CRM for citizens

The right system can help agencies deliver better service and information to its users

When the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wanted to improve citizen interactions with the agency, it turned to customer relationship management.

NHTSA hired Information Management Consultants Inc., which, among other things, redesigned the NHTSA Web site using electronic CRM tools.

Now, when users log on to the site, they get instant access to information such as traffic safety issues, crash data and auto recall information. They also can ask questions, participate in research or register their concerns about safety matters directly via e-mail or the Web.

IMC has also developed CRM systems for many other federal agencies, and recently completed a 'Lost and Found' CRM application for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for tracking and returning riders' lost items.

There are hundreds of other examples. Software providers like Siebel Systems Inc. and SAP America Inc. have designed multiple CRM systems for federal, state and local governments. PeopleSoft Inc.'s CRM for Government is an Internet system designed to help develop agencywide strategies to streamline communications with constituents.

Broad Daylight Inc.'s Broad Mind is a standalone, self-service app used by federal organizations to help answer constituent questions instantly via their Web sites, thereby reducing inbound e-mails and phone calls. Unisys Corp. has developed a comprehensive CRM planning service that includes software products from third-party vendors and is widely used in the government.

More government CRM

CRM technology accounts for big dollars spent by global businesses, smaller companies and government organizations. Worldwide CRM spending will reach $19.6 billion by 2005, according to most estimates.

The Meta Group of Stamford, Conn., predicts that government spending for CRM will grow at a rate of 17.5 percent, bringing total spending from its current $322 million annually to $522 annually by 2006.

But this pell-mell rush toward CRM, while promising significant benefits to users, has also confused many would-be buyers. Just what CRM is'and isn't'is subject to debate, and this makes it tough to decide which route to take, especially if you're a federal decision-maker concerned about the ever-shrinking bottom line for IT services.

Customer-centric

Ask three experts what CRM is and you'll get five answers. But at its core, CRM is the art and science of helping an organization deal successfully with its customers and constituents.

'It starts with new customer-centric business strategies, which require redesigned departmental roles and responsibilities, which require re-engineered work processes, which require boatloads of CRM technology,' according to Dick Lee, a founder of the CRM movement and author of the Customer Relationship Management Survival Guide.

Is there a difference between private-sector and government CRM? Yes, according to Susan Handman, national practice director for CRM at integrator RCG Information Technology.

'While private-sector CRM focuses on relationship-building with clients, government CRM focuses on constituents. Constituents are a more captive target'they cannot shop elsewhere for federal governments, so brand loyalty is much less a factor. The difference between customer and constituent CRM moves the emphasis more to service and less to sales.'

Handman said that both private- and public-sector CRM emphasize the 'Cs' at the center of their mission. 'While constituents aren't going to shop with another government, they still expect service, especially when they are anxious about security, legal, tax and financial issues. While citizens cannot 'shop' with another government, they can vote,' she added.

No two CRM applications look alike, but most of them observe similar principles in their basic designs. The Meta Group has identified four general areas that it calls the 'CRM ecosystem.' As you review the products of different vendors, you'll probably see evidence of these general CRM principles built into their designs:
  • Collaborative CRM: the interaction between a company (or federal agency) and its customers. This area encompasses many communications media including voice calls, fax, e-mail, collaborative browsing and text chat.

  • Operational CRM: The front- and back-office data systems and IT infrastructure consolidating disparate databases and systems. These databases store the historical information necessary for an organization to construct a view of the customer.

  • Business Process CRM: Automation rules for transacting business, tracking process events and providing the management tools to measure improvements.

  • Analytical CRM: A collection of tools where data is combined with logical rules and turned into insight. Specific rules for acting on insight are also maintained in this area.

These general principles can help when you're choosing the best CRM solutions for your agency or department. But keep the following in mind:

Despite vendors' promises, it's doubtful that a 'one-size-fits-all' CRM package will meet all your requirements. Most CRM software was originally designed to meet the needs of the private sector, not the government.

A CRM system with automated marketing or sales force components wouldn't be useful for most government agencies. A system with a strong customer support component and automated call center management could be useful.

Carefully question vendors who claim their private-sector CRM products can be easily retrofitted to meet the needs of government.

Remember that not all software products designated as CRM actually are. Some ambitious vendors are simply jumping on the CRM bandwagon.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@hawaii.rr.com.

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