Charlotte readies CRM for customer service boom

Charlotte readies CRM for customer service boom

Mecklenburg County, N.C., hit the 1 million population mark last year, part of a surge of people drawn to the area's hot economy.  

For managers of the city of Charlotte's IT systems, the boom has served as a warning that it was time to upgrade their 311 customer relationship management (CRM) tools to handle the anticipated influx of service calls and requests. CharMeck 311 officials wanted a system that would give citizen service representatives access to an extensive knowledge base, provide real-time reporting and integrate with back-end information systems.

"311 is more than just a number," CharMeck 311 Director Janice Quintana said. "We need all those tools to be able to work efficiently and deliver great services."

Next spring, Charlotte officials will deploy the Verint Engagement Management system, a CRM platform that the CharMeck 311 team says can support the call volume, data demands and changing staffing needs of the area.

The team realized that its current homegrown, 10-year-old legacy CRM system was not much more than a basic work order system.  

"It wasn't a really robust CRM," CharMeck 311 IT Manager Stacey Palmer said. "A true CRM is a platform you can use to capture, store and track all customer information, and that's what we want to do. We want to be a full-service entity for our constituents."

The team's vision involves bringing in new CRM components, including a robust knowledge base, real-time data and a set of predictive services to help officials anticipate routine and random swings in calls for city services.  

CharMeck 311 managers said meeting those requirements means having the ability to identify and access virtually all customer service transactions and the data generated by those calls and requests.  

"We want to have a system [through which] we can pull up and see every interaction they've had with us, whether it was a tweet, an email or a phone call, and whether or not those resulted in service requests," Palmer said.  

CharMeck 311 managers also wanted the option of emailing customers a service number and other pertinent case information so that they could track the status of their requests. "Any time that service request has a change of status, that status can be emailed out," Palmer added.

The primary engine driving those capabilities is a robust database capable of gathering all the details related to a service call.

"We take about 1.7 million calls a year, but only about 400,000 of those result in service requests," Palmer said. "Others are just people calling and asking questions, which is why this knowledge base is so key to us."

The city's current knowledge base lacks design features and data formatting conventions that could help citizen service reps more rapidly access or even notice relevant case data.  

"We have a kind of a knowledge-based system here that is not intuitive and can be difficult for our call takers," Quintana said. "It has a lot of information, but it has to be very specific." For example, a rep might have to use an exact word or phrase -- "street light" rather than "light" -- to access information related to a power outage.

Furthermore, the system lacks formatting tools that could make information "pop off the page," Palmer said. "That's what we'll be able to do with the new system so the CSRs don't have to work so hard to find the right information."

The planned knowledge base will also geocode interactions with citizens and provide 158 geographic information system layers that can be marked to show geospatial features in specific locations across the region. "That's going to be huge for us," Palmer said.

A more robust knowledge base will also help the team launch predictive analytics tools to forecast service demand and accurately estimate the city resources needed to respond to service calls.  

"For us to be a lean, mean operating machine, we need to have the right people, at the right time, take the right calls," Palmer said. "And that's where that forecasting comes into play."

The Verint tool will allow CRM managers to analyze call volumes in 15-minute increments and identify whether the available citizen service reps have the experience or background needed to respond effectively. For instance, if there is a water-main break, officials would be able to designate reps trained in that skill set to manage a higher call volume, Quintana said.

A screen within the Verint software called Pulse will allow officials to "move people around on the fly," Palmer said. "It helps us know how many different types of skilled people we need and when we need them."

Given the dynamics of responding to service calls and public safety requests, 311-based CRM services tend to be more complex than many commercial solutions. Although there might be 10 to 20 request types in a traditional CRM, government organizations like CharMeck 311 have hundreds, said Steve Carter, Verint's senior director of key public-sector accounts.

That complexity is driving big cities toward an online, self-service model for 311 services that is similar to online banking, in which individuals access services via an app or a website.  

"We're seeing that kind of expectation now that citizens want to engage [with] government the same way," Carter said. "The solution that [CharMeck 311] has now gotten has everything they'll need to do that."

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.

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