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Citizen Engagement / Feature / Innovation

CRM & citizen-centric government

As the pressure for government mounts to do more for the community, the deployment of CRM solutions enables the effective targeting of resources to where they can best meet citizens’ needs. Report: Amelia Kwok.


A survey by Bain & Company a few years ago found that 80 per cent of senior management believed their organisations delivered ‘superior service’. Interestingly only 8 per cent of their customers agreed. Is that echoed by your organisation? Could you be doing better – and if you could, what would it take to create long term process-driven enhancements, as opposed to a short term programme which fizzles out when senior management chooses to focus on other priorities? CRM is likely to be part of the answer.

“Governments today are measured by citizen satisfaction. CRM is pervasive throughout government, be it local government and central government as the solution helps target proper resource allocation and management effectively,” says Jonathan Farmer, CRM Lead for Asia with Microsoft. “That’s why we also call it ‘xRM’. You are managing resources not necessarily managing customers. In the case of patients, it is patient relationship management. Some government servants have lost their jobs when citizens are not happy with the service they are receiving. Good citizen service delivery is definitely paramount in government today.”

CRM software revenue in Asia Pacific is remains healthy and is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate of 15.4 per cent through 2012. Some government organisations in Australia and Singapore are going through the CRM lifecycle a second or third time; they’ve already adopted some form of CRM initiative and want to enhance or expand the CRM footprint in their enterprises.

“Extending CRM strategies for the public sector internally in service and support centres with customer-centric rewards and incentives, as well as externally through multi-channel service support strategies to the public are important areas of CRM investments,” said Isher Kaila, Director of CRM at Gartner.

Service excellence

Customer Relationship Management applications allow organisations to keep track of their connections with the end consumers of their services. In today’s multichannel service environment keeping track of the details of a case can become extremely complex – a citizen may browse a web site, follow-up by phone and then send a relative on their behalf to a manned service counter.

Following this trail, and being in a position to take action where it is required is important – and can literally be a case of life and death. As a tragic recent example of this, a failure to share case records prevented social workers from detecting abuse whilst they were reviewing the case history of a dysfunctional family, leading to the death of a toddler in the United Kingdom.

“Customer service is of utmost importance and should be embedded into all councils’ priorities. It is no difference really, when comparing my preferred supermarket notifying me when my favourite wine is in stock, or targeting me when I have not purchased any for a while,” said Mark Andrews, Head of Contact Centre Services at Cambridgeshire County Council, which was recently rated as the top public sector call centre in the United Kingdom.

“It is fundamentally about placing citizens at the centre of government’s work, and changing organisations to operate in a more citizen-centric way. CRM solutions have been used by many agencies to support this shift in emphasis and it has worked well for many agencies,” said Colm Butler, Government CIO of Ireland, as part of an exlcusive interview with FutureGov magazine.

Government CRM differs from the commercial sector in that e-government must meet the needs of the general public. The public sector does not have the luxury of focusing its efforts on its favourite customers. Instead, governments need to figure out ways to target all citizens and CRM helps fulfil this aspect, particularly in government’s move to knowledge-based services.

“Investments in e-government usually resulted in operating additional service channels. These have not meant the closure of many of the more traditional, older channels. Instead, CRM has been used to ‘upgrade’ and better tailor these services to citizens,” said Butler.

Besides delivering better services to citizens CRM offers accountability to citizens.

“Government can collect information, process and track issues more effectively and be more accountable in using taxpayers’ dollars,” says Microsoft’s Farmer. “Government will also know which particular area to channel more resources to for the optimum welfare of citizens while being more transparent, so citizens know their tax dollars are going to services that they can benefit from.”

An agency’s service delivery can be critical to a citizen’s assessment of the entire agency’s competence.

According to Dr Chai Khin Chung, senior assistant commissioner at the Royal Malaysian Police, implementing a CRM system for incident management “has helped improve our response time from 15 minutes to about six minutes during an emergency. In doing so, it has also helped improve our public image and citizens’ trust.”

Also, according to Butler, CRM helps government spot trends that you otherwise would not have been able to: “Implementing CRM has improved service delivery by virtue in understanding our customers. We can use the data within the CRM to profile our customers, making sure that those who need to be aware of certain information are kept in the loop and communicated to them through their preferred method,” said Butler.

All conversations made between citizens and call handlers at the ICT Agency (ICTA) in Sri Lanka are recorded, according to Reshan Dewapura, Chief Operating Officer at the ICTA. “This is checked by quality controllers to ensure that our staff is capable of handling citizens’ enquiries and that their queries are addressed effectively. This has drastically increased customer service through evaluation and feedback of the call handlers.”

For the Royal Malaysian Police, implementing CRM solutions for incident management has more than satisfied citizens – it has helped save lives. “When an emergency occurs, every second is critical. Our CRM system has helped dispatch incident information to police responding units and mobile patrol vehicle during an emergency. This has helped us enhance response time to a disaster, and in turn, save lives,” said Dr Chai.

Reaching the minority

While CRM has helped government reach and cater to the masses, the disadvantaged and minority groups have certainly not been sidelined. “Our CRM software holds specific details about a citizen which includes them suffering from a disability or a preferred method of contact and so on. We have set our CRM to flag specific information to the call handler when they access an individual’s record, such as “hearing impaired customer, speak slowly and clearly,” said Andrews at the Cambridgeshire County Council.

In Sri Lanka the Government Information Centre, a call centre established by the ICTA, “keeps track of the need or help each citizen seeks from the government. This applies to all including the disadvantaged, such as the disabled, or even widows, orphans, abject poverty, illiterate, displaced or imprisoned,” Dewapura explained.

Simple, additional information available to the call handlers make a huge amount of difference when engaging with the citizen, as it ensures customer satisfaction and a high level of customer service. Even more so when it encompasses an all-inclusive system, where most if not all citizens’ needs are met.

“We have our ‘CRM safety net’ where we incorporate all contact history about an individual in one area and observe patterns that would normally be in dispersed service areas - vulnerable children and adults being the obvious categories,” Cambridgeshire Country Council’s Andrews says.

Similarly, in Ireland, the government has set up a development fund of about €3 million (US$3.9 million) “to promote the development of content by and for groups catering to the needs of the elderly, disabled and others in danger of being marginalised,” said Butler.

Maximising the value of CRM

CRM has improved government’s engagement with citizens but it would be dangerous to see it as an altruistic tool. After all, “the real issue is not simply changing the tools (technology), but in transforming organisations and sectors to improve the outcomes of government and public services,” said Butler.

For example, it will always pose as a challenge for call agents to be familiar with a large repository of information from about 1500 government institutions or departments in Sri Lanka. Also, these call agents only retain their positions for a short period of time. This means more channeling of resources to the frequent training of new call centre staff.

Another problem with CRM is that, often, governments purchase a suite of solutions and end up paying for functions they do not need. “Being a public sector, we are mostly delivering services that people need rather than want, and sometimes, we do not need certain solutions,” said Andrews.

Microsoft has a solution for this. “We have a set of public sector pricing. Depending on central government, local government or even sector specific such as education or healthcare, we have different price lists that apply but we will certainly tailor these solutions to every agency’s need. Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM is value-based processing. It is flexible and designed to be customised for the exact needs for whichever entity in the public sector, through services from our partners and the templates we provide to give you the exact implementation you need.

Dr Chai at the Royal Malaysian Police cites that the implementation of an incident management CRM system for his department “is a paradigm shift and we faced issues related to change management. An example is the resistance to change by users at a very early stage.”

Farmer agrees that change management is the single biggest challenge facing the public sector in their deployment of CRM. “Changing the attitudes of users will always be an issue. Public servants are used to doing things in a certain way. How do you train and change the mindsets of government workers particularly in a large country like India and what approach do you take?”

“Naturally, there are many who hold the view that things have not gone far enough but it is an on-going process of transformation that will ultimately see a more concerted approach to delivering public services to citizens across agencies or between agencies who should work closer together in a more holistic way. There is no doubt that developments in technology will continue to give us new avenues to pursue and new opportunities for innovation. While this is the case, it still needs visions and leadership to make real and significant progress,” added Butler.

Gartner has this advice for government looking to reap the benefits from CRM. “Ensure that your local channel partners offer certified implementation services, because skills challenges will remain a significant regional issue through 2010. Choose vendors that offer local support services – many organisations consider this a critical criterion in vendor selection,” said Kaila.

Technology aside, Andrews cites another important aspect of a CRM system that is often overlooked but plays an integral part in the success of the system.

“There is a very special element of the contact centre that functions as a system, and without it we would fail. The CRM and telephony platform enable, support, streamline and encourage good customer service but the call handlers, are what makes it all tick. Without their high level of customer service we would not be the top performing public sector contact centre for customer service in the United Kingdom,” said Andrews.

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