CRM for Small Business, Citizen "Service" In the Middle East

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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CRM for Small Business, Citizen "Service" In the Middle East

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is the North Mississippi All-Stars' Electric Blue Watermelon. Think the Allman Brothers with Peter Wolf on vocals playing a raucous college English Lit Department bachelor party:

Okay, it's not exactly breaking news, but there are 25.8 million small businesses in America, paying more than 40 percent of the total U.S. private payroll, and the majority are not using CRM. Yeah they're a self-interested business concern, but First Coffee likes how, makes it their business to at least get small businesses thinking about strategies and CRM products.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 600,000 new small businesses sprouted in 2005, making a significant economic impact. Small companies can continue to influence the economy through growth and increased customer loyalty with Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

"Most small businesses want to grow and continue to win new customers. But the different technology needs of companies mean one CRM solution or strategy may not fit all," said Aris Pantazopoulos, managing director of Contact Solutions.

Small businesses are underestimating the importance of customer relationship management in business growth, according to Melinda Nykamp, Vice President of Customer Strategy Integration for Fair, Isaac and Company, Inc., who writes, "Indeed, your customer base has become your key to success in an increasingly competitive business climate. This is one of the primary reasons why customer relationships are making it closer to top of asset entries on corporate balance sheets."

In comments provided by, Nykamp says successful CRM initiatives must focus on the customer, include the business strategy, connect customer intelligence about customer needs into the daily operations of the organization, and measure the relationship.

Small businesses generated 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs annually during the last decade, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small companies with fewer than 500 employees represent 99.9 percent of the 25.8 million of all U.S. businesses. Competition among so many small businesses can be tough, and CRM is a pretty good way to begin to stand out from the pack.

CRM at work in Egypt, and it's about time: Link Development, the development arm of LINKdotNET, has introduced what it calls "revolutionary Microsoft CRM" to the Egyptian government.

This new CRM module allows for the Ministry of State for Administrative Development Call Center to receive, track and, if so inclined, solve citizen's complaints, questions and suggestions regarding all types of services offered under the E-Government project.

Citizens now can call the number 19468 or access the bilingual website ( in order to submit their request, and through the automated workflow provided by the CRM module, they are immediately assigned a case number to track their inquiries.

Citizens have access to that service at any time by giving in their case number to check on the status of their request. This CRM module will also cater to all services provided and offered by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Solidarity and other ministries in the future.

"Egyptian companies have reached a very high technical level and are competing with Microsoft partners worldwide," commented Tamer Elhamy, Microsoft Business Solution manager, calling LINKdotNET "one of Microsoft's most prominent partners not only in the Egyptian market, but also in the Middle East."

Engineer Sameh Bedair, Policy Making and Programming Sector Manager in the Ministry of State for Administrative Development, claimed that the new engine reflects a actual, genuine interest in making citizens' lives easier, a novel -- and welcome -- concept in the Middle East, a region of the world, First Coffee can say from personal experience, where governments view "citizens" as little more than sheep to be shorn, herded and kicked around when they get in the way.

Think I’m kidding? Here's how citizen "service" operates here: In Istanbul in the 1990s, any package larger than a shoebox which was sent to someone living in Turkey from outside the country via post office had to be picked up at the airport, the government wouldn't trouble themselves to deliver it. Citizens here would no more think of demanding government efficiency and accountability than they would of flying off the top of Topkapi Palace -- there was actually a law forbidding any criticism of the post office here in the 1990s, I don’t know if it's still in force or not.

You got a slip in your mailbox saying you had a package, and you had to go out to the airport outside the city, where they gave you a sheet of paper with -- at that time -- 22 lines for signatures, each with a different functionary's title, "Assistant Associate Shipping Control Maintenance Clerk."

There were 22 of these make-work jobs for shiftless brothers-in-law of well-connected politicians who could get such deadwood on the public payroll simply by creating a Deputy Assistant Associate Shipping Control Maintenance Clerk (#23!) "job."

And then you had to go around the airport's administrative offices and get signatures of each of the guys on their correct line. In order. Sometimes -- you think I'm making this up or exaggerating, I know you do, but I swear on Dave Barry's head I'm not -- the same guy's name appeared twice, like lines #9 and #17. And you had to get them all signed in order, the guy wouldn't sign #17 until you got numbers 10 through 16 signed, you had to come back to his office again. God help you if anyone went on vacation.

If you started at nine you were usually done by about two in the afternoon. You'd make it to about #14 or #15 and then everybody'd go to lunch so you might as well too and start back in an hour, so all told you left your house around eight in the morning and got back at three-thirty or four. First Coffee doesn't complain about DMVs anymore and reserves great scorn for anyone who whines about long grocery store lines.

It was not only excruciatingly infuriating, but sad -- you'd go in a guy's office and it would be obviously a converted broom closet, with nothing but a government-issue desk and chair government-issue calendar. And I mean nothing, no pictures of the wife and kids or well-connected brother-in-law politician. Maybe an extra chair for someone to sit and keep the poor sap from talking to himself.

You'd almost feel sorry for the lazy useless slug -- he'd sit there in a suit and tie, talking on the phone or to the guy who signed the lines before or after him, drinking tea or just staring at the grimy cinderblock wall, waiting for someone to come along who needed a signature so he could make them wait a few minutes before signing.

After a while First Coffee politely requested friends and family not send him any packages. If you were with a business like Coca-Cola or 3M you could send an office flunky out to waste their day doing it, and there were kids hanging around the airport who specialized in getting all the signatures -- pay an 11-year old a few lira and he'd do the circuit for you while you sat in the airport bar. I always figured I'm here, I might as well get the exercise, it's not like you could run errands in town while the kid did his thing.

First Coffee knew a Fulbright Scholar who had learned Arabic in Syria, and who said there it was worse. I believe it -- Turkey is far more advanced socially than any other Middle Eastern country except Israel. Things have improved here somewhat since then, nowadays First Coffee's wife can go to a closer post office to pick it up and there are fewer signatures required, but the basic attitude of the government towards its citizens, best described as mild contempt, hasn't changed.

So any sort of citizen-focused initiative in the Middle East is to be applauded. "Several ministries are able to facilitate the process of troubleshooting citizens' problems and equally, their own work pressures. We are currently in the process to deploy this service nationwide to all ministries by virtue of which the concept of government services will be totally upgraded," said Engineer Sameh Bedair of the Policy Making and Programming Sector Manager in the Ministry of State for Administrative Development.

Go Sameh.

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