Lyon: The City of CRM

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The French city's government digitizes many of its municipal processes to provide more efficient and resourceful solutions for its citizens and staff.


Paris may be the city of light, but Lyon is turning into the city of CRM. The third largest French city has been making a major push towards digital to better connect its citizens and administration and offer them more resourceful and efficient solutions.

A digital debut

The City of Lyon started advancing towards a digital-first administration in 2007. Thierry Le Vaguerèse, Lyon's mission director for citizen marketing and relationship management, recognized the vast amount of human and physical resources municipal paperwork was consuming from both a citizen and staff perspective. He wanted to find a more efficient and resourceful option for both parties that would allow Lyon's administrative staff to support those citizens who needed it most; hence improving government-civilian relations.

“We tend to believe that somewhere between 5% and...15 % to 20% of the population are not sufficiently agile with administration relationship[s]—they need to have someone to talk to,” he says. “What we want to do is concentrate our resources for those people....Whereas probably 80% to 95% of the population doesn't need any assistance at all. For those people, it's more time-consuming to actually go to a local municipal desk than doing it over the internet.”

Digitizing a governmental system wasn't going to be easy. But Le Vaguerèse knew that it was something Lyon's citizens would want—as shown by their “good acceptability” of online municipal forms, which were introduced in the early 2000s.

“They were demanding that kind of possibility,” he says. “Not all of them, but a vast majority.”

But being able to submit forms online wasn't enough. Lyon's government wanted to create a seamless experience where citizens and government officials could access all necessary documents in one central hub. So in 2009 the city implemented Selligent's CRM platform, a new CMS, and a knowledge management database.

“We had to interconnect all of these tools together,” Le Vaguerèse says. “It wasn't an easy thing to do.”

A superior solution

Lyon kicked off its first digital initiative in 2010. The city started by introducing digital payment capabilities that linked directly to Lyon's central bank and allowed citizens to pay invoices, such as for school lunches, online. But it wanted to find more ways to serve local families. So that same year it made it possible for parents to register their children for holiday break activities and pay online.

In the past, families would have to go to a local registration desk on a certain date to enroll their children in an activity. Due to the popularity of the program, this would often result in a line of people camping outside of the registration building—sometimes 24 hours in advance—to secure a spot. Now, parents can register their kids for a holiday activity online. 

The first time Lyon ran this initiative in 2010 90% of the activity spots filled up in 43 seconds, according to Le Vaguerèse. He also suspects that this system is fairer considering that not everyone can miss work or take the time to physically wait in line. 

“That's how we realized that going digital could be powerful for everyone,” Le Vaguerèse says, “for the parents, because they wouldn't have to queue and also for the services and the people in the city.”

A convenient creation

Over the years Lyon has digitized about 30 to 35 government processes, according to Le Vaguerèse's estimates, including paying for street parking, accessing cemeteries, and reserving space for a moving van.

“We've worked on pretty much anything, to be honest,” he notes.

One significant undertaking came in 2014 when the city decided to digitize its school registration system for 40,000 children and families across 200 schools.

Before this initiative, Lyon had three separate registration systems: one for school meals, one for before- and after-school programs, and one for attending school on Wednesday, formerly a day off in France. Then in 2014, Lyon started allowing students to take Friday afternoons off to compensate for that lost leisure time. However, this would require the administration to create a fourth registration system so parents could indicate whether their child would be taking this time off.

The registration process wasn't the most convenient, either. To register their children, parents would have to go to the school, meet with the school director for 15 to 30 minutes, and fill out a form.

Lyon's administration wanted to streamline the process and make it more convenient. So that year it transferred its physical registration documents to the online realm and introduced a digital system that combined the four disparate processes into one simple step.

Here's how it works: Every year, Lyon's administration sends an email to all of the parents in its database informing them that it's time to register their child for school. Parents receive a separate email for each child. Once parents open these emails, they're able to click on a link to connect to their child's unique digital registration file—all without having to enter a password. If it's their first time registering their child for school, they will have to fill out a digital form and provide a plethora of information, such as the student's contact information, meal preferences, vaccination status, and allergies. Once that information is provided, it's stored in Lyon's database. So, when parents have to register their child for the following year, Lyon can pre-populate the form with the information already provided and parents can add any missing information or edit any inaccuracies in real-time. Or if everything is up to date, they can simply click “valid.”

If the parent does not have an email address, Lyon automatically sends them the registration information via mail.

To help educate citizens about this new registration process, Lyon has used “any channel available,” Le Vaguerèse says, including school posters, social media, and in-city signage. The city also has nine registration desks that people can visit if they're struggling with the process, or people can call in for support and government staffers can pull up their information.

Digital for all

The registration deadline for this school year is in August, and Le Vaguerèse says 95% of families have already registered their children; 82% did so digitally. While he says coming up with more efficient solutions with “tight” public resources is a challenge, Lyon's efforts seem to be paying off. In fact, he says that 50% to 80% of the processes Lyon has implemented over the past few years have digital adoption. He also says that the city's administration is now revisiting existing digital systems to try and refine them, such as its tax-return process.

“If you offer digital, people will go to digital,” he says. “There is no discussion about it—not anymore.”

From Le Vaguerèse's perspective, one of the biggest benefits of applying marketing technology to a city, versus a brand, is that a city isn't working for profit. Therefore, the city can concentrate on creating a solution that works for all of its citizens, he says, not just the most lucrative segments.

As he puts it, “We have to find solutions for everyone.”

Video source: Selligent
Photo source: Calips at French Wikipedia

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