• May 29, 2015
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

My Fellow Citizens...Er, Customers

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It's been said that our society is influenced more by capitalism than democracy or republicanism (meaning government by the people or by its chosen representatives, respectively). Another common sentiment is that government should be run more like a business. I'm on the fence regarding the latter, but it’s clear to me that the former is hogwash. For proof, I offer my take on The Man's approach to CRM.
While it's true that CRM exists in a governmental form, where the C stands for constituent or citizen, the goals and actions of government are far removed from what we’d expect from any sanely operated company.
Businesses exist to earn money by providing goods or services of sufficient quality that lots of people choose them. Government exists for all those reasons summarized in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, presented differently in other nations' governing documents, of course. It's a services-based operation, but it's not like citizens have a choice of governments—at best, they can choose the officers and board members, or emigrate to someplace where they’ll still have no choice. The government gets its money whether citizens use its services or not.
Government isn't supposed to be a for-profit enterprise, despite what the parade of corrupt officials getting busted for influence peddling suggests. Sometimes it winds up with a surplus, but that’s supposed to be reinvested in the system. A government that tries to make a profit off its operations has to watch out for men in green tights hailing from Sherwood Forest, if you know what I mean.
For that matter, what does a government actually sell? Public officials in the executive and legislative branches act as a kind of sales organization with some marketing duties, but there is no direct exchange of money for services, unless you’re rich enough to buy a politician. Neither money nor votes (the other currency of government) buys anything directly; our votes buy us promises that the elected are under no real obligation to deliver. This is like buying the idea of pizza and hoping somebody decides to deliver one.
Businesses are always wary of competition, whether from established rivals or upstart companies with a radical new way of doing things. The solution is to keep improving one's offerings, learning from the market, and giving customers what they want. This is true in government as well—except those concerns are called war and rebellion, and the solution is to literally kill the competition.
Usually, when a good or service proves unpopular, it is improved and rebranded until it starts to sell, or removed from the market. Unpopular government laws and programs stay on the books long past their useful life span, but those who designed them lose their jobs. That's not always a bad thing.
Employees at most levels of a business are rewarded for initiative and exceptional customer service. They are the face of their company, and it wouldn't bode well for them to act surly, uninterested, or ignorant. Pop quiz: What three adjectives describe the low-level government employees you've dealt with? And when they provide good service (which is more often than my snarky comment might suggest, to be fair), the bonus goes to somebody much higher up the ladder.
Our government has an interesting approach to tech support, insofar as making sure the laws work as intended counts as support. It's called the Supreme Court. The court chooses which trouble tickets they’ll work on, and their solutions are reached via consensus. Imagine that in the corporate world.
That brings us to the legislative branch. The purpose of the legislature is to draft laws that create the services the government
provides. So they're basically R&D, right? Wrong! The legislature is clearly the legal department. Nobody likes them, they get in the way, and they care more about how to say something than actually saying it.
I don’t have a solution to the public's dissatisfaction with government. But now the next time somebody says government
should be run like a business, you can give them a good idea of why it shouldn’t.
Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, one analyst indivisible, with insight and humor for all. Contact him at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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