CRM finds a seat in government

Customer relationship management is crossing into government as agencies facing e-government mandates have come to appreciate the benefits of streamlined, cheaper, more effective contact with constituents.

In government, the "C" in CRM stands for citizen, but the customer can just as easily be an agency employee visiting a CRM-driven, Web-based help desk to inquire about medical benefits.

Call centers can also route calls to a self-service Web portal or interactive voice response system that accesses the same database to handle inquiries that are either typed or spoken into a voice-recognition system.

In addition to serving constituents more efficiently, such automation can reduce labor and IT costs.

Enterprise CRM packages have at their core a highly searchable knowledge base that holds information that has been collected about the citizen.

Another defining feature is integration with back-office applications, where agency human-resource and financial records reside.

Case management is one CRM feature that is geared more to government than to corporations. It not only consolidates past and ongoing records related to a case, but also adds entitlement and contracting rules, and workflow to ensure that partners and citizens get what they're entitled to, as well as that the proper people handle the case.

Enterprise CRM products also include, or bolt onto, modules that handle the multichannel communications needed to interact at self-service portals, over analog or digital telephones, or by fax. The hot communication trend now is voice over IP. Vendors also have been adding support for personal digital assistants and wireless phones.

E-mail management software is another key component.

Business analytics, which take advantage of the ever-growing treasure trove of citizen, employee and partner data, is increasingly used both to measure service quality and to improve other processes, such as contract negotiation and homeland security investigations.

Getting the right kind of system in place typically requires major-league consulting from the software vendor or a third-party integrator to build in the agency's unique business rules and regulations. n



LOWDOWN

What is it? CRM software helps agencies organize and manage citizen relationships through data collection, analysis and routing features, among others.

What are its key elements? Enterprise CRM packages include a searchable knowledge base of information on each citizen or constituent, including agency employees, along with functions such as workflow management and call-center routing. Case management is a feature particularly helpful to agencies.

Must-know info? CRM's automated features can improve service and trim labor costs, but the systems can be difficult to deploy. Disparate legacy systems and security and privacy rules present major hurdles. Successful implementation usually means extensive consulting and cultural readjustment. n



David Essex is a free-lance writer in Antrim, N.H.

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