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Amica teaches DMV workers to be polite

Amica Mutual Insurance Co. is helping to resolve two problems that long have confronted drivers nationwide: long lines and a reputation for poor service at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The Rhode Island-based insurance company recently started training 150 Rhode Island DMV employees to improve their service once a customer reaches the front of a waiting line.

Amica gives lessons in customer serviceAnd it's usually a long line.

"People line up before we open the doors," says Debbie Rich, a Rhode Island DMV spokesperson and a member of the governor's staff charged with improving the agency's image.

Excruciating DMV lines

From 500 to 1,000 people visit the five DMV offices in Rhode Island on any given weekday, with some arriving two hours before the offices open. Customers often have to wait another two hours to be served. The wait time averages two hours or less for the most complicated transactions, Rich says.

Benjamin John Coleman, an artist in Pawtucket, R.I., gave up after five hours during a visit about eight months ago. He was there to deal with a registration problem with a truck he sold. Coleman waited 90 minutes the next day and had his problem resolved within five minutes by a friendly, knowledgeable worker.

What upset him most about the hours he spent at the DMV was watching an "amazingly bad video that cycles through trivia and other informative nonsense.”

“Honestly, it's like torture,” he says. “People waiting have the 'thousand-yard stare' like soldiers coming out of the front lines."

For the approximately 750,000 licensed drivers in Rhode Island who have to do business with the DMV, the long lines are the biggest reason for the agency's negative public image, Rich says. The DMV already allows online registration renewals, and is looking to expand online offerings to other areas. The department doesn't offer appointments for in-office visits, however.

"We're trying to make sure that people don't have to come in unless absolutely necessary," Rich says.

Jeff Gagnon, assistant vice president of training and development at Amica, says the company has the expertise to help the DMV change its image to one that's friendly, dependable and offers great customer service. J.D. Power and Associates recently rated Amica the best auto insurance company. Check out the top picks if you want an auto insurance company you can love.

"This is the type of stuff that's ingrained in everything we do," Gagnon says.

The value of a friendly face

Starting with a friendly face is key, Gagnon says. Employees should greet people with a smile and a receptive attitude. Employees are taught to listen closely so they can resolve problems.

Amica is offering its services to the Rhode Island DMV for free, but the insurer doesn't see itself getting into the business of helping others improve customer service, Gagon adds.

Even if the car insurance company succeeds in helping the Rhode Island DMV change its image, the results will have a tough time measuring up to the level of customer satisfaction documented in a short film shown to Rhode Island DMV workers. In the film "Validation," an attendant in a parking garage is so good at his job of "validating" customers with compliments that they enjoy waiting in line just to hear his words of encouragement.

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