Headlines: October 28th, 2003

More than 80 councils across England have joined a drive to test a set of new tools designed to save local government time and money when it comes to improving customer care. They have been developed as part of the Government’s 4.275 million pound Customer Relationship Management national programme.It is claimed, too, that the system will also make it easier for people to communicate with their local councils by enabling each council to access an up-to-date picture of each citizen and their dealings with the authority across all its services.

Research by the programme, funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, shows that where councils use CRM it has helped significantly to increase customer satisfaction. This, the research says, is because staff have access to consistent and up-to-date information when dealing with customer enquiries and because councils have the information they need to provide more responsive services, through a variety of channels such as call centres and the Internet.

The research also highlights the desire of many councils to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’ and making potentially costly mistakes when it comes to implementing CRM. That has prompted the CRM National Programme to create a toolkit for other councils to use. The 43 ‘tools’, created by the Programme and being tested by councils, have been designed specifically for the public sector and include ‘roadmaps’, blueprints, guides and technical specifications to make implementing CRM simpler.

Councils taking part in the tests are being asked a number of questions, including how appropriate and easy to use the tools are, and whether they are robust enough to withstand the demands of the local government environment. The results, which are due to be fed back by councils next month, will be used to refine the products, prior to their being made available to all public sector organisations, next spring.

The authorities taking part in the testing have been selected to reflect different local authority types, geographical locations and the full range of council services. Thirty-four councils are being funded to test the products, and 49 more have volunteered to take part on an unfounded basis.

One of those taking part is North Somerset Council, which is using CRM to improve the work of its social services department. Andy Moll, the council’s e-Government Strategy Manager, said the authority had already conducted an analysis into whether CRM could help it to improve customer care and make services more responsive. What it needed, he said, was help with implementing the strategy. The tools the council was testing had saved it months of development work by providing a list of factors that needed to be taken into account.

The CRM National Programme involves almost 400 organisations, including local authorities and other public bodies such as the police and health services as well as 101 registered CRM suppliers.