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Opinion: How's Your Service?



Associate Editor, Indiana Dentist

I recently moved to Michigan and made the dreaded trek to the local license branch to apply for a new driver’s license.

After a 45-minute wait I made it to the head of the queue, only to recognize an ominous sign: Cheri, the license bureau employee who would be helping me, was wearing a “clerk-trainee” nametag.

I had arrived with all the required identification and documents (at least five from four categories).  Cheri seemed unfamiliar with each and required approval from her supervisor. When finally satisfied with my identity Cheri asked, “When are you available for your skills test?”

I was stunned.  “Are you sure I have to take a driver’s test?” I asked, wondering why Michigan was so demanding.  Cheri left to check with her supervisor again and returned to assure me that Michigan would take Indiana’s word on my driving competence.  I found out later that this was Cheri’s first day on the job.

Cheri then escorted me to the photo machine to take my driver’s license photo.  Just as she was preparing to take my picture she cautioned me to make sure I was standing on the white line.  As I looked down to check if I was toeing the line, Cheri took my picture.  Now, if Michigan wanted to identify someone by his male-pattern baldness, I would have had the perfect I.D. You couldn’t see my face but it was great shot of the top of my head.  

To make matters worse Cheri panicked when she saw the picture, double-clicked the photo, and saved that image to the computer. She didn’t know how to erase that photo as my official driver’s license picture.  Again, Cheri consulted with her supervisor and was informed that I needed to return to the first line, have the original transaction voided, and begin the process from the beginning.

On the second photo attempt I was ready.  I lined up my size 11’s exactly on the white line and, as Cheri took the picture, someone looking for the restroom walked between me and the blue backdrop.  Another first!  I bet you’ve never seen a driver’s license photo with two people in the picture.  

Imagine the confusion when asked to produce a picture I.D. I would need to say, “Excuse me officer, I’m the balding, middle-aged guy on the right!”  

And again, Cheri had double-clicked and saved the photo.  

Needing an explanation why she was voiding a second  transaction, Cheri explained to the weary supervisor that she had a “twitchy finger.”  It was her first day on the job, but wasn’t Cheri acting suspiciously like someone planting seeds for a future medical claim?  After all, a twitchy finger could become a serious disability. 

Well, back to the first line again to void the transaction and apply for a third time. I had arrived with mountains of documents proving who I was and would be leaving with mountains of voided transactions proving that computers don’t save paper.  Thank God Michigan has a tree-covered Upper Peninsula, because Cheri was deforesting the state like crazy. Who knew that a twitchy finger could cause an environmental disaster?  

Fortunately, like the old saying, “Third time’s a charm.”  I managed to have a reasonably normal photo taken, and it only took an additional hour and three attempts.  I left with a new Michigan driver’s license and firsthand knowledge that the rumors about the poor customer service at the license branch are untrue.  Nobody I encountered was ill-tempered, rude, or lazy.  Cheri was cheerfully trying her best.  Her supervisor was patient and understanding, and the process seemed to speed up with each attempt.  

I knew as I was walking out the door that afternoon that I had found the topic for a column. I only needed an ending.  Then it hit me.  Any business – a dental office, gas station, or even a government agency – can have poor customer (patient) service if their Cheri’s receive inadequate training or have a poor attitude.  The license bureau is notorious for poor customer service, but how many patients have we disappointed and, as a result, left our practice? Most of my new patients aren’t really “new.”  They’ve left a dental office and are looking for better service somewhere else.  Unfortunately, I’ve lost patients for the same reason. 

As Dr. James Pride said, “The only thing worse than training an employee and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”  The license bureau gets a bad rap, because there is no alternative where an unhappy customer can take his or her business. Unless, of course, you move to Michigan.     

Dr. Michael Rader welcomes reader comments via email at

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