Customer Service Showdown: The Cable Company vs the DMV

The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wait a minute—there are no innocents! Let’s name names. It’s the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles vs. Comcast Cable.

And believe it or not, one of these is a wildly positive story about customer service. The other, of course, is not (lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, especially if that place is New Jersey).

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to guess which story is which.

First, the disaster story—courtesy of my friend Judy.

Judy called XYZ about a common transaction. “Sure,” they said, “here’s what you need to bring, and we’ll take care of you.”

She gets there: “What? Who told you that! You need to go back home and bring the other thing.”

She returns. “You can’t do this, your ex-husband’s name is on the records. We need a copy of the twelve-year old divorce decree, plus his signature on a form. We don’t have that form, but we’ll fax it to you.”

Days later. “Who told you we could fax that to you? We can only mail it.”

More days. “We need to confirm your social security number.” She gives it to them. “Sorry, we can’t match it; we don’t have records of your social security number.” “Then what were you going to match it to?!" Judy asks.  We have entered Kafka-land some time ago.

At last, Judy leaves with the desired outcome. It turns out to be wrong.

On returning yet again, it’s, “well, who in the hell gave you that? It’s obviously wrong. Hey lady stop screaming—no need to take out your personal problems on us!”

OK, that was—drumroll—the Cable Company!  Comcast of West Orange, Essex County, New Jersey.

And that means—yes, people, believe it or not—the raging success story is the New Jersey DMV. Lately renamed the  Motor Vehicle Commission

I visited the Morristown office recently to register a new (actually used) car and change my address. I walk in at noon. The parking lot is full. I dread what is about to happen to my afternoon. 

But no; the lines are short—very short—and moving. I’m aggressively approached by someone who looks me in the eye. “Waddya here for, how can we help yez?”

“I want to register a car, and do a change of address,” I say. No hesitation. “Great, come on over here, let’s kill ‘em both off at once,” she says.

And she proceeds to do just that. She gave me practical advice: “If you don’t mind camping on a phone to Trenton for 10 minutes, it’ll save you a whole lot of time later—I’ll get you a chair. Meanwhile, I can download this part and fill it in for you.”

An elderly woman came in with an oxygen tube and a walker. An employee briskly walked her to the ladies room, then on her return, firmly asked someone else to move down to the next chair to make room.

A man with an accent said he was foreign born but naturalized years ago, and was worried sick about getting some documentation. An employee talked to him intently for 5 minutes; he ended up saying, “Oh, thank you so much, I am so relieved to find someone to help me with this, thank you.”

A woman next to me said, “I can’t believe how much better this place is than the department store I was just in.”

I sought out the office head before leaving to congratulate him on how different this office felt than others, and how much better than it used to be. “Yeah, we’ve got a pretty good team here,” he said, waving at his staff of eight or so.

Now, here’s the punch line. Which office do you think has bulletproof glass in front of the service windows?

Answer: the one who needs it.