Tag Archives: bureaucracy

Two Words Can Change the World

26 Apr

Last week, I went in for my drug test, because it’s one more step closer to my new job. Because I’m particularly boring in real life, I wasn’t worried about passing it, just finding the stupid place. This could have been solved with writing two words.

Since I used to be a consultant, I used to have to go through this process every six months when I got a new contract. Normally what happens is that you go to a testing clinic, where very bored, very poorly paid technicians make you sit for 15 minutes (or more, if you picked a bad time to arrive) then take you back to a bathroom, where you pee in a cup and hand it back. Despite the name “lab” on the door, there is no actual lab there, they have to mail it off to… wherever people have autoclaves and the proper chemicals.

So when I got the request for “additional background information,” I wasn’t terribly worried, just confused. First off, my new employer doesn’t bother to say “drug test.” Every employee in America in the last 30 years understands the term “drug test.” I just went through a background check; every employee understands that, too. When I first see “additional background information,” I’m thinking, “What’s wrong? I’ve gone through fifteen background checks in the last ten years. What could they have possibly found?!”

But no… it’s just a drug test by another name. So they give me a two hour window to show up at this medical facility, which I thought, “That’s odd,” but okay. I drive out to this industrial area (again, weird place for an outpatient facility), park, and look for Suite 110. There is only one suite listed above the multiple doors and it’s Suite 100. So after trying a couple doors (locked), I finally ask a secretary, and she says, “Yeah, you want the urgent care.”

Those were the magic words: “urgent care.” When I go to a building, my first thought is NOT to go into the very busy urgent care (busy? in an industrial park?), wait in line for five minutes, to be told where to go for the drug test. Instead, I wasted ten minutes checking doors and making sure I was in the right building. I know this is not the first time these secretaries have had to answer these questions (from their response), so the second easiest thing you could do is put up a sign that says “Drug tests go through Urgent Care.” Six words. Solves a LOT of problems.

So I go through the urgent care, fill out a lot of paperwork (which probably would be a lot less if it were a normal lab and not a @#$&*$ urgent care!), and wait…. and wait. There are more people in the lobby than chairs. I’m certain half the folks are there for drug tests as well, but having worked in urgent cares, I know that test only folks are the lowest priority. They’re more concerned with folks with a broken leg, burns, etc. That’s when I realize that this is a first stop for injuries on the job and screening workers’ compensation. So I wait a #*$&@$ hour for me to go through the process to pee in a cup and get the freak out of there.

It’s a simple thing to ask — just add two words to the sheet! This has to annoy the heck out of the other secretaries, you’d think they’d want a solution. But a sign never occurred to them? It’s the little things that can change the world. What do you think? Am I overreacting? Let me know in the comments below! Then you can read some more words of mine and check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive for some words, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

What Are You Willing to Accept?

3 Mar

Customer service and government services usually do not go together. When I was discussing this with a friend, I gave Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division as the exception. He said “That’s because Arizonans don’t put up with as much bull.”

This is not an argument for everyone to move to Arizona (God, please don’t!), but for me, an interesting experiment in American democracy. Most of the time, the only daily interactions you have with the government is the police, which is why they take most of the flack. However, take the next level of regular interaction; the Department of Motor Vehicles. No one likes going to get your license because it’s such a pain in the butt to do.

You stand in line–a lot–to reach a very cranky woman who usually tells you that you forgot one form. They’re cranky because they have to tell everyone this same instruction fifteen times a day. They’re ALLOWED to be cranky to the public because they can not be fired for being cranky. When I’ve lived in Ohio, I would always choose the most distant and remote office, because they had less staff, less traffic, and since they don’t see as many people, better service. In Arizona, this is not the case. Even in busiest centers, the staff are friendly, understanding, and get you through the lines faster. Why? Because along the way, they linked the staff’s bonuses to their survey results. They have incentive to be nicer.

So if you have no incentive, you have always use negative reinforcement. My friend was telling me going to a DMV in Maryland, and had to go three times because he kept missing one item. On the third time, the clerk informed him, “Oh, you’re late on getting this in, so you’ll be charged a penalty.” And his face went red with anger and he said calmly to the clerk, “This is where you shut up and get your supervisor. Now.” Even a “civil servant” wants to avoid an angry customer; magically, the supervisor fixed everything, waved the penalty, and he got his form complete. But his point was that that in Maryland, people are willing to wait until the third time; in Arizona, it’s the first time.

This also transitions to the rest of government. Arizona is a purple state (neither party has an overwhelming majority); people have no problem voting the other party in to punish a uncaring, unlistening legislature. Politics is retail. I actually wrote my state legislators on a Friday and got a response the next day (not a form letter)! It may be effective, it may not, but at least there’s a response.

The more unresponsive government is to its people, the angrier people get. Thankfully, I live in a country where (with exceptions) you can yell at your officials without getting beaten up. That’s not the case in many places; I’m always fascinated by the Central African Republic, where since the fall of Emperor Bokassa I (1979) has always had a government and a rebel faction, and they flip-flop positions every five years. In their case, the only choice is to pick up a gun. Unless you reconcile with the defeated and include them in the government (such as Liberia), you’re bound to repeat the same cycle.

That’s the real fear–there’s a lot of push in America on both sides to exclude the other. At a certain point, Americans won’t put up with it. I think that level is higher than most people believe. But how much are willing to accept? What do you think? Have you yelled at a DMV worker? Let me know in the comments below!

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