- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — The people who work at the motor vehicle department have some complaints about you, too.

While every driver in New Jersey, it seems, has a horror story about a service-with-a-snarl visit to the motor vehicle department, the employees have their own tales of dealing with rude and hostile people.

“I had a woman say, ‘You’re ugly,’” said Jodi Deery, an employee. “She just started with the f-word flying around.”

To try to bring civility to the process of obtaining or renewing a driver’s license, every department employee in New Jersey is being given customer service training. It is part of an effort to get drivers to stop thinking that a visit to the department is something akin to a root canal.

Workers have been attending sessions with a professional development trainer. They have been able to complain about customers, pass along questions and concerns to state officials, and learn how to stay calm when the person on the other side of the counter starts screaming.

Workers are also encouraged to exercise and get in better shape to help deal with stress.

“We have to learn to smile and have a friendly face,” Motor Vehicles Commissioner Diane Legreide said.

The agency makeover has included a name change: The reviled Division of Motor Vehicles is now the Motor Vehicle Commission.

The agency also has conducted its first survey of customers since 1981, but has not released the results.

Pam Maiolo, manager of public affairs of AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, said she has not heard of any other state’s motor vehicle agency needing an overhaul of customer service techniques.

Miss Maiolo said she attends national meetings of AAA representatives,/// and that it is common knowledge at those gatherings that New Jersey’s motor vehicle agency is the only one with such major problems.

The move in New Jersey comes as the agency prepares for a flood of drivers coming in for the state’s new digital licenses. As part of stricter, post-September 11 security measures, drivers will be required to provide multiple forms of identification when applying for the new licenses, which will be issued starting this month.

“We are trying a fresh, new approach,” said Gary Hasenbalg, an assistant to Miss Legreide. “We are trying to teach people how to walk the fine line between customer service and enforcement.”

The new licenses will contain a bar code, a hologram to prevent forgery, and a photo.

The employees from the agency’s Williamstown office ran through role-playing exercises during a training session last month, with an emphasis on defusing situations with difficult customers.

As part of the session, the clerks talked about times when police had to be called to deal with unruly people. They also said many of those who want changes in licenses or vehicle registrations get upset simply because they fail to understand such basic requirements as ID.

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