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Most people over the age of 16 will at some point in their lives have to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles office, better known in Columbia as licensing offices.
The licensing offices handle vehicle registrations and renewals, titling services, license plate renewals, driver’s licenses, and identification cards.
Columbia is fortunate to have two licensing office locations — one on Vandiver Drive and one on Grindstone Parkway.
According to the state Department of Revenue’s website, in 2009, then governor Jay Nixon put all license offices out for a bid under the competitive procurement process, allowing the government to contract private businesses to work the licensing offices for the government.
In late 2014, Koester and Koester LLC won the bid for the Vandiver licensing location. For some time, this office was the largest licensing office in Missouri. Through a legislative process, Columbia opened a second licensing office off of Grindstone in 2016. This time, Elle Management LLC won the bid for the location.
Manager Kimberly Peck-Matney has worked at the Vandiver location for over two years. She has been with numerous other licensing offices across the state of Missouri.
The untraditional way in which the state’s government contracts private businesses has been a positive thing, Peck-Matney says. Customers have told her how the contracted business running the office has made the location faster and smoother. People are getting in and out quicker.
“It does take a special breed of person to do this job,” Peck-Matney says. “You have to be able to be thick-skinned. You can’t take anything personal. You can’t take anything to heart because nine times out of 10 that person isn’t frustrated with you; they are frustrated with the system.”
The Vandiver licensing office, owned by a father, David Koester, and son, DJ Koester, has a constant flow of people in the door. Peck-Matney says this is often because the Missouri State Highway Patrol is right next door. The Highway Patrol is responsible for overseeing the driver exams, so it’s convenient for drivers to come straight to the license office afterwards.
Each location has their own philosophy on customer service. For Vandiver, it is all about courtesy. Young people might not understand what’s going on, and the older generation might have trouble remembering the little details, Peck-Matney says. “Common courtesy is big,” she says. “Sweetness or understanding goes a longer way than vinegar.”
The people make every day interesting and different, says Peck-Matney. There was a 100-year-old who was the sharpest, funniest man she had met in a long time: Peck-Matney says he had a philosophy that “every day above dirt is a good one.”
“Once we forget that our customers have a choice in where they do their license office business, we lose the competitive advantage gained by showing kindness and respect to the community we serve,” says Terri Harris, founder and CEO of Elle Management LLC. “To this day, my cell phone number is listed in all the offices as well as the state website.”
Harris managed license offices for 19 years before forming her own company in February 2009. With the addition of Columbia’s south license office, Harris has provided service to customers in the way in which family members would want to be treated: Think of it like the Golden Rule, but for business.
The secret to the south location’s efficiency has to do with its setting and its staffing. Harris believes their location attracts the best in the business. Not only that, but there is adequate staffing to keep up with the crowds that come into the office.
Manager Amanda Crosby is the best manager in the industry, Harris says. “She loves her community and is so proud to call Columbia her home. . .She engages our customers with her warm personality and genuine concern. I tell her often that I wish we could clone her. Seriously, she’s the best.”
The staff is trained to a high degree as well. “We not only provide training in how to properly process the transactions, but we train them in how to process quickly,” Harris says. Employees are to stand during transactions. They found that by eliminating the need for chairs, some processes, such as getting inventory, logging surrendered plates, and performing all the tasks involved in serving our customers quickly, move much quicker, she says.
“My dad and I spent many hours together designing our office system to provide for maximum efficiency for our customers” Harris says. “Add our terrific management team and the results are clear to everyone visiting the office.”