• May 9, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

By the People, For the People

Since the Clinton administration in the early nineties, government organizations have juggled with the responsibility of improving citizen-centric service. Unfortunately, the dream has yet to become a reality. Government agencies don't face the fierce customer-service-based edge necessary in the private sector, which gives them the freedom to focus on other issues. The caveat here is, without understanding the citizen, it becomes significantly more difficult to serve them. Deloitte Research recently released a report, "One Size Fits Few: Using Customer Insight to Transform Government," which delves into how to be citizen-centric and why it's critical.

Government agencies have never been trend setters, says Bill Eggers, global director of the public sector industry at Deloitte Research. With taxpayer dollars as its funding, the government can't afford to take the creative initiatives that companies in the private sector can. The objective now is to do a "cross-walk" -- nationwide speeches, meetings with public officials -- in order to clear up misunderstandings in terms of what transforming customer relationships is really about, Eggers says.

The "customer revolution" is has been gaining momentum, especially given the proven effectiveness of commercial best practices as well as the proliferation of Internet use among consumers. The movement is centered around:

  • personalization;
  • user-friendliness; and
  • interactivity.
"Being a follower has its advantages," says Tiffany Dovey, a researcher at Deloitte and co-author of the report. As the country experiences an economic downturn, it becomes even more important for the government to focus on developing a holistic view of the customer. The transformation, she says, "can produce substantial cost savings." Moreover, organizations can rely on private sector data to build their case and make projections for cost savings and net benefits, Dovey adds.

Many government organizations have in fact made huge investments into systems such as CRM, but they mistakenly believe that it's the technology department's responsibility. "Really everyone in the organization has to understand what the customer-experience vision is," Dovey says. The entire organization, she adds, "[has] to understand that vision and how they [individually] contribute to it." Organizations who thought that CRM software would be the answer, soon realized that there needs to be a revamping of the entire organizational mindset and perspective toward customer insight.

Moreover, even as government agencies are throwing up Web sites, it isn't necessarily where the bulk of the customers were at. Government-related inquiries are complicated and many citizens don't speak or write in English -- "you have to know where the customers are," Eggers says. "They did not fundamentally understand what the customer wanted. They thought they did because of customer surveys but they didn't have that deep understanding," Eggers adds.

The study provides organizations with a "customer experience toolkit" that matches what tool or strategy is most applicable to a particular role in government, whether it's:

  • the decision marker;
  • the program and service design;
  • the service provider; or
  • the channel manager.
Quantitative evaluations of customer satisfaction have been relatively new measurements as well, perhaps most notably with the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 1994. With this measurement, industries in both the private and public sector have really been able to gauge their image in the eyes of the customer.

To get started, Dovey advises organizations to first look internally:

  • what are your strengths;
  • what are your weaknesses;
  • what experience you're delivering to the customer/citizen today; and
  • what kind of experience do you hope to deliver?
When it comes down to it, understanding your citizens will impact tremendously how you develop effective policies. It's not uncommon for organizations to miss the target and realize they've made a mistake. "A lot of people launching these [policies] are not even familiar with the customer service techniques, so they wouldn't even think to do some of these things," Eggers says. So for firms like Deloitte, it's a "key element that we can help to educate more public officials."

Related articles:

Market Focus: Government: Citizen Satisfaction
The public sector thinks differently about the C in CRM, as more vendors cater to this vertical's specific needs.

Ranking Government Service
Singapore and Canada get top marks for their customer service, says a new Accenture report that ranks 22 governments' customer service programs.

Customer Satisfaction Isn't Easy for E-Gov
Satisfaction ratings are falling for government Web sites as commercial sites raise the bar for online experiences; the private sector may have much to teach the public sector.

Reality Check: Is Government CRM the Next Big Boom?
Citizens are customers, too. And government agencies are looking for better ways to serve them.

E-Government: Satisfaction on the Rise
When it comes to satisfying customers -- that is, citizens -- e-government Web sites fare better than the overall federal government does, but they still trail the private sector.

E-Gov Gets an E for Effort
Citizens are more satisfied with government Web sites than the entity that runs them.

E-Gov: Continued Vote of No Confidence
Spoiled by customer-centric Web sites in the private sector, visitors of e-government sites are expecting more, according to latest from ForeSee and ACSI.

E-Gov and Federal Government Satisfaction Scores Are a Crime
Declining scores in citizen satisfaction mean the government still has plenty of work to do.

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