How to make 'service to the citizen' meaningful

Some federal government agencies are giving new meaning to the term "service to the citizen." Agencies are adopting a commercial practice known as customer relationship management. The basic tenet of CRM is total organization or agency customer centricity.

I am pleased that the leadership within government has come to realize that every agency has two customers: end users and employees. I believe strongly that CRM is a way to address both sets of customers simultaneously.

CRM gives the public and private sectors the ability to operate across functional areas such as personnel, medical, logistics and finance, enabling employees to devote more time to their principal functions.

Most important, federal agencies, in order to meet the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act, need to define what it takes to perform their statutory missions and to measure their performance against service standards. CRM helps to measure those standards that, for agencies that interact with the public, respond to inquiries and requests and other services.

For federal agencies, as well as in the private sector, adopting a program of CRM can: * Bring customer service issues to quicker resolution.* Measure the results of specifically defined parameters.* Help provide continuity where there is employee turnover.* Establish long-term customer relationships, which are an integral part of the service provided to the customer or citizen.

CRM not only increases the productivity of the individuals within an agency but improves the level of satisfaction of the public that comes in contact with the agency and the employees of the agency. Ultimately, increasing satisfaction is part of a critical equation to attract and retain the best and brightest—whether in the public or private sector.

The Agriculture Department has instituted a program for CRM as part of its Farm Loan Program. Congressional oversight of other agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, indicates that a CRM program may also provide solutions.

As part of the CRM process, software publishers and systems integrators are putting together packages and programs to meet customers' CRM needs. There are, for example, integrated software suites that attempt to manage all aspects of customer interactions with a company. Siebel Systems Inc., the leading seller of CRM software, with more than 50 percent of the market share, offers a package that integrates technology representing all of a firm's interactions with its customers—sales, service and marketing—into one package.

In practice, Siebel's product enables companies to create one database for all who "touch" the customer. Creating a single database means that everyone has access to the same activity record so that, theoretically, every customer can make progress rather than have to repeat a request. A single, consolidated database also can assist in forecasting short- and long-term customer needs.

Corporations have proved that the new level of customer service has increased business, customer loyalty and profitability. A recent Information Week article that discussed CRM software suites indicates that corporate customers use the software to track interactions, track customer preferences and manage problems—all of which impacts CRM.

The government is looking to adopt commercial best practices to provide agencies with ideas about better serving constituencies in the light of the federal mandate to "do more with less." The principles practiced as part of a good CRM program combined with an excellent software suite or customized software program, can help agencies fulfill the mandates of meeting mission requirements while at the same time taking customer service to a new level.

-- Draham, vice president of marketing and congressional affairs at GTSI, served in the Air Force for more than 20 years.

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