Monday, October 10, 2016

Citizen Relationship Management

In typical customer service interactions, unhappy customers with unresolved issues can, and often do, take their business elsewhere. That’s not really an option when people are unsatisfied with the outcomes of their interactions with their Local, State, or Federal Governments. After all, it’s not like they can get police protection, public library services, or income tax refunds from another provider.

But sadly, too many Americans are unsatisfied with their Government Customer Service interactions. In the latest Government Contact Center Satisfaction Index, an annual undertaking of the CFI Group, citizens rated their satisfaction with Government contact centers at a modest 67 on a 100-point scale. Despite recent efforts, and even a few Federal mandates, to improve customer service, the score was unchanged from last year.

Among the main reasons for the lackluster results was the poor performance and widespread ineffectiveness of most interactive voice response (IVR) systems, CFI found.

I developed one of the first IVR systems for the Mail-Order industry. After receiving your mail-order catalog, you dialed an number, entered an ID number for the product you were interested in, and entered your fax number. The system would then send you a detail fact sheet about the item.

More than half of all respondents who reached Government IVRs immediately tried to exit the automated systems and speak with live agents. Of those who encountered IVRs, 50% rated their experiences with the systems much lower than any other aspect of their interactions. Even worse, only 4% of respondents who dealt with the IVRs said the systems provided them with the information they needed without having to speak to a representative.

Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI, points out that for most Americans, Government IVR systems are seen more as a “barrier to information rather than as a helpful resource.”

They’re also inevitable, according to CFI’s research. On average, 62% of people who called Government contact centers got an IVR, while just 38% spoke to live agents.

While a complete phase-out of automated answering systems would be impractical, there are several ways public-sector agencies can enhance the efficiency of their IVRs and reduce the burden for citizens. Improving the clarity of the menu options, providing a clear path to live agents, and offering a call-back feature to avoid excessive hold times are all options many private-sector companies have adopted to eliminate frustration for callers, according to Petras.

Abby Herriman, Chief Strategy Officer at HighPoint Global, an Indianapolis-based contact center optimization services provider to Government agencies, has recently seen a push for better IVR technology in the public sector. “There’s money being invested in customer service, upgrading IVRs, adding natural language, and improving call flows,” she says.

The Government also needs to increase First-Contact Resolution (FCR) rates, another contributor to its low customer satisfaction scores. The CFI index noted that just 47% of all issues presented to Government contact centers were resolved on the first attempt, at least 11% lower than in the private sector.

Additionally, 19% of all issues required two calls, and 23% required three or more attempts. Eleven percent of all people never got their issues resolved at all.

Illustrating the importance of FCR, the satisfaction score among those who resolved their issues with just a single call was a very healthy 79, but it fell into the 60s when multiple contacts were required; it plummeted to 29 for those who never attained resolution.

That’s a dangerous trend for the Government, according to Herriman. “Often, the folks most in need of service are the most likely to disengage,” she says. “If they can’t get access to the services they need, or if the service is so bad, they just disengage completely.”

Among the worst offenders is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), according to Herriman. The IRS, she says, was able to answer only about 40% of calls coming in at tax time.

Other agencies have much better track records. Among them are the Post Office, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Parks Service, Herriman maintains.

David Trzupek, Director of CRM solutions at eLoyalty, a division of TeleTech, also singles out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as providers of good customer service.

Another example is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which last year rolled out the Consumer Help Center (CHC) to replace a 15-year-old on-premises legacy consumer complaints system and 18 outdated complaint forms. Original plans called for the FCC to build its own on-premises system at a price tag near $3.2 million, with a timeline of up to two years. Then Dustin Laun, an independent contractor hired as the FCC’s Senior Adviser of Innovation and Technology, suggested using Zendesk’s customer service platform to build the CHC and to provide ticketing support via email and Web form. At an 85% savings to taxpayers, Zendesk took just six months to implement.

“With the flexibility of the product, we could have accelerated to a four-month implementation,” Laun said. “However, we wanted to be cognizant of the change we were bringing at such a rapid pace.”

The CHC provides a wealth of information that citizens can navigate on their own. For the FCC, the goal of the CHC is to facilitate the management of complaints by making them easier to lodge and track. The FCC currently receives more than 450,000 complaints annually.

Now customers receive immediate replies, can view the real-time status of their complaints online, and have seen a vastly improved time-to-resolution. Issues that used to take weeks or months to resolve can now be addressed in days.

Unfortunately, these agencies are the exception rather than the rule. “In a democracy, you would expect a high degree of connection between the government and the people, but that is not the case,” Herriman says. “Most of the government is not very customer-friendly.”

Part of the reason for that is that Government agencies don’t have the same priorities as their private-sector counterparts. The implementation and operation of CRM software in the business world often focuses on increasing sales, customer retention, and profits. Of course, Government agencies don’t sell anything, so there is no expectation for CRM to increase revenue.

“Many of the things on the commercial side that are being done do not really apply to the government because they’re not selling anything or looking to upsell,” Trzupek says.

And in the business world, great customer service is now often seen as a source of differentiation and competitive advantage, something that is also missing in the Government space, Herriman contends. The Net Promoter Score (NPC), a metric widely used in commercial customer service circles to track how likely consumers are to recommend companies to others, “is not applicable to the government space,” she says.

On an even more fundamental level, the primary difference between public- and private-sector organizations is that “in the government you don’t have customers. Citizens are not customers,” Herriman says.

But that doesn’t give Government agencies a free pass to make a mess of customer service. “Governments at all levels still need to be concerned about the constituent experience,” says Chris Bauserman, Vice President of Product and Segment Marketing at inContact, a cloud contact center technology provider that was recently acquired by NICE. “This still needs to be an important factor for them.”

Trzupek agrees and points out that citizens’ expectations are still the same. “When I call the government, I expect to be treated like I would if I was calling Best Buy or Sears,” he says. “As a taxpayer, I want to be treated as a VIP.”

Unfortunately, the Government doesn’t work that way. While companies can segment out customers and provide better service to those who spend more, buy more frequently, or carry more influence on social media, the Government can’t do that. Every citizen has to be treated equally.

“You have to take and handle every call, and give every caller the exact same experience in government,” Trzupek states. “In the private sector, it’s about building a relationship with the customer. The government doesn’t do that,” he adds.

Because of privacy and anonymity regulations, Governments are very limited in what information they can collect about callers, which could also make it difficult for agencies to know that a resident has called about the same problem several times before, for example. “On the commercial side, you can know a lot about your customers. The government can’t do that,” Trzupek says.

Government CRM software purchases currently account for about 6% of the total CRM market, according to some analyst firm estimates, but many firms predict strong growth for public-sector CRM.

Among the technologies being considered, biometrics is one area where growth is expected to be very robust. In May, Research and Markets predicted that biometrics in the Government would see an 11.9% compound annual growth rate through 2020.

Biometrics, including technologies to identify people by their voices, fingerprints, facial features, hand geometries, DNA, signatures, and irises, are gaining popularity in the Government due to rising concerns about fraud and identity theft. They’re playing a larger role in contact centers where citizens are required to call in to receive benefits, as with welfare, food stamps, or unemployment checks.

Other CRM technologies that are seeing heavy Government interest include analytics and social media management, according to Herriman. Governments are increasingly turning to social media to help them gauge public sentiment so they can better anticipate and manage call volumes, she says.

But overall, Government agencies need to do a better job of reaching out to people on social media. Based on its research, CFI Group found that 63% of people who told others about their Government interactions did so via social media. Ninety-seven percent of them who were contacted by the agency after a post appreciated the effort, which was reflected in their satisfaction scores, an average score of 80 for those who were contacted, versus an average score of 63 for those who were not.

Herriman recommends what she calls “feedback collectors” that allow Government agencies to monitor customer review sites, such as Yelp, for mentions about them. Just like in the private sector, “they can take these reviews into account and use that information to improve operations,” she says.

Some Government agencies are even exploring more multichannel and omnichannel customer service options. The biggest channels that they are considering are email, web chat, and social media, Herriman says.

But unlike the private sector, which has few restrictions on the operational aspects of information technology and greater control in dictating which channels should be used, Government agencies often face statutory requirements involving audit trails, privacy, security, accessibility, and other legal issues related to their contact methods. Effective Government must offer channels that have universal reach and affordability.

Statistically, phone is still the channel of choice to contact Government agencies. CFI Group’s research found that 60% of people make phone calls, while 22% use the web and 12% use email. Fax, regular email, and in-person visits round out the list.

Mobile app usage is apparently on the rise, though, and yielding positive results for the Government agencies that offer them. In CFI Group’s ratings, 79% of respondents who had downloaded and used Government agency mobile apps gave satisfaction ratings 14% higher than those who had not.

As people move more toward self-service via the web and mobile, “having more powerful knowledge management will be the key,” Trzupek says.

Trzupek also sees a rise in chat and texting as channels for interacting with the government. When it comes to channel choices, “the government is all over the map,” Herriman says. “There are some agencies that are more advanced, looking at more advanced automation and artificial intelligence, and some are still using mainframe computers.”

And it differs not just by agency but, in some cases, by specific departments within agencies, she says. As channel choices expand, Government agencies will also need to expand their pools of universal agents who can handle multiple channels and multiple interaction types, Trzupek warns.

That is already starting to happen, as many Local Government agencies are now turning to 211/311 call centers as the starting points for interactions of all types. Currently, the Local Governments of about 70 major U.S. Cities and dozens of smaller Towns and Counties offer 211/311 call centers to provide residents with access to non-emergency services.

For example, inContact derives about 15% of its business from Local and State Governments that employ its technologies in their 211 or 311 contact centers. Among them are San Diego County in California, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, and the State of Washington. For these facilities, “it still needs to be about delivering great service,” Bauserman says. The key to that, he adds, “is making it easy for people to reach them.”

And then once residents do get through, agents need to be empowered to help. “Agents need to be able to quickly respond to a problem, with great recovery after a mistake, like a missed garbage pick-up,” Bauserman says.

Though not yet on the Government’s radar, geolocation technologies can also have tremendous value in the public sector, according to Trzupek. “If the government knows where I am, they can more easily refer me to services and agencies directly near me,” he says.

Trzupek has also seen a growing Government market for contact center outsourcing, primarily as a way to cut costs. Some agencies could save 20% or more on their customer service costs by switching to outsourcers, he says. “In the government, outsourcing makes a lot of sense,” he states. “You could buy technology and hire agents, but that costs money.”

Outsourcing can also lead to better service levels, Trzupek maintains. Most outsourcing projects are competitively bid, and if the service is poor, the Government agency can simply let its service provider go. “So there is a level of accountability there,” he says.

Outsourcing offers Government agencies a host of other benefits as well, Trzupek points out. For one, it expands the agent pool. “You can set up operations in other parts of the country, outside of [Washington], where labor costs are a lot higher,” he says.

Additionally, outsourcing gives Government agencies access to the latest technologies and process improvements without having to invest in a lot of agent training, software and hardware upgrades, or other capital expenses, Trzupek adds.

In general, the Government already does a very good job of saving taxpayers money, Trzupek and others maintain. “The government does ‘lean’ very well,” Trzupek says.

“The government is providing the best possible service at the lowest cost to the taxpayers,” Herriman adds. “The government has been asked to do a large-scale [customer service] transformation with very little money. They’ve gotten really good at that.”

When it comes to customer service, the Government also has one other very distinct advantage over the private sector. “There are a lot of citizen-focused people in the government that are doing what they can to help break down barriers,” Herriman says. “People in the government largely want to serve the public. They just naturally want to help people.”

Because of that, the Government, perhaps more so than the private sector, recognizes that employees and internal cultures will be the main drivers of change going forward.

Laun says the key to success in any Government customer service deployment is having the right team in place.

But Laun also recommends investing in more agent-assisted technology and better hiring practices. “We’re asking a lot more of agents in the government, and customers demand a lot more from them,” he adds.

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