Nov 162011

I remember the added story of customer service woe I had forgotten when writing my earlier post.  What could it possibly have to do with kids names?

My friend Jing had a baby not so long ago, a son that they named Odin.  Not only does this conjure up images of great power for anyone who has played the Final Fantasy series of JPRGs (Zantetsuken!), but is also sufficiently unique that you’re not going to run into too many other Odins out there.

My name, on the other hand, is a lot less unique. While this has some advantages, like keeping Adrian guessing as to whether any of the people with my name on Facebook are actually me (answer: still no), I encountered a massive downside when moving to Washington state – someone with my first name, last name, and date of birth had committed a string of traffic offenses in New York State, which landed him – and effectively, me – on a national registry of people who ought not to have a license.  So after waiting for over an hour at the Department of Licensing here in Washington, and passing my knowledge test, I was told I couldn’t get a license until I could prove that I wasn’t the offender in question.  Which was difficult, because he never drove with a license, and didn’t have a social security number associated with his numerous offenses.  This led to a string of interactions with an organization renowned for exceptional customer service…

I had to call about 8 times or so before things were resolved, and had a whole range of experiences on those calls. A few highlights:

  • Washington state sends you to the Driver Improvement division of the DMV, when what you really need is the Traffic Violations group.  A little transfer tag is par for the course in telephone based customer service.  However, Driver Improvement has a veritable maze of an IVR explicitly designed to prevent you from reaching a human being.  It took several calls, taking notes on their IVR, to even identify how to avoid the traps that get you into a “cannot possibly reach a human” branch of their IVR tree.
  • Driver Improvement takes calls from 8:30am till noon.   Of course, you have to hold so long that you really need to call by 11:00am.  Oh, you’re in Washington?  Well in that case, the effective hours are 5:30am till 8:00am.  And this is what you need to go through to get told that you’re talking to the wrong place.
  • Naturally, the first time I got transferred to the right place (Traffic Violations), I got put on hold and the call got dropped.  My only way back was… that’s right, through the 5:30am-to-8:00am-can’t-speak-to-a-person Driver Improvement group.  When I got through the second time, I didn’t even explain my situation, I was immediately begging for a number I could call if I got disconnected again.
  • The opening conversations I had once I got to the right place went something like this:
    • Me: “Hi, I have the same name and birthdate as someone in New York and need a ‘not me’ letter I can use here in Washington?”
    • DMV: “We don’t do ‘not me’ letters”.
  • The next conversation (with a different person) was only marginally more encouraging:
    • Me: “Hi, I have the same name and birthdate as someone in New York and need a ‘not me’ letter I can use here in Washington?”
    • DMV: “We can’t give you a letter like that… how do we know you aren’t that person?”
  • There’s no such thing as a case or ticket number.  In fact, after I reached someone helpful – who ominously said that I might have to appear in front of a judge to convince him that I’m not Mr. Bad Driver – they got me to fax all my documents over so they could look into things.  I called back a week later to see how things were going.  They asked who was working on my case – in the same way that a waiter at a restaurant might ask you the name of the chef/cook who is making your meal if you ask where your food is. Once I found out – Alison was helping me – I made sure to write down her name, as indeed I’d need it on every subsequent call.
  • Google has a very stringent set of standards and access control limiting access of employees to potentially confidential/personal information of users. The DMV? Not so much. Whenever I reached someone other than Alison, they’d often say “oh, she’s a manager, she’s in meetings!  Let me check for you”.  Then they’d go over to her desk, look through papers they found, and either they’d find my documents or not.  Then they could leave notes for Alison related to my file.
In the end, I did get the letter I needed even though it took a month, and I actually appreciated the staff there – even though I’d chuckle as someone went off to ruffle through Alison’s desk to find my information.
But the people defining these federal databases definitely need to understand the concept of a primary key. Similarly, the designers of infuriating IVRs should try and understand that even if they try to be comprehensive, a case like “I need a not me letter because I am out of state but have the same name and birthday as an in-state offender” is never going to be an IVR menu option.  Heck, most of the people I talked to had no idea how I should proceed!
And last but not least, name your kids something like Odin.  If you name them John Smith or Zhang Wei (I don’t think my old roommate Wei reads this, but his name might actually be the most popular in the world), just imagine the trouble they’ll have once these poorly designed databases go global!
 Posted by at 10:17 am

  2 Responses to “Odin is a great name for a kid”

  1. I thought my name is not that common, but it turns out that’s not so true either. A while a ago I got a letter from a lawyer through email to collect arrears in my mortgage. Somehow it happens that the person with my same name happens to live in Toronto as well and he probably has a similar spelled email as well…

  2. I named my youngest son Odin. He’s 2 1/2 now. After naming my two older sons Jon and Scott, I wanted a less pedestrian name for my youngest and last son. He carries the name well. He is adventurous and very smart. He loves puzzles and can put together a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle all by himself. If you ask him what his name is, though, he’ll say “oh dee”

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