Army makes customers king
- By George I. Seffers
- May 22, 2000
In this increasingly connected and competitive economy, where alternative
suppliers for products and services are often just a mouse click away, customer
service has become a priority at most organizations even the Army.
The Army's Military Traffic Management Command is spending $3 million
to become one of the first government entities to use the same kind of sophisticated,
customer management software that is becoming popular in the private sector.
The MTMC, headquartered in Falls Church, Va., is building a new customer
service system, scheduled for completion by 2002, using commercial off-the-shelf
software from Siebel Systems Inc. that will consolidate the command's existing
call centers and improve service levels, a goal as relevant for the Army
as for any profit-driven firm.
A component of the U.S. Transportation Command, the MTMC supports a
variety of surface transportation missions, including shipping the personal
belongings of military personnel and deploying troops and equipment to the
world's hot spots.
"Sometimes people think there's no choice in the public sector, but there
is a choice," said Dennis Norkus, information system management specialist
at the MTMC. "If customers are not satisfied, they can skirt the system
or try to go around. That's the choice. And that's not good for them, and
it's not good for the government."
Currently, the MTMC uses six separate help desks one for each mission
area which people call with questions or problems. Unfortunately, according
to sources within the command and in industry, customers often are frustrated
at being routed from one help desk to another, being kept on the phone too
long, having to call back more than once and being offered different solutions
by different customer support personnel.
The end result is that people needing help sometimes fall through the
cracks, or they avoid using the MTMC's services at all, turning instead
directly to commercial movers.
In fact, the possibility of winning customers who might otherwise have
skirted the system offers an incentive as great as the profit motive in
the commercial sector, according to Patricia Bryant, a consultant with the
"There was not a formal cost/benefit analysis done, but there was a
general consensus among upper management that some changes had to be made,"
Bryant said. "Research has shown that successful call centers actually incur
higher costs because customers tend to use them more frequently.
"The private sector has a greater incentive to provide quality customer
service profit and business longevity," she said. "Our customers deserve
the same type of attention. Instead of marketing products, we're marketing
services. The command wants to provide better service so that in the long
run the agency runs better and provides a better return on investment for
By integrating the MTMC's six assorted help desks, a new Consolidated
Call Center will give customers single-point access to customer support
representatives either by phone or the Internet (see box).
"[MTMC] customers as well as employees will have one place to look for
information," Bryant said. "This will reduce confusion and eliminate the
dissemination of obsolete information."
The new system, which is being installed by Fairfax, Va.-based American
Management Systems Inc., uses Siebel Systems' eBusiness Applications. The
command also evaluated software from two other contractors: Applix Inc.,
Westboro, Mass., and Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y.
The new MTMC system will work with another new help desk system that
AMS is building for the U.S. Transportation Command, also using Siebel software.
"These two products were intended to work together from inception,"
said Kevin Fitzgerald, Siebel's vice president for the public sector.
The U.S. Transportation Command system, known as the Single-Entry Response
and Verification Enterprise System (SERVES), will make data sharing between
the two commands easier. SERVES will use a central database with information
from the MTMC and the other Transportation Command components.
In August the MTMC will offer an initial capability for freight management
within the continental United States and is expected to have the system
operating at full capacity in 2002, putting the Army at the forefront of
the government's use of that technology.
Total government spending on customer management software is expected
to remain low for the next couple of years, according to Ray Bjorklund,
principal consultant with Federal Sources Inc. However, he expects the spending
pace to pick up, particularly as the federal government downsizes and loses
"Having a tool like [customer relationship management software] will
help the less-experienced government worker or no person at all if it's
a self-serve task help solve customer, or constituency, problems," he
Bjorklund said the strongest demand for customer management software
will come from those departments and subagencies with the largest customer
contact components, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social
Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Citizens who now enjoy the benefits of relationships with online suppliers
will look for the same responsiveness from their government," Bjorklund