Passport renewal experience in the light of re-engineering
Today, re-engineering or business process redesign has become a buzz word that is being uttered by almost everybody in the business community.
I wouldn't even be surprised if it has been entered into recently published dictionaries, but I'm afraid that not many of those whom it concerns have taken the trouble to look-up its exact meaning. I have no re-engineering background but I am vaguely familiar with the subject from what I read in magazines and books on business management issues. Recently I had to have my passport renewed and I want to share with you this experience.
To my believe it shows that re-engineering opportunities are around us in our every day environment and it may stimulate others to detect these opportunities and may help in building business cases on re-engineering. The way I have looked upon this experience is that passport renewal is so strikingly different from any commercial customer service process I have ever encountered and I think that this difference closely ties in with the ultimate results of a business re-engineering effort. Normally, re-engineering has to do with challenging the business fundamentals and starts at senior executive level, focusing on primary business objectives. The intention of writing down my experience is to show how re-engineering aspects can be found in every day real life, i.e. I have not tried to discover the business principles behind passport renewal.
I have chosen not to write a narrative about my passport renewal, but to address some points that really drew my attention. Probably my adrenaline was raised to such levels out of frustration with the amount of time the whole process of passport renewal took, that I decided to analyse it in the way that I did.
0 Process basics
In order to get your passport renewed, you will have to go to a local federal administration office, bringing along your passport and some other material like recently made photographs and enough money. The federal administration, after some checking and administration, will give you your new passport for which you will have to pay some money.
1 Passport renewal characteristic
The whole passport renewal process seems to be based on a growing queue of people that are waiting to be served. This is probably true for similar federal ‘services’ (registrations, really) as well.
As this was not the first time I had my passport renewed (the last time was some five years ago), I decided to bring along my passport, four photographs especially made for the purpose and more than enough money. From the telephone book I learned the address of the federal office and its opening hours. I decided to go by car.
The federal office for passport renewal is open all working days from 09.00 until 14.00 hours. Only on Thursday, the office is also open between 15.00 and 17.00 hours, but in this period you will have to bring your social security card for identity purposes as well. The latter was not mentioned in the telephone book.
The federal office for passport renewal has a large parking area for cars. Parking tariff is to be paid in advance and depends on the period of time that your car is parked. Due to a growing queue of people for passport renewal, the later you arrive at the federal office, the harder it will be to find a free parking lot and the more expensive parking will be. If you park your car longer than you are allowed, you will get a substantial fine. How was I supposed to know how long the process of renewal would take ?
4 Reception desk
After entering the federal office you will present yourself at the reception desk to ask directions for the federal service you want. At the same time, it is clearly indicated where in the building you can have your passport renewed. The receptionist seemed almost out of work. At other times and similar offices I have experienced that the receptionist and other personnel were hardly able to direct you in the right direction; something to do with complex procedures and formal instructions.
5 Counters for passport renewal
The federal office contained five counters for passport renewal, two of which seemed to be closed permanently. At similar offices you have counters with alphabetical grouping and you line up at the group which corresponds with the first letter of your last name. Here, two counters were in use to start the process of renewal; one counter was used as a cashier counter where you had to pay for your new passport. So, twice you had to line-up in a queue.
For the first queue you had to draw a ticket with the relative order number and the highest number of the currently served customers was shown at the wall above these so called ticket-counters. When a customer was finished being served at a ticket-counter, a clerk would push a button to display the next higher number and you would automatically be added to the second queue of people waiting to get and pay for their new passport. Your turn would come if the cashier decided to call your name, which she would do no sooner than she had your new passport ready to give to you.
I was surprised to notice that customers were being handled using two ways of identification purposes, i.e. a ticket-number and a name, even if it seems to make sense if you think about it.
6 The first (ticket counter) queue - part 1
I was rather early. I soon found out to draw a ticket and where and I was fifth in the queue, which seemed rather fortunate.
7 Waiting chairs
In front of the counters there is a large area filled with some 25 chairs. The administration is really capable of dealing with a large queue and giving people some comfort while waiting. At the time I was in the queue, the waiting chairs just started to fill up a bit. At the time I was being served at the ticket-counter, the area was half filled with people queuing up.
8 Phone booth
The office contains a phone booth, taking into account that you will stay some time and that you may have to notify other persons because of your long (unexpected) absence. Of course, phone calls have to be paid for at the reception desk (that was the good point, otherwise you should have to carry coins or exchange some money if you were fortunate enough to find a person that could oblige). By making a phone call you could loose your right to sit.
9 Closet room
The office gives entrance to a closet room with all relevant facilities. The later you arrive at the passport renewal office, the higher the chance you will make use of the closet room, again with the chance of loosing your (normal) waiting chair.
10 Coffee machine
The office contains a coffee machine, another form of comfort for those who are waiting. Only this time you do need coins (and the chance of loosing your waiting chair is small).
11 The first (ticket counter) queue - part 2
An elderly woman that drew a ticket was wondering how long she was to wait; she didn't see the number on the wall of the customer being served at that moment.
Finally my turn came up. I had been afraid of missing it while smoking a cigarette outside.
Everything seemed in order and the counter-clerk started to do some entries in a PC and took out a few forms. Bad luck - I should have brought my wife along for approval (by signature) of the fact that the children are registered in my passport. So, she returned my passport and a few forms, I would go home for the missing signature and my wife's passport and I would return later. Who's next ?
12 The rules
How is a customer to know what conditions apply for passport renewal ?
Surely, I took a big chance in not having inquired about these rules in advance. However, I have the feeling that it wouldn't have made much difference. In other words, undoubtedly they have rules for passport renewal, but I have the impression that you are highly dependent on the particular counter clerk that applies them. Depending on the skills of the counter-clerk, writing down the rules in formal instructions may be a highly complex task. An inquiry beforehand wouldn't necessarily imply that the service desk would ask me questions, for instance, about the time I would visit the office, about registration of children or about the amount of money it was going to cost. This probably is one of the main problems an office for passport renewal encounters.
For customers, a variation on Murphy's Law applies : You won't get serviced during 1 visit. How about : There will always be a next visit ?
Instead of user (clerk) empowerment, these kind of processes are characterised by customer empowerment : you should really consider all your options before daring to have your passport renewed and get the smooth service you want. Another way to look at this is that the real power lies with the clerk. She (or he) decides whether your passport renewal is to be a smooth process or not. Besides, the clerks don't seem to care whether your passport renewal process will be smooth or not. This makes one wonder about the definition of the clerks' business targets. Too, they don't seem to care how long the queues get and will still take a break if they feel like it. Normally, many a shop getting full of people will give rise to panic among the clerks.
This balance of power leads to an overall tense atmosphere, with frustrated and gloomy looking people, including the clerks themselves. Who would want to work at such a place ? Clerk motivation is probably low and clerk rotation will probably be high, implying that clerks definitely will have problems understanding the formal instructions for passport renewal.
14 Closing hours
I forgot to ask but really wonder how the office manages to close at predefined closing hours. Easiest would be to send the remaining people in the ticket counter queue home at closing hours but I can hardly imagine this to be policy, even with this office.
15 The second visit
For my second visit I had to park the car again and I was lucky to find a free lot. Again, I had to line up in the first queue (taking a new ticket) which was much longer this time. Fortunately, I was served by the same clerk (!) and everything was just fine, apart from the fact that the actual renewal took very long. The second (cashier counter) queue was actually very short and I was able to pay and finally get my new passport. Mind you, at some small local offices you will receive your new passport by mail. In the end, I was glad to find my car without a parking fine. I felt very satisfied after all, being able to take my vacation the next day and as if I had performed some major task.
Some conclusions (hypothetical)
By working more efficient, the office can serve more customers with fewer counter clerks, with smaller queues that in their turn will make lesser demands on the building facilities and the corresponding maintenance. Either cost reduction for passport renewal will be reached or the extra money can be spend on other federal services. The working atmosphere will be better and will increase productivity and simplify recruiting by making more clerks stay with their jobs. Besides, less personnel will be needed to check on parking abuses. Focus should be on making procedures and rules for passport renewal simpler and more familiar to all, customers and clerks alike. Furthermore and primarily, business objectives for passport renewal (offices) should be well defined.