

Ann mentioned that her dream assignment had always been to completely redesign the Department of Motor Vehicles experience. I told her that, in fact, I had to go to the DMV to get Missouri license plates for my motorcycle the next day. She challenged me to apply my cultural branding theories to the DMV. 

Between the lines of our chat, she was probably saying, "If you think you're so smart, try turning this into a Trader Joe's-style love cult..." Or, she might just have been trying to get rid of me. But if you want to read my strategy for re-imagining one of the most reviled 'brands' in the U.S., click that seductive 'Read More' link on the line below...
I took the challenge, and when I went to the DMV, I observed the experience with my consultant's perspective. Obviously, there are a host of functional improvements to be made at the DMV; everything from the readability of forms to structuring the waiting time -- where I went, the wait for the drivers license involved shifting one seat to the left (really!) each time a new person was served. Many of the people being served were, either as a result of education or immigration, barely literate in English, and on and on. Those were all the kinds of issues Ann Willoughby would instinctively address.
The big opportunity here isn't making the current system as humane as possible. It's changing the structure of the interaction. 
Right now, you walk up to a high counter, and stand face to face with your opponent. It's a lot like volleyball. 
You've got your forms, your documentation, your fees... and you're trying to spike them into the other court, to win a point. When you win a point, they hand you a license plate. They're trying to block your shot, sending all that stuff back to your side.
"You need an inspection," I heard one DMV employee say to the person at the wicket beside me. That was the serve being returned.
The person ruffles papers, and tries the same shot again, "But that is the inspection," says the registrant. Volley.
"No, that's just a regular inspection, from a mechanic," says the DMV employee. "Since your car had a Kansas salvage title, you need to have it inspected by the Highway Patrol."That's the spike back into the customer's court. He's sent away.
In my experience, at least half the people in line are sent away without getting what they want. Getting more people through on the first attempt, or at least ensuring that the second visit always resulted in a client 'win' would save time, boost efficiency, and lower stress.
So, what if the structure of the situation was different? 
What if, instead of being at the back of the forms, the checklists of what was needed were at the front (more like a passport application?) And most important, what if you sat down with an adviser, who felt it was his/her job to get you out of there with the license and registration that you need?
The interaction I described would, in this slightly different universe, look like this:
"OK, Jorge, you've got almost everything you need here, but because your car previously had a salvage title, it needs to be inspected twice. See here on the list, you need the regular mechanic's inspection, and an inspection by the Highway Patrol. Have you already done that?"
"Uh, no. Sorry."
"No worries," the DMV employee would say pulling a slip of paper from her desk. "Here's a map and the address of the nearest Highway Patrol office that can do the inspection. You'll need to call and make an appointment, and here's the number. If you want, we can make the appointment right now? Should I call them?.."
The necessary appointment made, the DMV employee would then check the rest of Jorge's paperwork anyway, to ensure that the only problem was the lack of HP inspection, ensuring that the second visit would be the final one. Ideally, if Jorge returned, he could see the same person.
Most of the people I've encountered in the process were pretty friendly and helpful, and would've been well suited to employment in a cooperative (not competitive) system. The problem's not the people -- and by and large, not the rules and regulations. 
The problem's just the structure of the situation. Their jobs have not been defined as guiding people through the process and helping them to meet the criteria required for licensing and registration; rather, their jobs have been defined as looking at all the forms and documentation and making sure no one gets through the system without having met those criteria. They're not in the "let me help you," business, they're in the saying 'no' business.
That's where the redesign must begin...

1 comment:

  1. Not unlike a concierge, or a friendly triage nurse in the healthcare system...