Banking, transferring or withdrawing money, government agencies such as visa’s, passports, driver’s licenses, among other things are all examples of ‘services’. The experiences we have from these services, whether we’re happy after a transaction or not, is an effect of how much ‘design’ is part of the process. Sometimes it may be designed well, often times not at all. Rosenfeld media has a book about Service Design if you want to read more.

Last Tuesday, I went to the DFA in SM Megamall to get my passport renewed. My first impression of the place was: this place had some design thinking involved! The layout of the room was designed to accommodate each step one by one (and in a logical order. I wasn’t going around in circles; I entered through one door and walked from step to step and exited through another). It didn’t feel like they just got a huge floor and set up tables and counters for the process; it seemed like each section was put there purposely because it sped up the process. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start compared to other government offices. There were just a few things about the design of the experience (or place) that I would recommend optimizing or tweaking a bit.

Problem 1: Confusing Step 1

I noticed that most customers feel confused about the “Verification” process (which is step 1). Some stand idly or are able to get a waiting number first before going to the Verification counter (there was no line to follow at that time so the step wasn’t obvious). Later on, the steps are easier to identify and the flow becomes smoother. It doesn’t help that Verification counter is at your right after entering and what’s in front is the ticket machine (so it seems like I should get a number first).  I’m guessing the entrance is at the left door because the right door is a bit hidden from the staircase going up the office, or that the “U” line starts at the left-side of the door.

Solution

A better placement for the Step 1 sign (something clearer or more eye-catching). Another quick solution would be to move the entrance to the right side door instead of the left, so that you are forced to pass by Verification first, before getting a waiting ticket/number (although I can’t verify if this has any repercussions on the waiting line on other days or hours, since I was there on a weekday morning. But this is a placement that makes the Verification counter more obvious from inside).

 

Problem 2: Too many numbers on the screen

After submitting your papers (Step 2) and paying (Step 3), I went straight to the Encoding Room, which is another spacious room with rows of chairs for waiting. Basically, this is where they’ll take your photo, get your digital finger prints and will ask you to confirm that you have correct information.

Before you get called to complete Step 4 though, you will have to wait for your number (the one you got after Verification, the same one from Step 2) to flash on the TV screen. This is where the confusion happens though, because the screen looks something like this:

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There are a whole bunch of tinier numbers on the lower left, and a few rows of larger numbers on the right. The left side is listed with ticket numbers in red (which seems to be the counter number), and at the same time, the ticket numbers on the right side are also assigned counter numbers (in white).

For the 30+ mins that I was sitting there, at least two people asked me what to do or which numbers to look at. At first, I was feeling confident that I was waiting for my number to show up on the right side of the screen. In my mind, I thought I could vaguely recognize the people ahead of my number and it seemed like they matched the tickets being currently served. But then, one of the people who asked me pointed out that the smaller numbers on the lower left were also updating (and they were showing my number as well as other numbers, while the right side only showed numbers that were before mine). This made me doubt myself. Did I make the mistake of waiting for the wrong side of the screen to update? Did I miss my chance?

I started to get nervous, but I reassured the stranger that it’s the right side that was updating and is the one we’re supposed to watch for. I wasn’t as confident as I first was though, but soon enough I proved to be right. But not without some nervousness!

Solution

They should show only the numbers/counters in the Encoding Room. The lower left numbers showed all the counters (even when they weren’t being manned by a person, or even from the other room which is unnecessary information for the waiting customers in the Encoding Room). I could only guess that it’s an automated system that’s updating the lower left of the screen, while the bigger numbers are updated manually by whoever is behind the counter.

 

Problem 3: Encoding Room Counter Number Placement  

Another problem is the placement of the numbers on the dividers of the counters in the Encoding Room (Step 4). I decided to sit on the left side of the room where the numbers on the dividers of the counters are visible, but the room was wide enough that half its occupants wouldn’t be so lucky. I observed a lady whose number flashed on screen and she had to walk from the right side of the room to find which counter corresponded to her ticket, before she hurried towards the counter on the middle of the room.

IMG_20140321_191623

Solution

This is the easiest to solve: both sides of the dividers should have numbers.

 

Final Thoughts

The problems and suggestions I shared on this post didn’t really cover the whole process (from booking an appointment online to doing the steps at the office). I only talked about the experience inside DFA Megamall. Maybe next time I’ll review it from start to finish, but I just had those doodles sitting on a draft for too long that I wanted to write and publish this before I get too lazy to. Here’s a quick list of my experience from the online process:

  • When I first booked an appointment, I did so before I traveled to HK. I haven’t renewed a passport before (the one I got five years ago was my first), and I didn’t know if I could or couldn’t use my old passport once I applied for a renewal. I had to google before my flight to see what they do exactly, because it wasn’t clear from the website. They had warnings at the door at the DFA office that they’re not liable if flights are affected because of passport processing time.  They never explain what happens to your old passport though.
  • You can cancel an appointment online 5 days or more before your scheduled appointment. I was canceling at the last minute so I was rejected by the system. However, booking a new appointment automatically cancels your old appointment. So I did that instead. This negates the 5-day minimum requirement.
  • They are wasting paper by making us print the first page (has the schedule and checklist) and last page (fine print) of the PDF file sent after booking. At the verification counter, they are taken off and, I assume, later thrown away.

The whole process was faster compared to some offices (I was there two hours only because I went too early, at around 10am, but I was scheduled for 11am so they didn’t let me in until 45 mins later). There was a line at 10am but when I went in again after 10.30am, it has more or less disappeared. Despite the few confusing aspects of the service, it was still orderly and whatever confusion customers had, most people finished the process without much trouble (based on my observations on how many people ask questions or walk around confused).

It’s been five years since I visited the main DFA office and this was a better experience for me. I’ve seen more malls opening DFA offices and it seems like a better idea to go to these offices rather than the main office. Getting my driver’s license in…Cainta, (or Marikina; I can’t remember) was slower and grimier compared to the cleaner License Renewal office in Megamall. In my experience though, not all government services in malls are equal in efficiency. For example, my NBI Clearance experience at Robison’s Galleria was much, much better than the one in Robinson’s Metro East. It’s still best to ask around which mall or place would have the most efficient service, unless you have no choice but to go to the main government office.

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