The Blog

  • August 18, 2016
  • CRM and government

    Over the summer multiple events have pushed me to the conclusion that CRM and government are natural complements and that it’s just a matter of time before they meet. It would represent a huge opportunity for the industry and my full thoughts are available in this white paper.

    The common denominator is people. Whether we’re dealing with government or with business people want and expect individualized attention to their needs and importantly, they socialize their ideas about products, services, and government in much the same way.

    Business quickly adopted CRM technologies over the last two decades while government has been steadfast in its outdated approaches. The differences in adoption rates between business and government can be traced to some of the disquiet we see in the political arena for example, the populism manifest in the Brexit vote and in the American presidential cycle.

    Where the approaches are similar

    The government approach was also the business approach until social media and CRM emerged as potent business forces in the last decade. Communication was through broadcast media usually in print media, and it was also one way. Capturing the voice of the customer/constituent was not often attempted partly because it was slow and expensive. If you wanted more you had to deal with a representative that didn’t have your best interests in mind. A visit to your local Registry of Motor Vehicles in the U.S. is usually all the proof one needs.

    But when social media came along, we all discovered how quickly an individual could influence a large audience. Some businesses got burned by the criticism and adopted CRM and its associated tools as fast as they could but government didn’t. Perhaps the relative scarcity of elections gave politicos the mistaken belief that there would always be time to fix something that broke. The recent Brexit vote in the UK should disabuse all of us of that belief.

    How they differ

    Business no longer waits for things to break and a quality regime based on the work of W. Edwards Demming has been a strong influence. Today we build quality into the manufacturing process eliminating defects before they occur or engineering them away. We build intuitiveness and ease of use into everything because we know that if we don’t a competitor will. This is where business and government diverge. There is often no alternative to your local, state, or national government though recent events show that the public is growing increasingly comfortable with “none of the above” as an option and that’s turning normal government functions into mush.

    Now, here’s the rub: CRM can’t help all of this, at least not immediately. If we’ve learned anything in the CRM age it is that we need to always be testing our assumptions, gathering data, and analyzing it to figure out next best actions and to discover new opportunities to serve. CRM does all of this very well, but its effect is not immediate. The trust involved in successful CRM takes much iteration to bear fruit.

    Getting started

    This is exactly why its time to apply what we know about CRM and customers to government and constituents. The one-way communication model between government and the people that was successful throughout the 20th century has fractured. People have been trained to expect nearly immediate response delivered to their personal devices on almost any subject. Print and broadcast media can’t do this partly because their business models place gates between people and information.

    Additionally, the journalism business model, which relies on advertising, has taken a hit from the rise of the Internet and the media now chases the controversy around a story rather than the story itself in order to attract the eyeballs that advertisers crave. Chasing controversy is less costly for the news gatherer but it often leaves consumers poorly informed or, even worse, informed about only one side of an issue. CRM would help to partially disintermediate news media from government further democratizing democracy in the process.


    How to pay for CRM in government is a tricky question. Many parties inside of government appreciate the status quo with its rules and procedures that make getting even simple things done quickly difficult. They’d have to be convinced of CRM’s appropriateness, seeing it as a benefit rather than a threat.

    If the model for CRM adoption in business is any guide, at some point the benefits will outweigh the detriments. Establishing the balance between enough and too little CRM is likely to be done through trial and error. At some point breakthrough success will happen in one, or more likely, several locations thus creating the momentum for rapid adoption. Until then we continue living in a world driven by technology and social media but mediated by twentieth century communications. It is an unstable situation and it cannot last.


    Published: 8 years ago

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