Customer is front end of e-gov

Imagine this: A citizen visits your Web site, interested in reserving a

spot at a popular campground. She makes the reservation and pays via credit

card. But before she logs off, a prompt appears on the screen: Your fishing

license has expired. Would you like it renewed? Done. Another prompt pops

up: Your business license is about to expire. How about taking care of that

today? Done.

This level of service — based on the sharing of information across agency

lines — is the second major phase of e-government implementation. The first

was the creation of individual agency Web sites.

To reach the next stage of e-government, organizations must remove barriers

to the free flow of intergovernmental data.

Increasingly, the strategy to remove such barriers is based on meeting

the needs of the public and is known as customer relationship management.

CRM encompasses far more than a mere software program or an analysis of

call-center patterns. It really is the front end of e-government.

CRM is the management of technology so that government has a mechanism

for understanding and responding to its customers. By developing that understanding,

agencies have the opportunity to communicate with each customer in a way

that will increase loyalty and satisfaction.

If governments are to fully capitalize on the efficiencies and cost

benefits to be gained by implementing Internet technologies, then the five

principles of CRM should constitute the underpinnings of building e-government

portals:

1. Focus on the customer. It's a deceptively simple idea until you compare

what constituents want vs. what agencies want to provide. Citizens want

things organized according to customer service. Agencies want things organized

by government structure. Citizens want consistency in the look and feel

of Web sites; agencies want to present a distinctive look and feel to differentiate

themselves. Constituents want interaction with a human and to be treated

as individuals. Agencies want to provide electronic access and a one-size-fits-all

approach.

2. Give away information. An electronic portal is the ideal way to allow

constituents to access information regarding their dealings with government.

The more information they have, the better educated and more satisfied they

are.

3. Outsource some responsibility to the customer. Use the interactive

government portal to task the constituent with gathering information needed

to complete an inquiry. This approach, as private industry has learned,

will dramatically increase transaction volume over the Internet, reducing

costs and decreasing the complexity of constituents' dealings with the government.

4. Create a single face to the public. Let the portal become the doorway

to all constituent interactions with the government. The portal should carry

out order-and-fulfillment functions, such as enabling citizens to search

a government catalog for services and products and to pay for them electronically.

The constituent is best served by a single interface that hides complexities

and internal government processes.

5. Treat different customers differently. Implement systems that will

allow constituents to be recognized from one visit to the next, across all

agencies. This includes a learning process that enables agencies to personalize

each interaction an individual.

Industry has applied these principles to e-commerce. The challenge to

government lies in forcing a huge cultural change in "bureaucracy" and having

to function at the slow rate of legislative change.

The risks of shifting to a customer relationship model are minimal.

The most frequently cited risk is the citizen's potential loss of privacy.

Because the government already has a huge repository of information about

each citizen, this concern can't offset the rewards: streamlined and improved

constituent service, more efficient and effective government services, and

increased revenue as well as enhanced revenue flow.

Technology is an enabler. Making the customer the underlying motivation

stands to change the entire paradigm of the way government works — ultimately,

for the better.

—O'Donnell is vice president of marketing at Anexsys LLC, a provider of e-government

technology.

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