Feds hit target with gun registration program

While travelling to a customer relationship management (CRM) conference in the United States last month, I was introduced to a rather unusual application of CRM....

While travelling to a customer relationship management (CRM) conference in the United States last month, I was introduced to a rather unusual application of CRM.

Over wine and grilled sea bass at 35,000 feet, I got to talking with the passenger in the seat beside me. It turned out that he was in law enforcement – but not in a role that you might typically expect. His job was to design and manage the data warehouse infrastructure, call centre operations and communication procedures required to implement the federal government’s Firearms Act, the new gun registration law that goes into effect next year.

The act requires the mandatory licensing of all gun owners by Jan. 1, 2001 and the registration of all firearms by Jan. 1, 2003. The Canadian government estimates that there are 3.5 million gun owners and up to seven million firearms in Canada. Gun lobby groups put the number at two to three times those levels. By any measure, those volumes make for a rather substantial and potentially complex database.

Now this is not the forum to debate the pros and cons of Bill C-68, not least because I’m not qualified to do so.

What interested me was our discussion of CRM. It turned out that one of my seat mate’s biggest concerns in building the system was ensuring that the call centre was properly organized and staffed – particularly in light of the impending deadlines and the predicted spikes in call volumes that would result. He had to develop a plan to deal with this entirely ‘in-house’ since the sensitive nature of the information being gathered and the potential association with data on criminal activity meant that outsourcing the operation was not an option. And, he stated, he was well aware that whatever system he designed had to reflect core CRM principles.

Curious, I asked him what CRM meant in his context. He began by explaining that he might not be as familiar with CRM practices as some of my clients in the private sector might be. Then he went on to explain that CRM to him meant understanding the needs of all stakeholders in terms of what they wanted from his system. Interestingly, he considered both law enforcement agencies and gun owners as ‘customers’, reasoning that their needs might differ but that both groups would have to be satisfied for the system to be truly successful.

Once he understood the customer requirements using primary research, one-on-one interviews and focus groups, he designed the database infrastructure and the call centre operation to deliver on those objectives within the parameters of the act, the government’s objectives and his budget. He felt that historically, the typical government approach had been to design the system first and then present it to the citizenry and the rest of the bureaucracy.

Here was a government official who clearly understood the basic premise of CRM – that customers have to come first, and all the systems must be built around those customers. And given the quite vocal opposition from the gun lobby that has accompanied this Bill, I thought his view particularly enlightened.

All too often, I’ve seen private sector firms proceed in precisely the opposite manner, designing new systems to reflect how they have done business in the past. Or to support particular operational silos within the company with no thought about the end customer.

Moreover, it was clear from what he was saying that he understood that technology was not the same as CRM. Yes, significant amounts of time and money had to be invested in designing an appropriate data warehouse infrastructure. And yes, the configuration and mechanics of the call centre were critical to a smooth launch and ongoing operation. But these were ultimately just tools. The fundamental focus was ensuring that their design met the objectives of the customer.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to explore another dimension of CRM – defining customer metrics. It would be interesting to know how success will be measured, not only from the government’s point of view in terms of total registrants and amount of information captured but from the gun owners’ point of view as well.

All in all, it was a very interesting discussion. And if the government can get it right, let’s hope the rest of us can, too.

Colin Tener is president of Tener Solutions Group, a customer relationship management consultancy based in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 585-2900.