CRM and Government's Untapped Potential

It's time to apply what we know about CRM and customers to government and constituents. Here's how to get started.
Voice of the Customer

Government is the biggest opportunity that our industry could ever find and there are many parallels between it and business that could make this idea a natural fit.

Both government and business have roughly the same audience to satisfy and many of the dynamics work the same. People want and expect individualized attention to their needs and they socialize their ideas about products, services, and government in much the same way. But while business has quickly adopted a growing list of technologies over the past two decades, government has been steadfast in its outdated approaches to the same people.


The government approach was also the business approach until things began changing 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-surveys and focus groups for instance. 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 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. Businesses shuddered and adopted CRM and its associated tools as fast as it 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 U.K. should disabuse all of us of that belief.


Business no longer waits for things to break. In manufacturing we build quality into the 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 (you know what they are) 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 from 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 it doesn't act immediately. The trust involved in successful CRM takes much iteration to bear fruit.

Getting started

This is exactly why it's 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 is fracturing. 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 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 and see 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 CRM and too little 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 20th century communications. It is an unstable situation and it cannot last.