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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

An improved licensing system and expanded Call Center mean wardens can spend more time on field patrols, enforcement checks and educational contacts with outdoor users. © Robert Queen
An improved licensing system and expanded Call Center mean wardens can spend more time on field patrols, enforcement checks and educational contacts with outdoor users.

© Robert Queen

February 2008

License to thrill

With DNR's improved licensing system and expanded Call Center, at 1 (888) 936-7463, it's easier than ever to get the documents and answers you need to enjoy Wisconsin's outdoors.

David L. Sperling

Quicker transactions at licensing agents
Registrations streamlined and automated
Convenient service in three languages

Not long ago hunting and fishing licenses and recreational vehicle registrations were mainly available at DNR offices and county clerks' offices during business hours, Monday through Friday. With the jam-packed work and family schedules most of us struggle with today, procuring the necessary paperwork required time and effort we just couldn't spare.

Last summer, DNR began to roll out improvements to the licensing system to make it easier, faster and more convenient to get outdoor licenses and answers. "Our customers are going to love this system because it allows them to do business with us much more quickly," said Diane Brookbank, director of DNR's Bureau of Customer Service and Licensing. "Customers told us that whether they were buying licenses, seeking permits for special hunts, registering their recreational vehicles, or signing up for outdoor safety classes, they wanted to sign up in one place, one time."

With more than 1,400 license outlets and the ability to access the licensing system at home, on the phone or online, people can now conduct their business with DNR in a snap.

"People can reach us from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week and most holidays," Brookbank says. "And we're prepared to do business in the three languages most commonly used by our customers ૻ English, Spanish and Hmong."

Quicker transactions at licensing agents

Hunters and anglers who buy their licenses at sporting goods stores, bait shops and resorts should notice that purchases go faster. If they come to the counter with their license from last year, the clerk should be able to scan the bar code from their expiring license and use the new touch screen to sell licenses fast. Wildlife permits for such popular hunts as Canada goose, bear, sharp-tailed grouse and the harvest of upriver sturgeon, bobcat, otter and fisher can be applied for on the touch screens, and agents can even show maps of the management units for each hunt to prospective hunters from the terminals in their stores. Wildlife permit applications automatically will be entered into the drawings to receive permits. Our improved Internet system is more reliable.

The technological enhancements, the new Call Center, longer service hours and the opportunity for customers to increasingly help themselves online came about when several factors converged.

"Manually processing outdoor licenses, registrations and permit drawings was one of the most labor-intensive tasks we faced every year," Brookbank said. "We knew that customers wanted those transactions to happen more quickly and with less work for them." When the contract for the existing automated license sales network came up for bid, Customer Service and Licensing began to examine how to speed up and ease the transaction process.

At the same time, DNR's 24-hour call-in tipline to report outdoor violations was being evaluated.

"While we were reviewing how we wanted to staff the tiplines, we were also considering what steps we might take that would provide better service to our customers and free up the field wardens' time to spend more of their work days in the field on patrol, public contacts and education instead of so many hours on the phone," says Chief Warden Randy Stark. "We started working with Customer Service and Licensing to rethink our staffing at the same time that they were rebidding their sales network contracts."

By combining forces and reallocating staff, the two programs found they could provide better service to customers for many more hours each day, and operate seven days a week – a boon for busy customers, and especially handy for the elderly or disabled who may lack easy transport to licensing outlets or DNR Service Centers.

"This is one of those everybody wins stories," Stark said. "Our customers are getting prompt service when they need it. Our wardens are able to spend more time in the field responding to complaints, enforcing the law and working with local communities on conservation, environmental and public safety needs, and this does not cost the people who support our programs through license and registration fees any more money," Stark said.

Registrations streamlined and automated

Wisconsinites enjoy motorized sports and, consequently, DNR currently registers about half a million boats, a quarter million ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and almost 139,000 snowmobiles. "That doesn't include older vehicles with expired registrations or vehicles that are considered in flux because people have sold or are still in the process of registering a vehicle," says Penny Kanable, who manages the recreational vehicle registration program for DNR's Customer Service and Licensing.

"In the past, the owners registered their recreational vehicles by mail, at DNR offices at one of the 60 places statewide, where "validation agents" are set up to handle the transaction or at dealerships if owners were buying new vehicles," Kanable says. "The forms are a bit complicated to complete. Due to the sheer volume of those transactions and the fact that each application has to be opened, reviewed and checked manually, it can take as long as four to six weeks to send back updated registrations to our customers." If the forms were not completed correctly or if the customer's handwriting was difficult to read, staff had to return the forms to customers with an explanation, causing additional delays. Often, when an incomplete form was returned, people would set it aside and might not attend to it promptly.

"Since late December the same registration forms have been available online for those who are renewing their registrations, transferring a vehicle, replacing a lost registration, or just need to make a simple amendment like a change of address or a new phone number," Kanable says. "Online registration offers a much faster option for our customers." The forms take customers through the process step-by-step. At the end of the transaction, customers who have filled out forms correctly can pay their fees online and immediately print out a Temporary Operating Receipt. "They are good to go immediately," she says. Transactions are completed the same night they are entered and customers receive hard copies of revisions and registrations within a week.

Kanable fired up her computer and deftly showed me some of the enhancements of the online system. Customers who have sold a boat, snowmobile or ATV just enter the registration number, purchase price and the location; the computer program automatically calculates and displays a tally of the registration fees, state and local taxes, and directions to complete the transaction. If the application is incomplete, the online screens highlight what information is missing.

As of our press time, online ATV and snowmobile registrations are available; online boat registration will be up and running within a few months, well ahead of the summer boating season.

We got a preview of the boating registration system. The online program asks a series of questions so the customer can quickly transfer, renew or register a vessel. Small boats (less than 16 feet long) can be registered or transferred through the online system; programs for bigger boats will be added to the system in the near future. For someone buying a used boat who is seeking a title transfer in addition to registering the vehicle, the computer program also generates a handy item-by-item checklist.

"Now we can offer a much faster option online that customers can complete at their convenience, any time of the day or night," says Kanable. Those transactions will be updated daily at the close of business.

For individuals who own several recreational vehicles or businesses like resorts that own a fleet of vehicles, the online system is especially handy: After the person logging on has entered their address and identification information, the program displays a complete list showing each vehicle, the make, model, hull or serial numbers, expiration date for the registrations and a "status" column indicating if registrations are current, pending or have expired.

"This system will be especially useful for snowbirds, out-of-state residents and others who want to get ready for the recreation season and renew their registrations before the current season," Kanable says. She notes that snowmobile renewals are sent out to customers each spring, but many people don't get around to renewing their registrations until the snow starts to fall. It's also useful for people who have sold vehicles and want to check whether those vehicles have been removed from their inventory and are now the responsibility of the new owners. Past owners can check whether vehicles are still on their files by entering the serial number, registration number or decal number of those vehicles.

Help in filling out these online forms is no farther than a phone call away from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, excluding the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Just dial the Call Center number and push the option for snowmobile, ATV and boat registration to reach customer service staff.

Reading barcodes and using touch-screen technology will speed up license sales. © David L. Sperling
Reading barcodes and using touch-screen technology will speed up license sales.

© David L. Sperling

Convenient service in three languages

Like a library's ready reference desk, staff at DNR's Call Center can quickly lay their hands on materials to provide fast, accurate answers to your questions. But that's not all they do.

Since last summer Call Center staff have been on the other end of the line, helping customers understand hunting and fishing rules, explaining how to sign up for outdoor safety education courses, connecting callers to DNR experts in resource and environmental matters, offering assistance in filling out forms, taking reports of outdoor violations and handling emergency calls.

Customers can reach the Call Center by phone toll-free or through live online chats 15 hours a day from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m at 1 (888) 936-7463 or 1-888-WDNRINFo. The extended hours offer customer service into the evenings, early mornings and on weekends – convenient for people on shift schedules and for those who want to reach DNR during their leisure time.

The center's 15 staff members are trained to take calls and summon emergency help when spills and hotline tips are phoned in. Some staff are fluent in Spanish, Hmong and Portuguese to serve an ever-wider customer base.

During times when calls drop off, Call Center staff work with their Customer Service and Licensing colleagues to process wildlife harvest data; handle ATV and boat registrations; send out hunting permits; perform background checks for law enforcement; assist the warden help line; and communicate with other DNR Service Centers and offices.

By combining the jobs of people who staffed the law enforcement hotlines with some duties that used to be performed by outside contractors, the Call Center is able to supplement the friendly help customers receive at DNR Service Centers and relieve many of the routine calls local wardens got at their homes for general information about DNR.

Some center staff specialize in handling hotline, tipline and spill calls; others are trained to quickly help the field wardens who call in for information. "Our aim is to cross-train our staff so everybody will be able to take on any call or inquiry coming into the center," says Donna Leighton, a Call Center lead worker. Besides having access to a central repository of regulation pamphlets, directories, fact sheets and contact lists, each staffer builds a personal reference manual to consult.

"As we all become more familiar with the typical questions that our customers ask, we get better and faster at finding them answers," says Leighton, who notes that many questions are dictated by the seasons – how to get rid of a certain nuisance plant or animal, when trails open, how to find parks, fishing seasons and limits, interpreting hunting regulations. "People also want to know who can talk about current topics like VHS (viral hemmorhagic septicemia), chronic wasting disease or emerald ash borer," she says. "We'll find a local contact near the caller's home when they want information about a local area, lake, recreation spot or business."

Opened in June 2007, the Call Center continues to receive rave reviews:

"I sure never expected a response on a Sunday," said an ATV registrant trying to unravel dual renewal applications for vehicle stickers.

"Wow. You're amazing. Thanks for answering me," said a caller with a boating registration question. "Thanks so much for the quick reply, especially on the weekend."

"Wow. I am very impressed with the service! How late do you people work?" asked an e-mail correspondent who sent in a question at 11:08 at night and had a reply before 7:30 the next morning.

"Your state is the easiest by far of any that I have tried. Thank you for such easy access to your license."

"I'm impressed that an actual person from the DNR took the time to e-mail me back. Lately I've been working with financial companies and other companies that NEVER NEVER respond with a courteous e-mail. I appreciate you and the DNR," said a caller.

One caller sent an e-mail after 8 p.m. on a Thursday asking staff to identify a snake from a photo she attached to her message; her son had brought the snake into the house and it had gotten loose. The next morning a staff herpetologist identified the snake as a juvenile western fox snake and told the customer not to worry: The snake was a harmless constrictor relatively common in Wisconsin.

"Some people want to understand rules and get a local interpretation," Leighton says. "Others want to talk with a local who knows the roads, towns and properties in an area. Whatever it is, when we can provide that customer with the answer or contact they want, that's really satisfying."

David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.