CRM 2.0: The Government, Public Service & A Transformed World

I KNOW that everyone who reads ZDNET columns loves technology. I get that.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I KNOW that everyone who reads ZDNET columns loves technology. I get that.  I also KNOW that everyone who reads ZDNET blogs loves it when the bloggers dish on technology companies - especially, it seems, Microsoft.  I realize that coolness and government don't go together very well - probably something akin to eating milk and cookies except that this time it's goats milk and veal cookies (not like Oreo Double Stuf cookies - check out the Manning bros and the Williams siblings for that one) - but hey, we just elected a President - and one of the reasons he GOT elected was because of his integration of campaign and personal coolness and Web 2.0 technologies - used in a groundbreaking way.  If you want more stuff on the applicability of that, check out my stuff on Barack 2.0 (just kidding! Its actually Brent Leary's stuff.  See my post on how his Barack 2.0 work was plagiarized here. If you're interested in Brent's actual Barack 2.0 work, go here.)

The impact of President Obama's (I'm not waiting until January 20) election campaign on the world fabric was profound, because it broke new ground in how social tools and constituent engagement strategies are applied .  But applying it to administrative efforts through federal (and lets not forget state and local) agencies is very different than how its used in a campaign - the campaign was marketing so to speak and the use of constituent engagement strategies and tools is customer service - also so to speak.  Its easy to want to make the linear transition but its not a linear transition.

What made the Obama campaign brilliant were several things - its recognition that people were communicating in new way and that those same people were involved in his campaign because they were fulfilling self-interested agendas - not following him in a cult-like way (though there was some of that too). In fact, the only real slip up of the campaign (which, luckily had little ultimate impact) was when the Obama changed the rewards system (the "loyalty program") from volunteers acquiring individual points (e.g. 4571 points) to volunteers achieving a certain rank (e.g. 0-10). That removed the individual accomplishment that each volunteer had.  For example, if you were the #1 volunteer and had 5000 points that was better than the #7 volunteer with 4194 points, dontcha think?  But if you had 5000 points and got a 10 ranking score and the same 4194 earned you a 10 - what's the benefit to you?  The points didn't get the volunteers "stuff"; but it did get them reputation.  The idea of being high in the standings as "numero uno volunteer" among all volunteers, so to speak is far more self-satisfying than just being one of a gazillion hardworking 10s (unless you're Bo Derek).  As the #1 volunteer said when the point system was eliminated "they can't do that. Its my points!"  Which is precisely the, ahem, point.  There are a number of great articles on how Barack did this, besides, of course, Brent's ongoing posts. Here's a couple. - CIOZone Wired's Blog Network.

However, the transition to constituent engagement built around either a customer service model or a contemporary collaborative version of what's called the public-private partnership is a lot more strenuous and actually a lot harder because its purpose is a continuous engagement of a diverse set of constituencies at the individual level that does not have an election day end date. Additionally, its highest purpose is the restoration of the public's faith in institutions that are currently severely damaged.  That would be the government institutions. This isn't a matter of a lack of faith in a sitting President or the desire to believe in an incoming one. This is the institutions of day to day government - executive, legislative and administrative.  This means bodies that supersede individuals and that outlast any one administrator. It also means governments beyond just the United States.

The social customer that I and industry thought leaders like Chris Carfi spend so much time talking about is one that wants not just transparency - which allows him or her to make a more intelligent decision on how they are going to engage with an institution - but they then want to actually engage with that institution.  This is not the human participant of even five years ago. They expect that transparency, honesty and the means to engage made available from every-single-institution they potentially interact with. That extends from business to social  to leisure (e.g. sports team) to government.  The universal expectation is the same, though some of the specifics might vary from institution to institution.

This is no mean feat when it comes to the government.  To put it bluntly, no one trusts the government - at least in the U.S. - to do what its expected to. In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer 2008 points out that trust in government institutions across the 18 country board is 39% - a pathetic level of trust. The numbers are staggering - U.S. 39%; Europe (except Sweden & Netherlands where trust in govt. is 63%) it is between 29% and 37% in all other countries; in Asia - India, Japan, South Korea - 40%-49%; (China an anomalous 79%).  In other words, 15 of 18 countries it ranges from 29-49% with most in the low and mid 30s.  That sucks.

The remedy is already on the table.  Oddly, a government that gets somewhat maligned in the U.S. from time to time, is easily the most responsive in the world and one that I've visited several times and written about on occasion and that would be Singapore - and I am not alone in those (these) findings. As I'll show you in a bit, Accenture published a study a few days ago that verifies my claims.

Yeah, Singapore.


In August 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered what was a andmark speech in which he declared a "National Service Excellence Initiative" that would create a service environment along the lines of the Ritz Carleton - "ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."  What made this ground-breaking was that this was the first time (at least that I could find) that a government stood entirely behind an initiative that was based on creating an extraordinary customer experience that extended from every employee of government or business to the employers to the individuals who touched the shores. Some of it was to encourage international investment in this tiny city-state but for the most part it was to provide the kind of experience for its citizens that would make them loyal to the institutions that ran the country. It started with the retail industry but extended far beyond that.

I experienced this first hand when I landed at the Singapore airport a month after the declaration of the initiative and they had someone who greeted me and took me through customs without a hitch.  A few days later when I had neglected to get an issue of the Singapore Business Times that carried an interview with me and couldn't find it the next day anywhere - the hotel I stayed at - a five star called the Sheraton Towers Singapore, made an unsolicited effort to get me the paper - by sending someone to the offices of the Singapore Business Times and delivering to me in my room on a Saturday. The stuff legends are made of - and a direct result of the National Service Excellence Initiative.


But Singapore didn't stop at just creating a high caliber service environment. They have actually created feedback programs that would be classifed by Trendwatching.com (sister site to Springwise) if they had "in-between" grades, something like Feedback 2.5.

Feedback 2.0 (which is now being superseded by Feedback 3.0) is, according to Springwise:

"...about these rants—and some raves—having gone ‘mass’(no, make that MASS!). The long-predicted conversation is finally taking place, albeit amongst consumers and not, as intended, between corporations and consumers. Companies have started to take note, but to a large degree still choose to listen, not talk back, trying to ‘learn’ from the for-all-to-see review revolution. Which is surprising, to say the least, since a quick and honest reply or solution can defuse even the most damaging complaint."

Now look at the definition of Feedback 3.0:

"FEEDBACK 3.0 (which is building as we speak) will be all about companies joining the conversation, if only to get their side of the story in front of the mass audience that now scans reviews. Expect smart companies to be increasingly able (and to increasingly demand) to post their apologies and solutions, preferably directly alongside reviews from unhappy customers. Expect the same for candid rebuttals by companies who feel (and can prove) that a particular review is unfair or inaccurate, and want to share their side of the story."

Singapore probably falls somewhere in between that, around 2.5- as a country!! Whoa!!  They actually have an annual National Feedback day which is designed to capture feedback from interested citizens so that they can input government policy and budgets. In 2007, I attended National Feedback Day with about 6,000 Singaporean citizens and watched with astounded fascination the mostly intelligent and passionate discussions on varying government reports with proposals in different areas such as housing, or transportation or education. Citizens flocked to general and proposal-specific sessions to discuss their thinking on the different proposals and present their counterproposals or support for the existing recommendations. The actual committees that wrote the report were on stage and available to be grilled.  The back and forth about housing or education policy based on the proposal was amazingly detailed. Each committee had a scrivener who took notes on the citizens' comments.

If you couldn't' attend, they had all of the reports available online and you could provide them with feedback there.  All of the in person and online feedback was aggregated and then incorporated into the revisions discussion. Recommendations were made and policies changed accordingly.

Surreal but right there.

But it didn't stop there either.


While national feedback efforts were embedded into the political, government and social fabric of Singapore, they remained on top of the transformation going on in communications too. So, in mid-June 2007, at the Arts House New Media Forum, Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister For Information, Communications and The Arts, gave a really amazing speech that showed the level of Singapore's commitment to contemporary communication. In the course of his wide ranging discussion on the importance of and the potential dangers of "interactive digital media (IDM)" as he styled it, he announced a number of initiatives through the Media Development Authority and other agencies of the Singaporean government as part of the IN2015 program. Perhaps the largest and most significant was the S$500 million investment in IDM through the universities in conjunction with a review of the Media21 framework that would incorporate significant changes to include IDM for making Singapore a state of the art media city-state.

By June 2008, this investment paid off, with the announcement that 82.5% of Singaporean households now had broadband - though their objective was 100%. In conjunction with that saturation point, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) began a series of initiatives that were built to institutionalize an effort to create a truly digital engagement capacity and business model. These ranged from making Singapore - the entire country - a hub to "manage distribute and trade digital media assets such as movies, video programmes, music and mobile content (Blogger Note: This latter one is really important) through the creation of a "national authentication framework" for access to next generation services - meaning all those social media and social networking initiatives that we spend so much time riffing on. Phase 1 was a 6 month $20 million Singapore investment that ended December 31, 2008.  I'm not sure where the next phase is.

But that isn' the end of it either. For National Day Rally 2008 (that's not dyslexic, that's their word order), they decided that because feedback is so critical, they would conduct a feedback "exercise" which comprised, "SMS, online polls, discussion forums and blogs. We have also recently added Facebook as a new channel to solicit feedback from Singaporeans."

The ROI (if You Continue to Use That Archaic Measure)

About five days ago, Accenture put out its "2008 Leadership In Customer Service: Creatings Shared Responsibility for Better Outcomes", a report that makes up in substance what it lacks in title mojo.  This is one that they've annually done and, despite its abstraction of a title, looks at what best practices can be extracted from public sector institutions. This year, the 4 best practices are:

  1. "Better service starts with better understanding."
  2. "Engage. Listen. Respond."
  3. "Harness all available resources."
  4. "Be transparent. Be accountable. Ask for and act on feedback."

All in all, the report is well worth reading, which is saying a lot for me, given my historic (though softening) antipathy toward Accenture. Despite that, this is really good work and you can read about it here.

What's important to this posting is that it shows Singapore's ROI for these programs.

Take a gander at the following comparative numbers:

Accenture's Question

Result (positive responses)

 How good do you think your government is at delivering a better quality of life for you and your family? #1 - Singapore (59%) #2 - Ireland (55%)
 How good or bad is the government at providing equal access?  #1 -Singapore (67%) #2 - Ireland, Australia (56%)
 How good or bad is the government at targeting resources?  #1 -Singapore (59%) #2 - Malaysia (48%)
 How good or bad is the government at tailoring services?  #1 -Singapore (51%) #2 - Canada (45%)
 How good or bad do you think your government is at seeking the opinions of its citizens?  #1 - Singapore (50%) #2 - Ireland (45%)
 How effective or not do you think the different government departments and services are at working together to meet the needs of citizens?  #1 - Singapore (69%) #2 - Ireland (60%)
 How effective do you think the government is at working with non-government organizations, such as businesses and voluntary/non-profit organizations, to improve the quality of your life?  #1 - Malaysia (61%)#2 - Singapore (56%)
Overall trust in government to improve quality of life (worked on a mean score)  #1 - Singapore (3.5) #2 - Malaysia (3.2)
Source: Aggregated from Accenture's "2008 Leadership In Customer Service Report"
What is completely noticeable is that in all but one area the government of Singapore comes in first in the world when it comes to constituents who trust them to be transparent, provide a quality of life that is personally valuable to individual constituents, to do the right thing and at the same time, to continuously engage their citizenry.

A meaningful ROI.  If you're into that sort of thing.

Don't underestimate the value of CRM 2.0 here. The core of CRM 2.0 has always been engagement whether the engaged individual is in the shoes of the customer, the constituent or the game player - whatever role they play in and with the institution they are interacting with. Follow the right path around practices and strategy, implement the right programs, support it with money, listen to the changes that your constituents ask for, act on the ones that you are able to. That will net you a contented and involved citizenry - which is what its all about, ain't it?

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