ITAC vice-president looks back on public-sector CRM

TORONTO–There’s more to client relationship management than complicated software packages and installation headaches, according to Norine Heselton.

The Information Technology Association of Canada vice-president said she discovered

this during her stint in the public sector. For three years she served as director general of the scientific research & experimental development (SR&ED) program, which provides tax incentives to businesses that conduct SR&ED in Canada. Last year it received roughly 11,000 claims and paid out about $1.5 billion.

When Heselton joined the Canada Customs & Revenue Agency department, she said the relationship with the businesses was near explosive. Part of the trouble was born out the 1994 Federal budget when businesses were allowed to submit claims for work done in the past. In four months almost 16,000 claims were filed, many of which were poorly put together, she said. The end result was a department swimming in claims grinding the process to a halt.

“”Claimants were upset, claimants were angry, claimants walked out of the program. And if this is a program for economic development that’s the last thing you want to happen,”” Heselton said at the Client Relationship Management in Government conference in Toronto.

Heselton said this anger carried on for four years. Attempts by the government to cut down on the red tape and streamline the process weren’t enough, she recalled. The only thing left to do was meet with the clients. A conference was held in Vancouver in 1998 where the government asked for the industry’s help.

“”I don’t think any of us would say it’s easy to sit down with unhappy customers and ask them how they feel. There’s a lot of venting,”” Heselton said.

Timothy Vigotsky agreed getting feedback, even if it’s bad, is essential. The National Business Center director for the United States Department of the Interiror said it enlisted the help of technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. to design a Web survey to measure customer satisfaction. He said the results confirmed where it needed to improve.

Heselton said three goals were identified at the Vancouver meeting. One, become more client focused yet maintain fiscal integrity. Two, develop strategies that are driven by business needs. Three, improve communications so more companies knew the program existed and who the process worked.

To achieve these goals Heselton said a cultural shift had to occur within the CCRA. This involved developing partnerships within the industry. Since September 1998 a steering committee has meet almost monthly to discuss the issues, she said, increasing buy in from both camps.

“”Creating cultural change to build effective client relationships is a long and hard and arduous process. It takes courage, you have to work incredibly hard, you need unrelenting commitment,”” Heselton said.

“”This isn’t strictly CRM in the traditional sense. We didn’t implement sophisticated new software, we didn’t create new customer databases. But we did have a strategy, we did have a vision and we had a plan for building stronger relationships, and that’s the foundation of any truly effective client relationship management initiative.””

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