Since slashes to funding, governments big and small have been concentrating on making their citizens (or customers) more self-reliant. Without the resources to efficiently tackle every taxpayer dispute, government has concentrated on beefing up self-service options.
William Band, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, says this shift in interaction is not only necessary due to a lack of funding, but also indicative of how customer sentiments have changed. “Consumers and taxpayers today like self-service in their regular dealings,” Band observes. “They have become more used to reaching out and getting their questions answered. Consumers have become more educated, and taxpayers expect and want to interact in that way.”
Kevin Paschuck, vice president of the public sector at RightNow Technologies, concurs, citing examples of government Facebook pages and the Obama administration’s heavy use of the White House Web page (http://www.whitehouse.gov) as reflective of the government’s initiative to go the self-service route.
“Expectations have changed,” Paschuck says. “When you want to buy a book, you go to Amazon.com. When you buy shoes, you go to Zappos. It’s instantaneous and so are the expectations. The way citizens are interacting commercially has changed, and they expect the same from government. I think government recognizes that.”
Through the years, state and municipal governments have been employing a lot of relationship management software from providers like Oracle, RightNow, and Microsoft to help interact with citizens in the hopes of creating more responsive customer service. But, considering that the number of taxpayers greatly exceeds the number of customers of most enterprises, government remains one of the tailing industries when it comes to change. Paschuck equates implementing governmental change with turning around an aircraft carrier—it’s just harder to do.
“The government is an aircraft carrier....A commercial agency is a speedboat,” Paschuck says. “[Government] want[s] to change, but it’s slow-moving. Sometimes [government is] not willing and there has to be a mindset.... We’ve done some research on this recently. More than 80 percent of the citizens out there think the government could improve the way it deals with people.”
Many sections of the government are still stuck in the “Stone Age,” using pen and paper as the primary method of logging customer interactions, according to Paschuck. But even though government is still struggling to respond effectively to the masses, customer relationship management has recently grown in the areas of case management for services like unemployment benefits, disability benefits, and social security. Checking eligibility and moving people through a case process has become a bigger priority.
“For the army when a soldier falls in battle, our systems manage them coming home,” Paschuck explains. “The case gets logged, opens a case file, and triggers a bunch of different interactions and workflow. Word flows to [the family about] how to understand the benefit as family members, what they receive becoming a dependent.”
Cloud computing has also become a godsend for the industry with aircraft carrier proportions. Two-and-a-half years ago, on-premises became too much of a risk for the U.S. Marine Corps for security reasons, but the transition to the cloud required more than a commercial services company would need. Using a home-grown code, RightNow was able to construct a data center with unique security standards, personalized to the government’s needs.
“We’re doing some unique things that no one else is doing,” Paschuck says regarding the project. “A data system built on a moderate security level.”
Some security policies were slightly altered in the process that Paschuck describes as “two years of back and forth, stumbling, and falling,” as they experimented to finally create the Department of Defense (DoD) data center in Bozeman, Mont.
RightNow soon realized, however, that the Marine Corps could not manage the entire center from a standard laptop, creating the need to overhaul the entire center.
“We had to clear all our staff,” Paschuck says. “All of a sudden, [there were] polygraph tests, background checks, security people.”
Now, the DoD data center works exclusively with government-issued laptops. But as more people get involved in the DoD data center, the more have to undergo security clearance, costing the government a lot in time and money.
Paschuck says security is not something the government should be scrimping on, considering the alternative. “[Being the government] it’s important that we’re successful,” he says.
Editorial Assistant Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationCRM.com.