September 09, 2003
P.S. Eternal Data

When I applied for my Maryland driver's license, the clerk asked if I had ever had one before. Yes, I had -- in 1979. She immediately called up my record and displayed my personal data on a touch-screen so I could confirm or edit each item as necessary. I'm still 6'1" and still have hazel eyes (duh!), my hair may as well still be entirely brown, since I shave my head, but I haven't weighed 160 pounds in a long long time. Thanks for the reminder, omniscient computer!

Speaking of clerks: A few weeks ago someone on my blogroll (I don't recall who) was making sneering remarks about customer support employees as if they were universally lazy, incompetent, and impossible to reach in the first place. That has not been my experience lately. From Chesapeake Bank to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to Hertz Penske Truck Rentals, just about every customer representative I've talked to while moving has been thoroughly pleasant, efficient, and helpful. Perhaps most impressive: it took less than five minutes total to shut down my telephone and gas-and-electric accounts in Rochester and arrange for the final bills to be forwarded here. When I was young and slender, that had to be done in person, and involved waiting in line for at least half an hour in each location. What was particularly imprssive was that I made the calls the day after the great power outage that knocked out electricity for 90% of Rochester along with most of the rest of the Northeast: Rochester Gas & Electric had a perfect excuse for putting me on hold for hours, but I got right through. I should mention, though, that none of these experiences involved computer support, which may be just as bad as its reputation.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at September 09, 2003 11:22 PM

I've lived in MD since 1977, and have found MD state agencies to be well run and efficient. Besides MVA, I deal with Dep't of Natural Resources (boat registration) and we all deal with the Comptroller's office (income tax). However, my standards might have been lowered by having previously lived in VA and RI.

Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) on September 10, 2003 11:47 AM

It isn't only gov't bureaucracies that have infinite memories. When I took my current job, I was returning to the same company I had worked for in the late '70s, and into pretty much the same organization. The first symptom of eternal data was my first paycheck. The amount was way off, but strangely familiar. It turned out that it was based on my salary from when I had departed 12 years before. It took several pay periods before that was straightened out. The other symptom was a summary printout my boss got from HR telling her who was eligible for a merit raise. I was on the list, by reason of not having had a raise for 12 years (sounds more like grounds for firing).

I'm currently working on updates to a NASA document that was last officially released in 1990. One appendix is AFU and I'm re-writing it, but I keep having the feeling that maybe I'm the one who wrote it originally, back 20+ years ago when I was young and ignorant.

Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) on September 10, 2003 11:59 AM

Bureaucracies vary, in my experience. The treatment I got two years ago when I applied--for the first time in my life--for unemployment, was terrible. Slow, inefficient, impersonal, and very passive-aggressive "we don't want to talk to you, just sit down and shut up" attitudes.

On the other hand, my experience with Michigan's Secretary of State, which handles licenses and whatnot, is usually pretty positive.

Computer support will also tend to vary methinks. In that industry, there's a general reluctance to pay highly qualified people what they're worth in order to do their jobs well--and it's a terribly difficult job to do well, since it usually requires knowledge levels and talent that will likely lead you to a better job sooner or later. So a lot of underqualified people wind up with the job.

Posted by: Dean Esmay on September 13, 2003 05:12 AM

Dean: Yes, the Michigan Dept of State is quite well run. OTOH, the three worst bureaucracies I've ever had the misfortune to deal with were the auto licensing agencies in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

One thing that may help explain this: the Michigan Secretary of State is an elected official, and there have been only two officeholders since the 1960's.

Posted by: markm on September 14, 2003 12:10 AM

On the other hand, the auto-licensing facilities in Oklahoma are largely privatized; then again, if you dealt directly with the DPS, I can understand why you're displeased.

Posted by: CGHill on September 14, 2003 01:57 PM

As the recession continues, the quality of customer service workers goes up. I've dealt with some very, very competent people lately. It's depressing.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs on September 15, 2003 04:58 AM