Downward economic forces will likely encourage more government agencies to invest in automation and productivity-enhancing technologies. With open minds, government officials can turn customer relationship management (CRM) into citizen relationship management.
Despite a reputation for being secure, government jobs are not immune from the recession. Already, state and local governments have announced plans to slash jobs, or reduce working hours. In November, a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) spokesperson reportedly warned that the USPS might cut as many as 40,000 jobs, which would mark the first layoff in American postal history. [The USPS later issued a clarification, stating that the organization "is not laying off employees," but rather intends to reduce its workforce via early retirements; as of November 2008, the USPS said, more than 3,600 employees had accepted the offer.] The Postmaster General followed this bombshell with a January suggestion that massive deficits may force the USPS to cut mail delivery to five days a week.
Cutbacks are already making their way into state and local governments as well. Naturally, government agencies will be required to do more with less. Government contact centers, for example, may notice a spike in calls from cash-strapped citizens looking for food stamps, unemployment services, and other government aid. This is where automation can help.
But to get government buy-in, some officials need to change the way they view their constituencies. "In the government space, there is a [reluctance] to refer to the citizen as a customer, and that mindset has to go away. You have to be comfortable with thinking of your citizens as customers, even if you don't call them that," says one industry pundit in our cover story, "We the People," by Assistant Editor Christopher Musico. This feature cites a few examples of government efforts, such as New York City's 311 nonemergency support line, that use CRM technology to do more with less.
"Doing more with less" is a popular maxim that many organizations are forced to adopt. People have been hearing this mantra for years and are probably hearing it more today. But if organizations have been doing more with less for years, how much more can they do, and with how much less? Won't they get to a point of diminishing returns, where they've maxed out the benefits of their few remaining resources?
According to Jim Dickie, a partner at CSO Insights, in terms of CRM usage we're nowhere close to that. "The vast majority of firms," he says, "are not achieving their true potential because they are underutilizing the tools they have." Those CRM underutilizers, he adds, might benefit from a little perspective: "You have a Porsche that you're driving like my grandmother would drive it." Read his column, "2009-Era Sales Needs 2009-Era CRM," to see which strategies some of the leading-edge companies are focusing on.
Many of these strategies will be covered in upcoming issues of CRM magazine and at our CRM Evolution 2009 conference at the New York Marriott Marquis, August 24–26 (visit www.CRMevolution2009.com for more information).
Hope is not lost. We have a popular and inspiring leader in President Barack Obama. His popularity is credited to his ability to instill hope and optimism — with Americans as well as with people around the world. This can effect change, but requires cooperation, commitment, and a lot of effort from everyone. In tough economic times, people are forced to dig a little deeper, which also holds true in business. Can organizations do the same and find new benefits from their existing CRM systems to help them cut costs, improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, increase profitability, and enhance productivity? To borrow from a cleverly named new flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream: Yes Pecan.
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For the rest of the March 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.