Who Says Government Doesn’t Benefit From CRM?


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Darius Cheung dreaded getting a business license because of all the bureaucracy he anticipated. Because it was his first time applying for a license for a new business in Singapore, he needed some personal guidance and advice, so he went in person to the business license department, all the while fearing massive paperwork and long waits. He was in for a surprise.

“All I had to do was go to a one-stop center and I got it done over the counter, contrary to what some people told me before about the multitude of forms and different counters,” Cheung said. “I experienced a much smoother company registration process than I expected. Everything was done at one agency within an hour.” He paid slightly more than S$300 (roughly equivalent to $200 in U.S. currency) for the business license. Only a few years ago, the same service would have been at least $1,200 in Singapore currency with the queues and papers Cheung dreaded.

The difference stems from Singapore’s eGovernment Action Plan, begun in 2000, to integrate government across all agencies, creating a one-stop government shop. Today, 1,600 e-services are available through eCitizen, the front face of the government for citizens and businesses. Access is through a special identification card called SingPass.

Total service delivery

A private-sector business license service€”DP Bureau€”was there for Cheung, as part of the latest innovation in the eGovernment Action Plan: Public-Private-People integration. The goal of 3Pi, as it is known, is to offer “total service delivery.” That links in the government’s

Online Business Licensing Service (OBLS)

to the privately operated DP Bureau.

In the first year of operation, 22,000 companies filed for business licenses using OBLS, winning the 2005 United Nations Public Service award for the application of information and communication technology (ICT) in Government.

So, is CRM necessary in government? My answer is a resounding YES! Why should this kind of elegant streamlining that leads to improving quality, cost-effectiveness and customer service be confined to the private sector?

As I wrote in my 2004 CRMGuru.com article,

Looking for True E-Government? Singapore Gets It Right

, many government web sites are simply static holding places, rather than interactive delivery mechanisms. Instead of providing full-service facilities online, all too often government web sites merely offer visitors a page with a telephone number, instructions about a manual service or a PDF form that needs to be downloaded, printed out, completed by hand and mailed in the old-fashioned way. Although national and regional governments are improving, with more offering links to publications and databases, they have a long way to go, according to Inside Politics’ report,

Global E-Government, 2004


But Singapore is showing what is possible. The January 2005

Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences

, Accenture’s sixth annual global report on government service delivery, found that 65 percent of people in Singapore rated the job the government is doing in eGovernment as “good” or “excellent,” the highest among the 22 countries surveyed.

Singapore, which tied for third place, behind Canada and the United States, in Accenture’s study, has aimed at a broad multi-channel delivery of government services via counter, self-help kiosks, the Internet, mobile phone and intermediaries and 1,000 self-service terminals at 36 agency sites€”as well as the use of new tools such as online polls and customer e-ratings, to get feedback and customer insight.

Behind the scenes

Singapore has spent $2.8 billion in Singapore dollars (1.75 billion in U.S. dollars) since 2000, to achieve this. A service-wide technical architecture provides a framework of standards, policies and guidelines, building in interoperability at the infrastructure layer. Building blocks let agencies develop, deploy and interoperate e-services with common features such as user interface, the transactional flow logic, database support, security and encryption and payment services.

Commercial CRM systems were used only at the periphery for such things as email management and frequently asked questions. The bulk of the spending was on consulting with stakeholders, developing customer-centric design processes, application system development, extensive user testing and evolving a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). The implementation went on in parallel with the rollout of the Balanced Scorecard in the Singapore public service. The benefit to customers and employees and the need to create opportunities to learn were explicitly balanced against financial KPIs.

“Start with the user in mind,” exhorted Raymond Lim Siang Keat, second minister for finance in Singapore’s prime minister’s office. That directive has resulted in 75 percent of the eligible population having transacted electronically with the government at least once. A network of 42 eCitizen Help service locations helps those without Internet access or expertise. Attention to customer service may explain why hit rates for the eCitzen portal increased from 240,000 per month in 2001 to about 14.4 million hits per month in 2003.

Just as commercial businesses benefit from a focus on the customer, so the business of government€”including planning; permit processing; delivering health and social services; and tax-collecting€”can benefit from well-designed customer-centric business processes and technology. Granted Singapore, with a population of 4 million, is a small country that can turn on a dime, relatively speaking, but there are CRM lessons that more populated countries and local governments might draw upon.

In 2004, when Singapore was in the midst of its eGovernment initiative, Singapore Minister of Finance Lee Hsien Loong, who was then deputy prime minister and is now the prime minister, spoke at the Managing for Excellence Forum on eGovernment. He urged government agencies to re-engineer their individual backend processes to provide more customer-centric services. He said that agencies “must strive to make things as convenient as possible to the customers, rather than make things easy for themselves.” Ultimately, Lee said, it is “not about IT but about changing the approach to government.”

Now if you substitute the word, “business,” for “government” in his comments, isn’t that what we’ve been saying about CRM since the beginning?

As for Cheung? Keep an eye out for his mobile applications start-up company, Tencube. Have license. Will grow!

Mei Lin Fung
Institute of Service Organization Excellence, Inc.
Mei Lin Fung, www.isoe.com blogs on ebCEM – evidence-based Customer Experience Management. The Service Leadership Transformation Program developed in an innovative public private partnership with Avaya and Oklahoma State University received the Phillip Crosby Golden Medallion in 27. Her curriculum has been implemented by Microsoft Telesales in China, and Johnson and Johnson in Asia. She designed the first US Department of Labor approved Contact Center Apprenticeship Program in Oklahoma. Blog: Learning to Earn Customer Trust by Mei Lin Fung


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