Late last century, it became apparent that when government empowered its citizens, government empowered itself. What prevailed was a widespread acknowledgement that people knew more than governments did about what people wanted or needed.
Citizens in the early 21st century want government to serve them as sensitively and efficiently as their bank, retail service provider or their car dealership. They want government to know them, to remember their patterns of behaviour and predict what they will need in the future.
People also want choice, and this means government must move to serve its constituents according to their demographic preferences. Flexible channels of service delivery must cater to individual and social diversities in age, ethnicity, language, culture and, in some cases, a citizen’s emotional state.
They’re looking for the same level of attention that the private sector has been racing toward over the past decade. Retailers, financial services companies, manufacturers and transportation services realized there’s more value in selling customers what they want to buy, rather than products that corporations wanted to sell them.
Companies started using customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities to figure out what the client wanted, how to sell it to them and how to ensure a positive customer experience every time they touched each other. How did they do it?
Demographic segmentation: For years, businesses have been keenly affected by the size and influence of the baby boom generation, and today’s generational business dichotomy still focuses on a split between characteristics of age, education and ethnicity. This drives an enterprise to develop a solid, single view of the client to better understand patterns of behaviour and cultural preferences. Database consolidation and the ability to route calls to appropriately trained service agents became the new way to serve the client.
Channel transformation: This is a clear derivative of the demographic breakdowns above. The differentiation of who has access to which channels becomes significant to serving all clients. Access points must be consistent with an individual’s circumstances and needs. For example, kiosks for those who may not have private access, better trained and engaged contact centre agents, and real-time routing from Web sites to agents, have become important mechanisms to support client diversity.
Segmentation and analytics: The ability to capture behavioural data and create predictive trend models can help design new products and services that are more in line with a truly client-centric paradigm shift. This means more efficient use of CRM tracking and analysis tools, supported by a fair amount of business intelligence. Business can then speak directly to what the client most wants, giving them a positive experience from the outset. In turn, this builds client retention, brand loyalty and growth of servicing.
Methods and procedures: Business discovered long ago that quality service is the glue that retains and grows the client base. Using CRM’s best practices and procedures in the areas of workforce management, quality assessment, staff development and the augmentation and quantification of every step, companies paved the way to much higher levels of client satisfaction. Discrete application of user-friendly customer self-service and speech recognition helped provide further access to client services.
Two key technologies have allowed these CRM techniques and capabilities to be integrated more efficiently and cost-effectively across disparate business processes. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) can facilitate easier, quicker CRM implementation by reusing loosely coupled software services, while call centre service agents can be supported in more flexible locations by Internet Protocol telephony infrastructure and voice over IP (VoIP) products.
IP telephony allows incoming calls to be automatically routed to a VoIP phone, regardless of where one is connected to the network. Multiple touch-point services are available through VoIP, which allows access by every demographic subgroup. This means clients can more directly reach the services and providers they need, while support agencies can better serve and track client requests.
The public sector is at a unique juncture today to integrate these new architectures within and across departments. Not only can they improve the speed and accuracy by which services are delivered to constituent groups, they can also enhance their ability to capture client behaviour for more effective policy formulation.
As they evolve toward citizen-centric services, organizational fragmentation is probably the key issue that federal, provincial and municipal governments face within their respective bureaucracies. This fragmentation prevents them from having a unified view of their constituents. Conversely, it also disallows the public to have a single point of contact with their government.
Of course, the true downstream shortcoming is that qualitative analysis of all of these constituent requests and transactions is lost. Without it, the advantage of fact-based policy formulation is diminished.
The convergence of CRM and the technology architectures now available provides new possibilities to solve these issues. Constituents of every demographic grouping could use their preferred channel of choice to reach out to a single point of contact at each level of government. Inquiries could be answered in a manner consistent with their needs, whether Web-based, self-service or through an agent.
Clearly the result can be both a perceived empowerment of citizens and an enhanced effectiveness for government policy formulation.
James J. Paris is vice-president, business process outsourcing, with EDS Canada’s CRM service line.