TORONTO — One of the major advantages of CRM in government is not having to talk to your citizens.

That’s because so many tasks citizens are asked to perform are unpalatable, said Lynn Bouchard an analyst with Gartner Inc. “”If

they could, they would never interact with each other,”” she said. Few people relish the thought of renewing their driver’s licence, paying taxes or applying for welfare — which is why the provision of a services-based e-government portal is so critical.

Bouchard made these comments on Thursday morning as part of a panel of government CRM experts. While citizens may not always like dealing with government, that doesn’t mean they won’t push for change or wish to get involved in government policy, she cautioned. “”They’ll want to have a real influence on government.””

This is one of the key differences between CRM in public and private circles: the private sector can keep its policies and internal functions at a distance from its consumers; the public sector doesn’t have that luxury. It’s vital for government to recognize this difference, said Bouchard. A failure to do so may result in the failure of a CRM project.

Cost-saving is frequently an important consideration for private sector CRM, but isn’t necessarily the most compelling reason for public sector implementations, said Doug O’Brien, manager of strategic business, public sector, for Siebel Systems Inc.

Self-service CRM through an Internet portal may be vastly cheaper than running a call centre, but 70 per cent of people using online government services still want to talk to someone to see if doing using it right, said O’Brien. There should always be someone available to provide help or reassurance so the customer will (hopefully) be able to deal with a problem on their own the next time, he said.

Despite the differences, there are many lessons government agencies can learn from the private sector and mistakes they can avoid. One of the main failings of CRM in all organizations is not with the software but the inability of an organization to communicate effectively internally, said Bouchard. Fragmentation of policy across departments and divisions will result in a breakdown of information flow. CRM implementations must have the full support of everyone involved, she said — particularly the cooperation of the IT department.

An ill-founded CRM implementation will exaggerate existing problems within an organization rather than resolve them, she added. “”If you’re not doing something well, CRM will make you do it faster,”” she said, “”and make your customers hate you faster.””

Widely dispersed, uncoordinated CRM plagued the U.S. Federal Government’s education department, according to Jim Laychak a consultant with Accenture‘s federal government client group. Accenture was brought in about three years ago to reorganize the department’s call centres, of which there were more than a dozen. “”We were making the customer figure out who they needed to call,”” said Laychak.

According to a student poll Accenture took, one respondent answered that he didn’t “”have confidence that what the person is telling you is accurate.”” That’s the call centre kiss of death, said Laychak. As a result, the Department of Education, together with Accenture, started a “”consistent answers”” program to ensure that students could receive correct information no matter where they turned.

Bouchard urged government to begin a CRM project on a small-scale and keep it simple — the lack of a straightfoward plan will result in endless input from other departments and the project will spiral out of control.

Paul Crook, a U.K. partner with Accenture’s government and CRM practice, agreed with the start-small premise, but scale fast. “”That’s how you fire enthusiasm,”” he said. “”Think big. Have a clear picture of what each of those citizens is going to receive. That’s what CRM is all about. It’s giving you a structure to think big. Never start with what you’ve got now; look at what you want to do and do the gap analysis that way.””

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