Government CRM Software

Government CRM Lessons Learned
customer relationship management

Public Sector CRM | Lessons Learned from Chicago's Success
Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems and approaches, including both the software technology and the philosophy, have been proven successful in the private sector for over 10 years.  Recognizing this, state and local U.S. governments, particularly larger cities, began aggressively implementing CRM systems such as 311 call centers in earnest over the past five years.  311 programs allow residents to contact most or all of a governments’ non-emergency services and offices by dialing just three digits.  The constituent is automatically routed to the proper office and the complete transaction cycle is recorded in a shared database so any relevant government official can view the history of an issue, reuse previously acquired knowledge and advance the relationship between the government and the constituent.  While these government CRM services are common and proven is many countries such as the UK, the early adopters in the U.S. include cities such as Chicago and Baltimore.  And based on their success, several other cities are developing their own programs.  Indeed, according to Market Strategies Group, local governments’ adoption of the technology will grow by 20-25% annually.

The benefits of CRM software, 311 systems and similar information technology solutions for governments are quite clear.  With different aims than those of the private sector, government CRM software solutions have been retooled specifically for public sector functions.  According to Evan Schmitt, a leading authority and advisor in providing government with robust CRM solutions such as 311 technology, the largest returns on investment are not increased sales as may be inexperience in the private sector, but instead:

  • Improved customer service and increased levels of service delivery (higher success rate along with decreased cycle times)
  • On-demand access to retained government knowledge (knowledge reuse)
  • Boosted efficiencies (material increases in staff productivity and labor utilization)
  • Reduced transaction costs (significantly lower cost per constituent or citizen transaction)
  • Improved information capture (faster and more intuitive software systems), and 
  • Information integration

The Government Finance Officers Association undertook a study in 2006 of three cities, including Chicago, to evaluate the programs and innovations, and identify lessons learned for other interested governments.  Begun in 1999, Chicago’s 311 call center absorbed all “quality-of-life” and police non-emergency services. Handling 2.8 million calls at its outset, the center is now fully integrated and fielded 4.1 million calls in 2005. Designed to reflect high-performance government, it provides a single point of contact with citizens and tracks timeliness in completing citizen requests.

GFOA’s Shayne C. Kavanagh and Lydia Murray considered these areas, among others, in the study:

  • Service delivery improvement -- using CRM to better constituent outcomes;
  • Performance management -- propelling high-performance government through CRM

Service Delivery Improvement
CRM strategy and CRM software's primary goals are to improve communications with constituents to better identify their needs, resolve their requests and advance the citizen relationship.  The first benefits realized when using CRM addresses constituent contacts, such as improved call pickup rates, improved inquiry resolution speed on first calls, a drop in call-handling time and improved first call resolution rates. However, the authors note that the improved customer experience, however, raises expectations of government, and the program has to continue this level of service delivery after the initial contact to reap the intended benefits.

Cross-Functional Cooperation
CRM solutions highlight the fact that cooperation between agencies is required to solve many problems that can't be solved by a single department. Bowing to this, Chicago created the position of "neighborhood project managers" in the 311 office. These managers coordinate services among various departments for a given geographical area, and help bridge the information gap. Individual departments usually consider only their own service requirements and often don't know what other departments are doing. Project managers analyze all services provided to the neighborhood by all departments to bring a more holistic approach to constituent concerns.

End-to-End Process Management
Successful CRM strategies start with the initial constituent contact, proceed with consistent and automated processes, and end with successful service delivery. To emphasize government's results to residents, CRM systems require case management capabilities from the beginning to the end of a service request life cycle. Rather than considering a task or activity complete once the work request is forwarded to a department or when staff are dispatched, end-to-end process management requires a service to be monitored until a satisfactory result has been delivered to the constituent. GFOA offers complaints of hazardous building conditions in Chicago as an example of this management approach.

Using hosted CRM software, officials monitoring repeat calls and incomplete service requests identified that it was taking longer than expected for building owners to comply with the city's requirements. When officials executed each step of their process in isolation, delays and errors often surfaced later on. In the original process, inspectors were deployed in a timely fashion and even ordered the necessary tasks based on the complaint’s severity. But what was often dropped were interim steps, including title searches, ownership information, completing inspections, and scheduling court dates. These steps needed to be tracked and coordinated and a complete process. Using on-demand CRM software to map the process from intake to adjudication, the city identified and addressed the procedural gaps and dramatically improved the process for both the citizens and local government authorities.

Performance Management
Performance management based on quantifiable data has been a long-sought after goal in the public arena, but one that has been challenged by an inability to easily access performance data and key metrics. CRM software provides the tools to capture that data by tracking requested services, delivery times, constituent satisfaction, places where services are provided are a wide array of other metrics and key performance indicators.

CRM systems not only deliver service data in a timely and organized fashion, but also act as a central repository that can be queries and interrogated for government learning. Web-based CRM software lets disparate agencies access the information, and use it to complement or adjust service delivery.  By reducing time and energy normally spent on analysis by managers, CRM solutions let government executives focus on higher mission related priorities.

In trying to identify and isolate what Chicago residents were asking for and what departments were delivering, CRM-enabled performance management helped the city dramatically improve the quality of its streets. Chicago faces over 100,000 street defect complaints per year. Even large dangerous potholes often took municipal staff a month to fix, despite continued calls by residents. Following a CRM-driven analysis, two reasons were identified for delays. First, there were repeated misdiagnoses in the urgency of the complaint.  But more problematic was that the responsibility for addressing pothole problems as it was not clearly defined between two departments.

In addressing the situation, Chicago’s 311 call center developed better questions for requesters to better qualify the issue and help separate normal pothole complaints from more urgent cave-ins. In addition, the call center made several improvements to the flow of service requests following the initial call. Communication between departments was improved and several unnecessary activities were dropped from the procedural workflow. Following the improvements, cave-in response times significantly decreased to 2.4 days in 2006 from 11.6 days in 2005. Also, completion of sewer cave-in repairs went from 23.1 to 19.1 days even with increased staff workloads.

Among the lessons learned, GFOA argues that, as seen in the case of Chicago’s successful integration of hosted CRM software, 311 systems and performance management metrics, these guidelines will go a long way on improving city services:

 -- Apply a solid performance management strategy;
 -- Foster a collaborative environment between CRM strategy, call centers, operating departments and budget departments;
 -- Develop strong data-mining, information analysis and process redesign capabilities.