Benson: 30-min. guarantee for Secretary of State branches is fulfilled — as long as you have an appt.

Jocelyn Benson | Ken Coleman

As the new head of a department infamously plagued with customer service challenges, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says she has followed through on her campaign promise to cut visits at SOS offices to 30 minutes or less.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Dec. 12, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

But, she concedes, that guarantee only applies for those with scheduled appointments.

Benson gave members of the media an update on the Department of State’s efforts to modernize Secretary of State offices and fix long-standing customer service issues at a Thursday news conference in Lansing. She highlighted new self-serve kiosks, revamped online features and expanded appointment availabilities as a few of the new improvements, but emphasized that there is still much work to do.

During her 2018 campaign, Benson ran on a commitment to shorten Michigan’s notoriously long wait times at Secretary of State offices to 30 minutes or less. But she immediately ran into a plethora of problems, including outdated and sometimes broken technology, which hindered her ability to do so.

Secretary of State revamping troubled online customer service system

Benson has since been hit with criticism that her promise on wait times has not been fulfilled. But according to her, it has — as long as you make an appointment, the 30 minute guarantee stands.

“Now, today, there is no wait time for anyone who makes an appointment,” Benson said, adding that individuals with appointments are encouraged to arrive a few minutes earlier than their scheduled time in order to “be seen on time and finished within 30 minutes or less.”

“Now, I’m of course aware that there are still long waits for people who walk into a branch office without an appointment,” Benson said. “I do not think for a second that our work is done. In fact, we’re just beginning.”

Upon assuming office in January 2019, Benson became Michigan’s first Democrat to serve as Secretary of State since 1994. Under her predecessor, now-state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.), SOS branches experienced rising wait times, technological issues and staff shortages.

Benson described the condition of the department she inherited as “unsustainable,” and said that “staff morale was understandably low.”

Benson: No regrets on 30-minute Secretary of State office guarantee

“Even the inaccurate data tracking systems in place made clear that wait times had doubled under my predecessor,” Benson said. “… Many customers were justifiably angry. Sometimes that frustration would lead to violence.”

Benson also added that an estimated 50% of people who came into branch offices didn’t need to be there in person, and could have used one of the self-service options instead. She said the department is working to expand availability to services like these to ensure that lines at the SOS are the shortest they can be.

As part of these efforts, Benson also announced that the department will begin offering same-day appointments in early 2020 and continue to install self-service kiosks across the state to more promptly serve customers.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights, health care/safety net and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two very special cats.