Customer Service Tips from the DMV

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A few weeks ago, I renewed my driver’s license and I documented my Queueing experience of waiting in line at the DMV. There was a sign, hidden behind a desk, that appeared to contain some tips on customer service and it drew my interest. I received wonderful customer service at the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles, so I was curious if that excellent service was driven from what was contained in that document. So, I asked the Tennessee DMV if I could have a copy of that document and if I could have their permission to publish it here. They said “Yes”.

The document is divided into two sections:

  1. The first is a promise that the Tennessee DMV makes publicly to its customers.
  2. The second are internal tips that the Tennessee DMV employees are trained on.

Pledge to Customers

Below is the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicle’s pledge to its customers:

Our daily mission is to meet our customers’ needs and exceed their expectations.

The 5 P’s of Customer Service

  1. You Are Our Top Priority.  Our Goal Is To Provide The Best Possible Service.
  2. We Are Here To Address Your Needs and Solve Your Problems.
  3. To See Your Problems From Your Perspective & Point of View.
  4. Explain Our Systems and Procedures Under State & Federal Law.
  5. If You Are Unsatisfied With Your Service, Our Manager Will Be Happy to Assist You.

The next section are internal to the Tennessee DMV – material that is used to train employees in how they service customers. After I present their 8 Tips of Customer Service, I want to add a few comments.


  1. CUSTOMER FIRST: Always tell your customer what you CAN do for them. Don’t begin your conversation by telling them what you CAN’T do.  This is a golden opportunity of Service and the power of “Yes We Can” because they are the top priority.  It starts by greeting with a smile.
  2. UNLEASH ANGERAllow irate customers to vent. Do not interrupt them or start to speak until they have finished having their say. Just because they are raising their voice doesn’t mean you should raise yours.
  3. SAY APOLOGY: Diffuse anger by saying “I apologize.”  It helps to smooth ruffled feathers.  The customer may not be right, but the customer should win, so value complaints.  If an error has been made, make it right without making excuses.
  4. TOM & TAMMY: Use your customer’s name at different points. Make them feel important.   Mr. & Mrs. is preferred.
  5. OPTIMIZE: Make certain that your “solution” to the customer’s problem is acceptable to them. Get their approval and agreement.  Fix it or explain why you can’t.  But remember, many customers’ needs are emotional rather than logical.
  6. MANNERS: Always conclude with a “Thank you” or a verbal message of appreciation for their business or for calling the Department.
  7. EARS: Listen attentively! There is nothing worse than asking an irate or troubled customer to REPEAT what they have just said.  Paraphrase what they’ve said. Identify needs, ask questions, don’t assume.  And don’t promise the impossible.
  8. REMEMBER. Remember to ask if there is anything else that you can do for your customer. Taking the time to ask the question often results in increased business and a more committed customer.  If you give more than expected, the customer may not leave perfectly satisfied but perhaps they’ll leave happy.

My Comments on Customer Service

First off, thanks to the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles for sharing and giving me permission to publish their Customer Service Material.

Here are a few lessons from the DMV customer service tips that other organizations could learn from:

  • We know that when the risk is high, people have more anxiety. This is a lesson we learn from the Psychology of Queueing.
  • Knowing this, it is wise to that items #1 and #2 address this fact – focus on what can be done for the customer (this reassures the customer and reduces anxiety) and also to allow the customer to safely release their anger. The advice and reminder that just because the customer raises his/her voice doesn’t mean we need to raise our voice is also very, very wise. Simple advice – but very effective.
  • Tip #4 – language – the words we say and how we say it – makes a very big difference in diffusing hot situations. Saying the word “I apologize” is simple but very, very effective.
  • Tip #5 is, again, very simple, but often forgotten. Make sure the solution fits the problem.

So, thank you to the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles for sharing their Customer Service document with me. I received wonderful service and, what is apparent, is that their customer service declaration and pledge is working because its showing in how their employees are servicing the customer.

customer pledge for customer service

our promise to our customers for service


  1. Marty says

    Impressive. I wonder what got the DMV management motivated to actually setup this system. I mean – why would the employees actually care to do well? This seems to be the first step in any government system – building the incentive structure.

  2. Bob Collier says

    I think the perception that anxiety is high when the risk is high is very apt here. The DMV is a place where you must open up with them and tell all, and they have the power and duty to charge you substantial sums of money and/or take legal control of your driving privileges. That is scary to many people, especially those who are only in partial control of their lives. In this regard, there is a lot of legitimate dread about interacting with the DMV. I think this is a great example of the DMV really understanding the customer’s point of view at an emotional level and really partnering with the customer to effectively *serve* their needs, instead of just *processing* their situation without regard to their legitimate emotional reaction. It’s brilliant. The poster is pretty garish though. :-)

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