Public Sector CRM

Implementing a successful Constituent Relationship Management program in the public sector relies far more heavily on the incentivizing structure used than CRM in the private sector. My informal research has determined the fairly obvious: What level of government you're dealing with goes a long way to determine your incentive: The bigger the government agency or entity, the lower the incentive for anybody in it to embrace change.

Now, I'm not one of those "federal government employees don't care about doing a good job" squeakers, mind you. When my wife was applying for U.S. citizenship in the late 1990s, due to an INS snafu her file, with all the medical stuff we'd spent months and hundreds of dollars putting together, was "misplaced." Nobody at Immigration we contacted could be bothered to care. Start over, we were told.

We called our Congressman. His staff couldn't have been more responsive or helpful. The problem was quickly identified and her application was not only found and reactivated but fast-tracked. The Congressman's staff checked in regularly with progress updates until she secured citizenship.

Still, the usual incentives that undergird a successful CRM implementation in private enterprise are either absent or weak in the public sector. And if there's no incentive for a CRM program you might as well feed the money you spend on CRM to otters. At least you get some return there — it's fun watching otters.

Profit? Not a concern of government. Fear of one's career being damaged by a failed CRM project? Nope. Hope of reward for improved job performance? Raises are scheduled. CEO personally driving the project? The President has other things to worry about.

As Graham Hill, principal in Britain's Sophron Partners, wrote when discussing the issues and obstacles of government CRM, even with all the clearly-defined success metrics for ROI in the private sector, "most projects fail to deliver against their promises," and CRM in the public sector doesn't even have those. As Hill pointed out, if a CRM project is in the budget it's because somebody decided to add it to the legislation, not because the staff or management were demanding one or even see the need for it.

In fact, for this article we couldn't find any notable success stories of federal CRM projects -- but they abound at the municipal level, usually in the form of "311" call centers, due to their greater incentives and local proximity.

Successful Government CRM: It's The Incentive, Stupid

Municipal government is far more close to its "customers" than federal bureaucracies. City government employees have to be more responsive, since they have incentive -- a much higher chance of losing their jobs to the next administration.

Most 311 systems give residents a ticket number when they initiate a complaint process — "My trash isn't being picked up, clean the graffiti off my building, there's a pothole on my street that eats poodles." The citizen can track progress on the issue with the ticket number, holding the city accountable for action.

Plus it keeps citizens off the 911 emergency line, which many were calling to report non-emergency concerns since, frankly, somebody has to listen to you on 911, and often it was the only city number where somebody would. Freeing up 911 for emergencies is added incentive for city managers to make the system succeed, i.e. work the way citizens want it to.

Over the past few years I've written of successful projects in places as diverse as Hartford, Chicago, Minneapolis, Yonkers, Hampton and Albuquerque -- in fact, some 311 systems are working too well. Earlier this year the Contra Costa Times reported that Los Angeles's 311 call center project is so successful it's now a political problem. The system was launched under former Mayor James Hahn, the Times reports, noting that it "began as a 24-7 operation," but "budget cuts over the years have reduced its hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. every day of the week."

So citizens used to the relative efficiency and responsiveness of the 311 system are now dissatisfied with the pared-down version. In popular parlance, the city got their hopes up. Even though municipal government responsiveness is light years ahead of its pre-311 days, constituent dissatisfaction could be higher simply because they've come to expect better.

The bottom line with Government CRM

With public sector CRM, the incentive structure is different from that in private enterprise. Those determined to field a successful Constituent Relationship Management program in government must identify what incentives people will respond to, and align the CRM program to use that incentive structure.