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

handles that."

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.

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