There are two old adages that elected officials should never forget: voters have long memories about issues that affect them personally and that all politics is local.
These adages are why we are finding a lot of governmental officials are investing in highly customized CRM systems for managing their interactions with their constituents.
Whereas CRM systems traditionally manage and enhance the efficiency of the relationships between a company and its customers and prospects, the main constituent interaction that officials want to manage and automate is the constituent request interaction. In short, people from the officials district call in to request help with government services and issues. This could be the ever-present call to fix a pothole or a bulb in a street light, assistance with obtaining veterans benefits, help in getting a government grant or contract or anywhere a constituent can come in contact with government and that constituent believes the official can help make things happen. While these are example of the services an elected official might provide, the same issues apply to appointed officials as well. The difference, in our opinion, is that elected officials’ constituents have a greater sense of entitlement! They voted for the guy (or gal) and supported the election, possibly with a donation or a bumper sticker on their car, the least the bum can do is get the pothole fixed!
A break down in the service request such that a request gets “lost” or is unfulfilled for any reason could very easily turn into a vote lost at the next election. Likewise, providing exceptional service can be the key to a long career in politics. Just like bad service in a restaurant, one unhappy customer tells five friends.
There was, for many years, a New York US Senator affectionately referred to as Senator Pothole (Senator Al D’Amato) who was reelected year after year and was well known for his well-oiled constituent services machine that would handle any issue, no matter how big or small or whether municipal, county, state or federal (if you had an issue with the United Nations, I am sure his team could have helped with that too). Of course, after his team got you the result, you were on his mailing list. His first mailing was a thank you card for giving him the opportunity to serve you, the constituent. He served 3 terms.
The flow of a constituent request generally follow this pattern: A constituent calls, writes, emails or fills in a web form with an issue. The issue is initially received by a staff member who calls or emails the constituent to get additional information including full contact information. The staff member then categorizes the issue to align with staff members who specialize certain governmental areas. For example, if the issue is a pothole, there is likely to be someone who is responsible for issues with roads and transportation. If the issue is related to consumer affairs, there is likely to be a staff member with that focus, etc.
Once the issue has been routed, the staff member assigned manages their workflow and records their interactions with the agencies and the constituent like any sales prospect. Form emails and letters are used, phone integration to track activity can be used, status emails to the constituent shows them that there is work in progress on the issue. Like other case management systems, it can be designed with escalation to the official for their personal involvement.
There are a number of issues in using a CRM system, any CRM system for these use cases. We have successfully built systems on Salesforce and Zoho for these types of clients. Here are some of the things we learned.
- Overall Flow – We have implemented systems for elected officials using a case flow and we have implemented systems for elected officials using a contact, account and opportunity process with each opportunity being a request. Both are viable designs.
- Person accounts vs. household accounts – Ahhh person accounts. Always a headache one way or another. We have done this system both ways and maybe there was a time that the household had some meaning in the elected official’s mind but nowadays, it is really about the individual so individual accounts are what is needed
- Reporting – in the perfect world, there is a chief of staff or office manager that can monitor and manage the progress of constituent issues. We have found that the 80/20 rule applies (doesn’t it always?) in that 80% of the request fit 20% of the request types. In other words, most requests fall into a few categories and it is worthwhile to monitor how long those request are “in the system” before resolution to identify and intervene on the ones taking longer than expected. For the smaller percentage of unusual issues, those are likely to require senior staff involvement and perhaps a special queue or flag might be needed.
- Productivity – many times there are volunteers and interns that can be trained to handle many of the requests that come through. The great thing about using volunteers and interns is that it is “free” labor. The bad thing is that there tends to be a lot of turnover and part-timers.We helped one client with creating a training video for how to use the system and how to solve some common constituent issues to facilitate productivity and fast on-boarding.
If you would like more information on how we can help government officials and governmental departments manage the relationships with their constituents, contact us. We are currently working on a shrink wrap system for elected officials.