The government uses CRM: What lessons can you learn?

CRM is gaining the attention of governments wanting to start online relationships with their constituents. Learn how CRM, when paired with e-government, is taking on a new look.

Customer relationship management (CRM) helps organizations in the public sector manage customer service. But did you know CRM can also help public and government agencies track and manage relationships with their constituents online?

In this article, we’ll explain how government agencies are using CRM to connect with their “customers.”

Another type of CRM?
CRM in online government, or e-government, concentrates on the needs of people who use government services and turns CRM into “citizen relationship management.”

With online services, public entities are offering their “customers” a host of online options, including allowing users to:
  • ·        Pay property, state, and local taxes.
  • ·        Manage individual personal profiles that contain user-specific information, such as the status of an accident report.
  • ·        Pay for utilities and other services.
  • ·        Register complaints.

Interest in citizen relationship management is high, but the adoption by e-government organizations is slow.

Government CRM differs from its commercial counterpart in that e-government must meet the needs of the general public. The public sector doesn’t have the luxury of focusing its efforts on its favorite customers.

“In the commercial sphere, Web sites can be selective,” said Jack Mathias, senior principal with the IT consulting group at American Management Systems, Inc. (AMS), a Virginia-based business and IT consultancy specializing in e-government.

“In the federal sphere, your e-government solutions are required to address your entire customer base,” Mathias said.

For example, Mathias explained that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects taxes from every U.S. citizen, not only a portion of the population. Likewise, the Social Security Administration must cover every citizen under the government program.

But broad solutions like those used by the IRS are not necessary for every e-government project. Many innovations in e-government come from small counties and townships that are eager to begin using CRM products.

Smaller government?
Smaller governments are often in a position to explore different CRM options without running the risk of mismanaging hundreds of thousands of customer interactions.

“There are early adopters within even small-town governments where you have people who are just more savvy, and they want it automated online,” said Mark Millan, founder of CRM consultancy Data Instincts.

For example, a Data Instincts client, the City of Santa Rosa, CA, has a committee that looks at how the city departments can facilitate online transactions.

Millan explained that commercial online innovations are leaving their mark and spurring more interest in e-government. “All of these people (constituents) are consumers. They are seeing a whole new interface with organizations, and they are realizing that if a government service is still based on [older systems] it’s not going to work this way.” Millan said the interest in e-government solutions has “really jumped up” over the last three years.

While e-government is catching on in small- to midsize governments, many agencies struggle initially because they lack IT expertise.

“You need to be able to offer online support, and sometimes you can’t get that internally. Only the largest governments have those things,” said David Dunn, founder of GovHost, an e-government application service provider (ASP), and founder of Visionary Corporate Computing Concepts (VC3).

Dunn’s South Carolina-based company and the GovHost ASP solution offer more than online CRM applications. “Small to medium governments want e-government, but they need a lot more. They need a network, they need an e-mail system,” explained Dunn, adding that many of his clients seek "systems integration first, e-government coming.”

Government security
One key function of CRM is to collect customer data, yet this process can present security hazards when used with e-government.

“The process for any bit of data you have is to figure out what can be presented publicly and what you have to have a high level of security on and a low level of security on,” Dunn said.

However, Dunn explained that much of the data handled by governments is already public information.

“For example, you can go to a site that allows property tax payments and quickly find property tax records for any property you want to find. You can also call the city hall and get the same information, so it’s public,” Dunn explained.

But the more data you collect, the larger the security concerns will be. For example, a federal agency like the IRS needs to have tough security policies.

What e-government can do for you
There are similarities to CRM in both the private and public sectors. “On both sides of the fence, people recognize the importance of good management and getting the right kind of resources, doing budget planning, and securing the cooperation of stakeholders,” said Mathias.

IT managers who follow e-government projects can learn how to improve their own CRM projects.
  • ·        Government agencies usually work with strict technology budgets. So managers operating on a tight budget can look to government to find cost-effective CRM solutions.
  • ·        E-government demands 24/7 customer service availability. Managers in the private sector can follow which CRM solutions government entities are using.
  • ·        E-government has witnessed the pitfalls of online business. Managers just starting CRM projects can follow their lead to avoid previous online mistakes.

It’s slow going
Adoption of citizen relationship management and e-government will happen. “We’ve seen that we’re getting the interest, but it’s in baby steps,” said Dunn.

The interest to automate functions like registering for driver’s licenses or paying property taxes is high, but it will take time.

Are you using CRM in the public sector?
Are you a government employee in charge of starting CRM and e-government initiatives? Let us know what strategies you are using and what applications are important to you by dropping us a line or starting a discussion below.


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