Is Government CRM the Next Big Boom?

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While chairing a recent DCI CRM conference, an FBI agent came up to me and presented his badge. "Oh dear," I muttered, "what could I have done?" Turns out that this fellow was simply seeking advice regarding his bureau's CRM initiative. A few hours later, a woman whose card read Defense Logistics Agency (a part of the Pentagon), also approached me seeking advice for its ambitious CRM initiative. In fact, there is a growing number of short-term initiatives at such federal agencies as the Bureau for Public Debt, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Postal Service, at such military agencies as the Defense Logistics Agency, and at such intelligence agencies as the National Security Agency. So, what's up? Well, like their private sector counterparts, government agencies are under increasing pressure to control costs, improve productivity, and deliver better products and services. But government agencies face their own set of CRM challenges. Say that Agency X, for example, is a global postal service. Faced with increased pressure from private sector competitors, Agency X decided to compete by creating and offering a better service than the competition. The agency took the time to learn more about customer needs; it segmented its customer base; and it put together a unique offering per identified segment. Agency X then turned to CRM to help realize its new service-driven initiative. Initially the troops seemed fired up. Then Agency X began to notice resistance from personnel who were required to make needed process changes. As one Agency X employee put it, "Why do we have to change processes that have served this agency and its customers well for more than 50 years?" Although it is not atypical to see this sort of reaction to a CRM initiative, it presents a particular challenge in the government sector. Unlike in the private sector, managers may not be able to provide valuable incentives to help motivate change. Also, buy-in tends to be made on a horizontal level (e.g., the agency head, Congressional Oversight Committees, labor unions), which can lead to drawn-out negotiations, major delays, and even the death of meaningful CRM initiatives. Agency Y is a member of the intelligence community. This particular agency gathers intelligence, interprets it, and provides it to a number of customers including the president, his cabinet members, the military, law enforcement officials, and other members of the intelligence community. Agency Y turned to CRM as a way to better serve its customer base, which seemed to make sense until the head of Agency Y asked the CRM leader to present a business case justifying the expense. Unlike the private sector, Agency Y could not argue revenue enhancements. Nor could it justify the initiative on cost savings. This meant Agency Y had to justify the CRM initiative largely on improved customer service and satisfaction, which is not easily obtained in the intelligence community. Despite these challenges the CRM opportunity in government remains large. There isn't a single federal or local agency that is not under increased pressure to control costs, to improve productivity, or to deliver better products/services to their customers. And there isn't a single government customer who wouldn't appreciate lower costs or better products/services. CRM has a long and impressive track record, when properly implemented, of delivering these benefits and more. Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM and real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation, and the publisher of
The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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