It has taken a long time, but most governmental bodies finally
understand they need to treat the people they serve as customers, not as a
guaranteed audience. Customer relationship management (CRM) and
the call center are the front line tools that will be used by government
at all levels -- state, local, and federal -- to provide these newly
discovered "customers" with the level of service they have come
to expect from interactions in the private sector.
NPRG's Call To Restore Trust In Government
The idea that the federal government had "customers" began in
1994 when the National Performance Review (now called the National
Partnership for Reinventing Government, or NPRG), called on federal agencies
to create a different experience for the people they serve. NPRG
sent out the call that, to restore public trust in government, it was up
to every government entity to improve the public's access to the services
and information they need.
Call centers are an important part of that effort. They are, after
all, usually the first place a person turns when they need help or
information. They should be designed to make
it as easy as possible for a citizen or business interacting with a
government entity to get information. A well-run call center will reduce
the number of calls a government customer has to make and will
enhance the image of government.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been in the forefront of
the government call center revolution for years. As early as 1995, Dalbar
Financial Services ranked them over companies like L.L.Bean in courtesy,
responsiveness, and knowledge. And they have continued to improve
according to NPRG, currently handling 70 million
calls a year. By September 2000, they expect to be able to take claims for
retirement and survivor benefits over the phone in a first point of
contact single transaction, and have at least 90 percent of calls to their
toll-free number go through on the first try.
The most recent American Customer Satisfaction Survey (ACSS) produced
by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan
Business School affirms SSA's position, giving them an American
Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) rating of 82, putting them on the
same level as commercial enterprises like Federal Express and well ahead
of the banking and airline industry. But the ACSS also shows how far the
government as a whole has to go. Recent Medicare beneficiaries ranked the
Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) within Health and Human
Services a 61, and commercial pilots gave the Federal Aviation
Administration a 58.
CRM In The Public Sector
The government enterprise has a unique complexity and scale. But that
doesn't mean that it can't adopt the same tools the commercial world
uses to provide the same level of service. In the commercial sector, the
best call centers are not stand-alone units reading from canned scripts,
they are integrated parts of enterprise-wide customer relationship
management solutions. Call center employees are a company's face to
the world, the first point of contact with the customer. The more
information the call center contact has about customers -- from simple
facts like names and addresses to the detailed records of a transactional
history -- the more satisfying and complete the customers' encounters are
likely to be.
This integration of the call center with customer relationship
information is considered a necessity in the private sector, and is no
less necessary in the public sector. The Defense Supply Center Columbus
(DSCC) Call Center is one example where that integration is working. The
Defense Supply Center provides the materiel necessary to maintain the
preparedness of U.S. armed forces, in addition to supplying the FAA, U.S.
Customs Service, and the Border Patrol. The Call Center
operates 24x7, 365 days a year. Their 24 well-trained advocates deal with
17,000 customers a month, and the DSCC's inventory includes 2.5 million
national stock number items. The DSCC Call Center handles everything from
requisitions to customer complaint research.
The private sector is going beyond that, however, to integrate more
than just the ordering and fulfillment functions with the call center.
General Electric is one example. When a customer calls them with an
appliance problem, GE already knows what models are owned by tying in the
phone number to purchase records. The call center
contact logs the problem, generates the work order for the repairman, and
sets up the appointment on the spot. After the repair is made, the
repairman logs the repair information into a handheld computer. And, in a
final customer service touch, someone calls to monitor satisfaction.
Government has to be able to work just as effectively. An agency's call
center, information resources, Web site, and field personnel all have to
be integrated into a seamless whole that serves the needs of the customer.
That is not going to happen overnight. The key to getting there quickly
will be taking advantage of the legacy systems governments have in place and
intelligently applying Web-based portals and middleware to make those
information-rich sources available for customer self-service and call
center personnel. Technology is important, but senior managers skilled in
change management will be the most successful element in transitioning their
organizations to achieve higher customer satisfaction results.
Real-World Examples Of Governments Serving Customers
Many government entities are moving in the right direction:
- Governor Parris Glendening of Maryland just signed legislation to
create eMaryland. The state
will move from 15 percent of services being offered over the Web and
other electronic channels to 80 percent by 2004.
- Commissioner Charles Rossotti of the IRS has made customer service a
top priority. The e-filers of the IRS give it a top mark in the ACSI
survey, though the traditional paper-based filers think there is
significant room for improvement.
- Tax Commissioner Danny Payne of Virginia has embarked on an
ambitious program to reengineer their revenue and customer service
systems. They have already begun to see the benefits of their
tele-file and business sales tax e-file implementations.
Additionally, the private sector has jumped in to push the move to
e-government. AOL announced its new "Government Channel" in March
and GovWorks.com (a venture
capital-backed startup) is a one-stop Web-based service where
citizens can easily make electronic payments of various kinds to over
36,000 towns and cities.
Politicians, businesses, and government executives are all focusing
energy on developing innovative and cost-effective ways for government to
serve its constituents. Providing the customers of these systems with
comprehensive solutions that work consistently across multiple touch
points (i.e., Web, call center, kiosk, walkup, etc.) will be the hallmark
of the most successful solutions.
One example of a truly integrated system was just announced by the
United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). Using Siebel Systems
eBusiness software, this new Single Entry Response and Verification System
(SERVES) is a full CRM implementation that includes intelligent call
routing, multi-channel services, and computer telephony integration. It
will enable the command to perform its critical mission of providing air,
land, and sea transportation to all of the armed services. SERVES provides
a single point of entry for Department of Defense customers, first contact resolution of any
problems, and captures information to create a permanent enterprise-wide
Looking To The Future Of Government CRM
Everyone who interacts with the government, including businesses and
other government agencies, will demand the kind of responsiveness
discussed here. Whether they come in via a call center or a Web site, they
should be able to find the information or get the service they require. An
integrated approach to knowledge management within the organization will
be one of the keys for government as it moves forward.
President Clinton has made serving
the people in cost-effective, cutting-edge ways a priority, and the NPRG
has been a project of Vice President Al Gore from its start. Ultimately, the government will
be forced to embrace the idea of serving
customers: the people, as customers, will demand it.
Leif C. Ulstrup, a vice president at American
Management Systems, Inc., is Director of the Public Sector CRM
Practice. He is also a leader of the AMS-wide CRM Knowledge Center. AMS is
an international business and information technology consulting firm --
one of the 20 largest such firms worldwide. AMS is a provider of
next-generation enterprise business and technology solutions that
dramatically improve business performance and create value for clients.
AMS's suite of leading-edge business and technology solutions -- featuring
e-business strategy, management, and technology services -- make business
reinvention possible in Internet time for large organizations. Founded in
1970, AMS is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, with over 9,000 employees
and 59 offices worldwide.