These are challenging times for government agencies. Budgets are being heavily allocated to defense and security. Yet despite constrained resources, agencies have to satisfy constituencies whose service expectations are being raised by the private sector. They also have to respond to government initiatives, such as the Citizen Service Levels Interagency Committee, which are pushing them to become more constituent-friendly.
These two forces--the tightening of budgets and the escalation of demands--are driving agencies to embrace new management strategies, including the use of on-demand CRM technology to improve communication with the general public. The EPA, for example, faced the defunding of two of its contact centers at the same time as a workload of roughly 90,000 email messages per month began to overwhelm its staff.
To address this situation, the EPA implemented a self-service knowledge base that now answers more than 80 percent of constituents' questions without human intervention. This resulted in a 70-plus percent reduction in email volume--allowing the agency's staff to focus on other critical tasks. The agency also put an email management system in place that streamlined its handling of the remaining communication workload.
The EPA chose to implement these technology solutions using an on-demand model. By doing so, the agency was able to speed deployment of both its self-service and email management systems, while eliminating all the upfront and infrastructure costs associated with conventional, internally deployed applications.
The EPA's success highlights three key on-demand CRM best practices that agencies are embracing to improve constituent services while coping with tight budget constraints:
Best practice #1: Implementing a knowledge base
What constituents want from agencies is knowledge. They want to know how they can apply for the benefits offered by a particular program. They want to know if a specific regulation applies to their business. The challenge for every agency is therefore to effectively manage this knowledge so that it is available to everyone who needs it, when they need it.
Unfortunately, agencies often struggle with the management of knowledge. Knowledge is scattered across numerous systems and documents. It's locked away in the heads of subject-matter experts--and then lost when those experts retire. And if published knowledge isn't managed over time, it quickly goes out of date.
Many agencies have overcome these obstacles by implementing a knowledge base. By automating the way knowledge is captured, validated, and maintained over time, a knowledge base ensures that constituents and agency staff have access to information that's accurate, up to date, and relevant to their needs. An effective knowledge base also reduces costs, since people get the right answer the first time they call, email, or visit the agency Web site.
Best practice #2: Maximizing self-service rates via Web and phone
One of the best ways to simultaneously improve constituent services and reduce costs is by providing effective self-service--that is, enabling constituents to find the information they need on the Web or via an IVR, instead of having to wait for and engage with the next available employee.
Self-service also saves agencies money. Every phone call can cost an agency between $3 and $14, and the cost of responding to an email can range from about a dollar to $6. By offloading these interactions to self-service systems that cost pennies per contact, agencies routinely save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Best practice #3: Actively listening and responding to constituents
The more an agency knows about its constituents, the better it can serve them. That's why many agencies are now capturing more information about constituents--and implementing best practices to respond to this new information.
Ideally, an agency should capture all constituent information in a single database record. This is not always practical, however, because information about constituents may already be scattered across multiple legacy systems. There also may be regulatory reasons why some constituent information must be kept in systems that are not accessible to all agency employees.
Nonetheless, agencies can still create a "virtual" single constituent record by using a unique identifier across all systems. They can then integrate those systems so that front-line staff can readily access relevant information about a given constituent without having to log into multiple applications.
Despite the resources that are currently being devoted to defense and security, taxpayers still have a legitimate expectation of responsive service from their government. Agencies cannot fulfill these expectations by accepting the status quo. Instead, they must take whatever measures are appropriate to do more with less. By taking advantage of on-demand CRM technology, every agency can significantly improve its efficiency and its performance--thereby fulfilling its service mandates even in the face of the most challenging budget constraints.
About the Author
Chris Sortzi is vice president, public sector, RightNow Technologies. Please visit www.rightnow.com