government visitor experience

Visitor Experience at City Halls, the American Way

Hey everyone, it’s the 4th of July, so you know what that means!

It’s time to stand up and cheer for the good ol’ red-white-and-blue and all things American: fireworks, silly baseball or cowboy hats (your choice), roundhouse kicks, and BBQ.

But even if we add corn dogs, football and cut-off tees, the list still feels incomplete. So let’s talk about another very American activity — complaining about how Uncle Sam governs the institutions.

In today’s special Independence Day feature, we dive deep into American city halls and how they can stop people from losing their hair over bad service.

Independence is the Name of the Game

Since it’s the Independence Day, that means we get a great excuse to talk about — you guessed it — independence.

Customers, visitors, clients, guests — whatever you call them, people nowadays value the ability to not be dependent, even when it’s something as small as sign-in. Even troubleshooting is something visitors would gladly do on their own — 50% of customers consider it important to solve product or service issues themselves.

That’s what we call self-service, and it has both offline and online components. If you’ve got a website, 70% of customers expect you to have an online self-service solution.

City hall visitors are not immune to the self-service craze. The faster they adopt it, the better.

city of manhattan beach experience

The permit center at the City of Manhattan Beach, California banks on exactly that — self-service.

With 4 million visitors annually, plus the number of local residents, streamlining the paperwork and queuing process is a must for the City of MB.

That’s why the visitors at the permit center have the ability to sign themselves in using an iPad. This is how it’d work if you were a constituent of the City of Manhattan beach: you go in, enter all the relevant details via the iPad, and then kick back and enjoy your time.

In a surprising move for city halls, which aren’t exactly known for being accommodating, the permit center at the City of MB also provides a bluetooth keyboard for visitors not accustomed to Apple products.

Speaking of Apple products, another one is Apple TV, used to display real-time queue information. Instead of following the usual “shout-so-that-they-come” routine, visitors can look up their name on the large screen and head to whichever desk is shown there.

Less bureaucracy, less paperwork — that’s the American way.

Stars and Stripes, and Long Lines

If there’s a word that describes government service to a tee, it’s BOOOOREDOM. Unenthusiastic citizen going through overly bureaucratic processes set up by employees who don’t care.

And lines. Oh boy, don’t think we’ve forgotten to mention the lines.

The biggest offenders, DMVs, can have wait times as long as 3 hours. We’re talking 3 hours spent in a suffocating, bored-out-of-your-skull cosy environments full of people feeling the same burning, pointless hatred as you do.

Exhausting queues is something that all government agencies suffer from, but only a handful of government agencies have managed to resolve.

The lines don’t have to be synonymous with city halls. And with government queue management software, they won’t.

west hollywood community

Let’s not mince our words here: queue management at government offices is a tough business. Most agencies stick to what they know, to tried-and-true methods of management.

But “tried” doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with “true”.

One thing that’s been sorely lacking is the reliance on newer technologies. Yes, innovation can show itself even in the smallest and seemingly unimportant things — like queues. But are queues at government facilities that unimportant?

Sure, government doesn’t exactly care about experiences. But what about the results? The smoother the process, the more people can go through it — and fewer people complaining.

The population needs a race car, but the most agencies can offer them is a lice-ridden, lame mule. Just think about it: how many agencies have you seen still use the old pen-and-paper registration method.

Paper was the answer, but only way back when. What do you do with paper now? You recycle it — and recycle it into something better.

So, why go digital over printed-out sign-in sheets? Because, as the name implies, there’s less paperwork involved, and less confusion.

The digital method of registration doesn’t want for additional space, so if there is need to add more options to select from or write down a lengthy comment, there are no issues. Paper sheets, on the other hand, provide limited room.

People will find something to complain about — after all, that’s the United States of A for you — but they won’t be complaining about waiting.

Peace, Liberty and Great Experience for All

Look, there’s no way around it — if government agencies want people to get off their back, they need to show care not only for their visitors but employees as well. After all, “We the People” includes, among others, the men behind the curtain — the staff.

If government offices want to improve, there’s a lot to learn — particularly, from their retail counterparts.

Here’s the thing: employee engagement in the private sector is more than 17 points higher than engagement of federal employees. While the long-term trend is positive, the gap is still a big one.

And the best federal places to work are NASA, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the National Endowment for the Arts — not exactly your run-of-the-mill DMV or city hall.

(Not to mention Secret Service and Social Security Administration, where job satisfaction keeps falling.)

Now, if you’re in charge of one of these government agencies with unengaged employees, it may be prudent to look up for strategies to raise employee satisfaction. Or, you could do what the City of Alameda did.

alameda city hall experience

Just like Manhattan Beach, the City of Alameda uses a queue management tool to manage the crowds: a customer walks in, enters their name into the iPad sign-in station, and selects a service.

A large TV screen is there for visitors to follow their queue status and where to go — again, same as with the City of Manhattan Beach.

But that’s obviously not why we’re focusing on Alameda now, as otherwise that’d be pointlessly padding our content through repeating the talking points.

(And we don’t pad anything, ever. Hand to heart.)

The reason the City of Alameda is such a great example to use is that don’t shy away from using stats, metrics and data to make experience great for everyone involved, including their employees. We’re talking about using performance reports for justifying staffing budgets, planning schedules and planning vacations.

What’s the performance data? It’s everything from the average wait time, total number of customers served, peak daily wait times, and individual statistics of each clerk.

The better you understand how a man works, the better you can help him work. While productivity isn’t a word that’s been historically associated with governments, there’s no reason it can’t be.


If there’s a takeaway in all of that, it’s that governments shouldn’t pretend to be know-it-alls, especially not when it comes to visitor experience.

If anything, they can take a few lessons from retail — and from existing city halls that have already achieved great service experience.

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