Keeping C first in CRM
Although the term "customer relationship management," or CRM, is a relatively
new one, the concept has been around for years — it's called customer service.
Simply put, CRM is a combination of systems and processes used by an organization
to support its customers. In the case of the federal government, clearly
the customer is the citizen or business that needs to interact with the
government for some reason.
It might be surprising to some that CRM systems exist across the federal
government. Unfortunately, it is the effectiveness of those systems with
which many of us might take issue. How many of us have experienced the round
robin of phone transfers that seem to accompany the calls we make to the
federal government for basic information and services?
I don't blame the poor customer support that many of us receive from
various federal agencies on the lack of CRM systems in the federal government
or on the hard-working people in the federal government who deal with us.
Rather, I blame it on government CRM systems' misplaced focus on the process
rather than the customer.
I'll use USAA, the insurance company for many members of the armed services,
as an example. It has long been respected for its superior customer service.
A call to USAA's toll-free number doesn't force the caller to navigate
through myriad menus before arriving at what may or may not be the appropriate
destination. Instead, the customer is routed almost immediately to a human
being who is equipped with information about the customer and empowered
with the ability to help the customer with what they need. One would very
rarely hear a USAA employee say, "Let me transfer you to the person who
Unfortunately, there are very few places in the federal government where
citizens can receive a similar level of support.
Clearly, modern-day CRM systems, such as those produced by Oracle Corp.
and Siebel Systems Inc., are not quick fixes for providing good customer
support. Quality customer support requires a commitment from the organization
and the people in it. But today's CRM systems tend to place a much greater
emphasis on supporting the customer rather than the process. They help organizations
anticipate the needs of customers, empower the support providers with timely
knowledge of individual customers and help gather and organize information
on customers so that continuous improvements can be made.
Indeed, if improving the quality of services delivered to citizens is
a priority of the federal government, then a fundamental change in focus
may be required. Agencies would do well to shift the focus of their energies
to supporting the customer rather than the process. Empowering the support
staff in your agencies with systems that can help them anticipate the customer's
needs is certainly a step in the right direction.
—Plexico is vice president and chief technology officer at Input, an information
technology market research and marketing services firm in Chantilly, Va.