The public sector thinks differently about the C in CRM, as more vendors cater to this vertical's specific needs.
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Do you really need a CRM solution if you don't have any customers? This is a question often faced by organizations in the public sector when considering a CRM implementation. However, in the past few years more government agencies, universities, and public service organizations have increased adoption of CRM solutions in an effort to better handle complicated tasks, such as case management, taxpayer assistance, alumni services, and emergency relief.
"Most government agencies think they don't need CRM," says Alan Webber, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "They still think it's a sales management tool." Organizations within the public sector face additional roadblocks to CRM implementation. The use of separate databases and incongruous apps is common among these organizations and can make enterprisewide CRM implementation a difficult process. But because the relationship management aspect of the acronym is central to the public sector, organizations within this vertical have been implementing solutions at an increased rate and reaping the benefits of well-executed initiatives.
CRM implementations may see an even greater spike in the public sector in the upcoming year, according to Webber. Many government organizations implemented new ERP systems in 1999 due to the Y2K scare. As these systems have a seven- or eight-year life span, new ERP systems powered by CRM solutions may be flooding into IT departments this year or next.
Organizationwide call centers, or 311 systems, have also seen growth in the post-9/11 world. John Kost, analyst at Gartner, says, "Scores of local governments have done this to give their customers a single number to call to get help or information." The growth of software-as-a-service offerings from CRM vendors has made adoption more possible as well. Mark Wiles, the director of the College Foundation of North Carolina Resource Center, says that when his department implemented NetSuite, it went with the vendor's SaaS option, due to its "shoestring budget." Despite customers' smaller technology budgets, vendors like NetSuite have developed targeted vertical solutions to widen their grip on the public sector. Webber says, "Once you're in there, you're there for almost ever."
CRM adoption in the public sector is fairly recent. Firms can be expected to use these apps in more mature ways as their systems evolve. Chris Sortzi, vice president for the public-sector division of RightNow Technologies, says, "What I don't see people using...is the analytics part." Organizations should be doing more data analysis to pinpoint trends and better understand what their CRM application is doing for them. Kost says that sales features, which are currently underutilized, could be employed for such services as tourism, call centers, and economic development agencies. When dealing with government agencies, however, innovations are not always accessible. Webber says, "The really innovative stuff that I'm aware of is all classified." --Jessica Sebor
Top Three Vendors in Government
The Dept. of Ed Gets CRM Smart
There is no such thing as a dumb question; however, there is such a thing as an inefficient information delivery system. The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) found this to be true when a number of calls asking identical questions began flooding the department's Information Resource Center (IRC). To counter the effects of customer frustration and overloaded Outlook inboxes, the DoE implemented RightNow's Web self-service solution.
After working with RightNow and the Office of Public Affairs, the IRC was able to create an informative FAQ self-service offering. After an evolution process that included reformatting, improved answers, and clearer links, the site now boasts up to 15,000 hits to individual question pages every week, which spells an increase in citizens finding information and a decrease in pressure on IRC's agents.
With RightNow Service, the IRC knows what is working well on its site and what drives citizens to contact the center directly. This has helped the IRC drive a new Spanish language offering to the site. Matt Schneer, information resource specialist at the IRC, says, "The federal government right now is very focused on customer service. The fact that we have a channel that people can access 24/7 and find information, it's an advancement and it's an important thing to have." --J.S.
Any improvements in customer satisfaction given today's economy is noteworthy, but government could still use more votes.
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