Customer relationship management can play a crucial role in delivering internal efficiencies for public authorities, says Microsoft’s Local Government Solutions Lead, Martin Lewis
The squeeze on public sector finances is set to intensify – indeed, the Local Government Association estimates that councils are under pressure to save £10 billion by 2020 - yet there is rising demand for core services such as social care.
To have any hope of meeting these combined challenges local authorities must operate as efficiently as possible. A key priority therefore should be to make the back office engine ever more efficient – providing savings in internal operations while raising the quality of service for internal and external customers alike.
To do this, however, a widespread transformation of processes is needed. And this is where a tried and tested technology, customer relationship management (CRM), could provide one of the enabling foundation stones.
CRM is a tool that can increase the automation of internal processes, provide for more staff self-service and support the easier sharing of knowledge around an organisation. It has a potential that any public sector body should explore in these austere times.
Public authorities have invested heavily in modernising their public-facing operations, and this has produced savings as more transactions are carried out online and the pressure on staff is reduced.
Indeed, in such roles, CRM has truly proved its value. But making it available for staff can also make the organisation more flexible in automating routine administration and responding to internal requests for support.
For example, it can provide 24/7 self-service for staff. This can incorporate simple functions such as booking a meeting room, through to resolving problems through a knowledge base or a diagnostics facility. The more sophisticated it becomes the more it enables staff to carry out tasks and solve problems themselves rather than requiring the time of support teams.
CRM has case management features, creating a formal notice of a query or issue, and with a set of service level agreements can provide a framework for it to be managed in good time.
It also has a workflow function for dealing with specific processes, making clear who is responsible for a particular stage and when it should be completed. This can be wrapped with the case management and SLA functions to provide an effective tool for internal efficiencies.
These features combine to create two major efficiency advantages. One is to go as far as possible in automating processes, so that service users can find the information they need and manage as many interactions as possible without the support of a member of the back office staff.
The second comes from the potential to bring the support functions under a common platform. One CRM system can support enquiries for human resources, IT or facilities management, providing the foundation for a helpdesk function that works across services. This is less expensive than running individual systems, can bring the relevant data together and make it easier for the different service providers to cooperate when required.
The large volumes of data that CRM makes available offers the potential to embed data and analytics into the very fabric of how your organisation operates – helping to build a ‘data-driven’ culture enabling ongoing service improvement and fine tuning of back office processes.
When organisations empower people in a secure and flexible way, they can transform to an agile, digital enterprise that has the power to look forward, anticipating and flexing to future challenges and delivering excellent services along the way.
There is also another important back office process in handling external correspondence. CRM can accept enquiries in any format – it has the multi-channel call centre capability to respond to phone calls, emails, SMS messages and social media. These enquiries can then be routed to the appropriate teams or individuals, and provide a knowledge base of answers to common questions and to indicate when the information is already in the public domain.
It can also ensure that responses are issued in the appropriate format, and the workflow can keep the process on track to meet statutory guidelines on response times – especially relevant to the Freedom of Information Act and responses to official questions.
In addition, CRM can provide a range of data for analytics to measure performance, spot patterns with the use of resources and identify where the needs will be in the medium to long term. This can make a big contribution to long term efficiencies, and will support public sector organisations in preparing for a future of meeting rising expectations with limited resources.
The challenge cannot be ignored; the money will not be there for organisations to carry on working as now. They have to respond with a true transformation in the back office, and CRM can play a crucial role in making this happen.
Download Microsoft's white paper on Transforming the public sector back office with CRM now: