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Why The DMV Should Be Run By Chatbots

July 13, 2016

The Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s the dawdling sloth of civic systems, a poster child of institutional languor. Truly the great American equalizer, it tests patience and tempts fury across races, genders, ideologies, and social strata.

With one-word imperatives — “Next!” — you’re ushered like cattle to slaughter, from one line to another, until you finally reach the sandy counter where afternoons go to die. Every victim, you realize, is truly just a number.

Okay, I’ll stop. The flashbacks are getting to me, too. 

Imagine a new DMV. It’s free of lines, the stench of stewing anger, and — best of all — screaming children and cranky old ladies. 

For my fellow Californians who wait more than 50 minutes per visit, I know a fast, friendly DMV seems farfetched. But dream with me.

You walk in, strolling up to a kiosk. You could complete the process online, of course, but you want the full-service experience.

A voice emanates from it to gently guide you through paperwork, autofilling data from public systems. It confirms your new address, reads your check, and spits out registration stickers in seconds — and did I mention it actually wishes you a nice day?

The mysterious voice, it turns out, is also quite a shutterbug. Gone are the days of troll-in-the-dungeon license photos. It compensates for red-eye, erases your moles, and whitens teeth. In fact, you think about asking it to snap your family portrait. 

Emerging from the once-dreaded — now, dare I say, beloved — DMV, you glance at your watch, marveling at the speedy service. The only red tape you cross is the crimson finish line as you get in your car, pondering how to spend your remaining lunch break.

The backbone of this Department of Midday Vacation? Chatbots. The technology that, once again, keeps first-world problems from stealing precious minutes better spent on food, friends, and Netflix. 

Tony Scherba holding an Emoji

Chatbots: The Antidote for Death-by-DMV 

If you’re ready to stop blackmailing your spouse into being your stand-in at the DMV, read on. Here’s how chatbots could create the DMV experience you’ve been dreaming of:

1. Customer service that serves

Given that every patron is angry before even opening the door, it’s understandable that DMV clerks’ patience wears thin.  But chatbots lack human emotions or biases, and their capabilities are ever-improving, so it’s no wonder they excel at customer service. With a multitasking chatbot running the show, service quality would never slip and the cry-per-customer ratio would bottom out.

2. Guidance with a smile emoji

Anybody who’s had to retitle a vehicle knows how tough it can be to determine which documents are needed, let alone track them down. And because DMVs are so riddled with regulations, the process can confuse even veteran employees. That’s why it makes sense to take humans out of the equation. Chatbots can access records regarding property tax, insurance, and more — all without casting judgmental looks that leave you feeling unprepared. 

3. Websites that don’t double as scavenger hunts

Have you ever noticed that many government websites are straight out of 1995? Hierarchical organization makes sense to developers, but it often leaves information-hungry citizens lost in a sea of statutes. Chatbots, though, can ask targeted questions and direct you to the information you need, sprinkling in helpful details along the way. Moving to a new state? By quickly finding forms for you, a DMV chatbot could stop the stomach ulcer before it starts.

Typing on a keyboard

The New (Inter)face of Government

While chatbots are saving lives at the DMV, there are plenty of other civic systems they could whip into shape.  When Yeti moved from Boston to San Francisco, I spent $425 and an entire afternoon at city hall registering it with every agency under the California sun — the city treasurer, the IRS, the Secretary of State, the Franchise Tax Board, and more.

And I’m not the only one drowning in bureaucracy.  Millions of freelancers and entrepreneurs dig through countless forms, fees, and registration numbers just to make a living. There’s literally an entire industry dedicated to helping these innovators sort through our tax code.

The DMV delight doesn’t have to stay in our dreams. As chatbots advance, vehicle registration — alongside hundreds of other civic functions — could become a forgettable, stress-free part of our lives.  Until then, take a number and get in line. At the pace of government, it could be a while.

is a President | Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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