WORKING ON THE HILL: If You Use Your Office’s CRM, You Need To Know This About That

Every one of the 535 congressional offices has one of these, and every one of them requires continuous attention from at least one staffer and helps everybody else do their jobs.

Screenshot from legbranch.org.

They are the Constituent Management Systems (aka CRMs) that, according to legbranch.org’s Samantha McDonald and Melissa Mazmanian, “help offices manage the ever-growing volume of constituent communication.

“They enable communication with citizens by logging, tracking, and categorizing, and responding to incoming contact. When a person calls a Member’s office, attends a meeting with a Member, sends an email, postal mail, fax, or shares a social media post, that information is logged into the CRM.” But CRMs are not unmixed blessings and here’s why:

McDonald and Mazmanian did an in-depth study of how CRMs affect the ability of senators and representatives to maintain effective and efficient contact with their constituents and to derive from that contact accurate and useful insights for policy and decision-making.

They also found that CRMs “also change the duties of staff who become overworked database administrators and gatekeepers of citizen input.” If you oversee or utilize the CRM in your office, what McDonald and Mazmanian should be of direct interest to you.

The legbranch.org duo observe that:

“Staff are focused on eliciting three primary pieces of information from every citizen who contacts their Member’s office: name, address, and reason for contact.

“A name is required for identification of the citizen and to create a profile in the database. Home address is used for constituency authentication. Lastly, the staffer is expected to document, with minimal elaboration, the reason for contact.”

“Staff have little incentive to collect any information of nuance or substance, thereby restricting the effectiveness and value of constituent communication.”

But this basic data emphasis “limits flexibility in data collection. Staff have little incentive to collect any information of nuance or substance, thereby restricting the effectiveness and value of constituent communication.

“By collecting only these three pieces of information necessary for the CRM, staff dichotomize citizens into those who ‘know the drill’ and those who don’t.

“’There are two categories of constituents: People who call a lot. They know the drill, they know to give their name, address, and what they are calling about. They keep it pretty straightforward.

“People who call for the first time who really want to talk a lot. Sometimes I have to get the name/ address out of them mid-conversation,’” one staffer told McDonald and Mazmanian.

Sound familiar?

Then there’s the fact the vast majority of inputing, analyzing and reporting  CRM data is done by interns, legislative correspondents and staff assistants.

“The role of correspondence staff is shifted to that of a database administrator, making it difficult for anyone in this role to think critically about constituency impact on the office.”

“Despite being the front lines of citizen communication, these correspondence staff frequently describe their job as having low value within a Member’s office,” McDonald and Mazmanian report.

“The culture of congressional staffers assumes that such correspondence jobs are akin to paying one’s dues for one to two years before promotion to a higher value job within the office. This diminishes the role of constituent input into the office.

“The role of correspondence staff is shifted to that of a database administrator, making it difficult for anyone in this role to think critically about constituency impact on the office.”

McDonald and Mazmanian have additional analysis on the uses, abuses and effects of CRMs, as well as some interesting recommendations for how to make these technologies work better for Members and staff. Go here for the complete story.


 

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: https://hillfaith.blog/about-hillfaith-2/