One of the first words that comes to mind when thinking about government is big--likely followed by slow, inefficient, and other less complimentary ones. To combat this negative image--and to serve citizens while doing so--governments ranging in size from small municipalities to federal institutions have increasingly been turning to technology to reach more people more easily. CRM has become a critical facet of those efforts to make sense of the tremendous volume of inquiries received, and the data involved. The gap now, some experts say, is the distance between the mere digital nature of e-government and the more-complex requirements of what's being called interactive government, or i-government.
"As we get further into e-government and i-government, CRM will be crucial," says Alan Webber, senior analyst in Forrester Research's government practice. "Government by its nature is inherently poor at listening, [but] is beginning to understand what its 'customers' want."
So when did CRM technology first start catching on in the public sector? "It's still not catching on in some, but where it is particularly strong is in local government in the United Kingdom as a result of a national strategy to improve the responsiveness of local authorities," says John Kost, group vice president of Gartner CIO Research. "That all started in the late 1990s. In the U.S., CRM became a major addition to tax-modernization systems starting about 2000 and then with 311 systems about the same time."
Kost notes that the citizen-information 311 systems (or their equivalent in other countries) have made municipal-level governments among the heaviest users of CRM. "Local governments are the only ones widely using CRM at the enterprise level," he says. "At national and state governments, certain agencies use it for high-volume customer service, but usually for only one kind of transaction."
One example from across the pond is Medway, which became one of the largest unitary authorities in England due to a 1998 reorganization that united the previously separate administrations of the City of Rochester and the boroughs of Gillingham and Chatham. As a unitary authority, Medway Council serves a population of a quarter of a million people, providing the full range of local government services, including education, environmental, social care, housing, planning, and much more.
After the unification, Medway was left with several legacy processes and technologies. After reviewing its CRM efforts during a 2006 performance assessment, Medway Council saw inefficiencies and instituted a program called Customer First to upgrade and consolidate inherited working practices and systems to maximize the customer experience.
Medway upgraded from Onyx eShop to Onyx OneServe 5.0, as the platform on which to build a multichannel contact center that delivers consistent, efficient, high-quality service. The center provided the first point of contact for a range of council services including environmental services, council tax, housing benefits, and social-care inquiries.
The upgrade and other developments under the Customer First umbrella have been financed by the council on an invest-to-save basis, with an expected return of $1.5 million by 2010. Besides sound financing, the Customer First program has since received several "Excellence in Customer Service" awards. The next phase of development will include greater focus on self-service.
Medway is certainly not alone--and some municipalities are making even better use of CRM's possibilities. Kost says that several state government economic development agencies are using CRM to manage relationships with businesses contemplating a move, and this is where deal-making comes into play. "Most governments use the service component of CRM," Kost says. "Economic development agencies are actually using the sales component--a rarity in the public sector."
There are still barriers to adoption for government agencies, though. One is typical in any vertical--IT driving the deployment. "CRM, to be effective, almost always requires significant cultural or behavioral changes by government, but not that many government officials are willing to manage those cultural changes," Kost says. "Thus, CRM deployments are often left to the technologists--and the tool doesn't always live up to its potential."
Another common hurdle to be overcome is the calcified process found in many agencies. Customer isn't a word associated with government very often; the typical term when discussing government CRM is constituent, but the result is the same. "There's already a negative mindset against government," Webber says. "How do you balance this?" Mainly, he says, front-desk personnel must remember that everybody is a customer: "You can't turn a segment of the population away if it fits your purview," Webber says. --Marshall Lager
Top 3 Vendors in the Public Sector: Source: Gartner