Interview

CPFB's iCare Advantage

Two senior managers from the Central Provident Fund Board discuss the strategic benefits of the agency’s iCARE customer information system.

Date Posted

15 Jun 2013

Issue

Issue 12, 14 Jun 2013

iCARE Offers a One-stop, Total View of Customer Relationships

The iCARE project was started in 2006 to develop a single, complete, 360-degree view of our customers. We needed a common repository for all information pertaining to a customer, across our various schemes as well as service channels. So even if a customer came through our service counters one day, and the call centre the next, we would have a single, consistent and integrated view of their case history.

When a complaint is filed, we can track it and make sure it has been noted and followed up on. We track the number of transactions that our members have with us. If a member calls or visits a service counter, the Customer Service Executives (CSEs) can leave a message on iCARE for backend officers, indicating that this particular customer needs to know some specific information and would like to be called back by a certain time. Everything is recorded.

iCARE empowers our CSEs to be more productive. In the past, they would probably have had to call the back office for customer information. Now they can use the integrated system in front of them, similar to how banks manage customer accounts. iCARE enables us to build a much better relationship with our customers, with better case management.

Given the standards of technology in the market today, customers now expect us, as a government agency, to have a good overview of their account details, and to keep track of all the contact they have had with the Central Provident Fund Board (CPFB). They expect more personalisation of services, and to have relevant information delivered to them. In the past, some features might have been “nice to have”, but today, they have become critical to good service delivery.

The iCARE system helps us accomplish all these and more. We can keep track of key customer life stages, for example, if a customer is just starting work or buying a house. We can then use this information to push targeted information and services to them, or notify them when an application has been processed. If we know who you are, and know, say, that you’re reaching 55 years of age, we will be able to send you messages related to your imminent CPF withdrawal at 55. People who reach retirement age can become very anxious about their entitlements, what they need to do next and so on, so we want to offer information that would be relevant at that stage in life. Proactively delivering targeted information to customers also helps free up demand on call centres, because customers now know the status of their transactions without having to call us. Our officers can then focus on other cases that need their attention.

iCARE Helps Collate Feedback and Service Trends

In CPFB, we track two types of feedback — service feedback and policy feedback — and these can also be captured by iCARE. For example, some of our top enquiries are about early withdrawal of CPF funds and the use of Medisave funds for healthcare. Although Medisave policies come under the Ministry of Health, we collate the relevant feedback and forward it to them. You would have noticed that over time they have relaxed their policies on the use of Medisave, for instance for outpatient treatment of long-term chronic diseases. The feedback they received from us, and from elsewhere, would have factored into their decisions. The same goes for feedback on the use of funds for housing, or withdrawal rules under the Ministry of Manpower and so on. The feedback we receive represents a ground feel, for which the CPFB faces pressure from the public, so this is something we need to pass on to the policymaking ministries.


In the past, some features might have been “nice to have”, but today, they have become critical to good service delivery.

Sometimes we get good suggestions from the public. For instance, one member suggested that we should allow credit card transactions, which we didn’t in the past. We explored it, and today we do allow credit card payments. Whatever the outcome, we always reply to those offering feedback. The member who suggested the use of credit cards was pleasantly surprised to hear back from us!

Currently, our feedback is sorted into quite broad categories. In future, we hope to have finer, more granular demarcations. We could potentially also sort out feedback according to customer demographics, such as by age group.

iCARE Paves the Way for More Sophisticated Data Mining and Analytics

Today, sites such as Amazon can already intelligently predict, based on your transactions, where your interests lie. We hope in future to employ this sort of data analytics in order to anticipate what our members might want and then pull out relevant initiatives or information for them, based on the rich data residing in iCARE.


The key philosophy behind iCARE is that all relevant information must be captured by the system. It should not be a case where people choose what to include and what to leave out.

CPF is at the heart of many key government policies from healthcare to housing, so patterns of CPF usage could be insightful to policymaking. In this regard, it is important that key characteristics and attributes of members are kept up to date. A member’s marital status, for example, is important in CPF’s context since a marriage would invalidate any CPF nomination made prior to the member’s marriage. Such status data is dynamic and can change, so the system will have to keep information up to date. Because timeliness is important in these matters, CPFB links up with other government agencies instead of waiting for members to notify us — say of a marriage or a death, which would trigger changes to related CPF accounts.

Of course, the privacy of members’ accounts is very important, and information from iCARE cannot be released without their consent, for example to banks. Confidential information (such as medical conditions or bankruptcy status) retained in members’ accounts are also flagged for restricted viewing by authorised personnel only. So the data is captured, but appropriate clearance is needed to view the details.

Nevertheless, the key philosophy behind iCARE is that all relevant information must be captured by the system. It should not be a case where people choose what to include and what to leave out — the data would then be incomplete, which would compromise its value and integrity. Instead, we can restrict who has permission to view sensitive data.

iCARE is Designed to be Well Used

The premise of iCARE is that all relevant information should be included in the system, so we can have a total view of customers. For a system like iCARE to be useful, everyone has to come on board and all the data has to be there. A system that is technically good but not well used is a white elephant, just like a knowledge management system where nobody puts in their fair share of knowledge. The people factor is more important than the system.

So how do we encourage people to use the system, and be willing to share new knowledge through the system? Strong management endorsement is a must. But the trick is also to make sure the system complements operations and actual work processes, to make it more worthwhile for staff to come on board. They have to feel that the system is of use to them and is part of their actual workflow, and not something extra they have to do. You have to show that the system actually helps make tasks easier, or reduces workload. For example, we helped staff slowly transit from the old Excel spreadsheets to the new system by giving them a system to upload their Excel files instead of re-entering the data. We put the point across that iCARE helps them keep track of customer cases automatically. It would even reduce the number of multiple calls on the same issue since the system already tracks and records all customer activity, including previous correspondence with CPFB. With iCARE, they don’t have to do everything themselves. Even front-liners can resolve an issue before it gets to the back office.

We have tried to make the system user-friendly. We piloted the system with selected groups. We also held focus group sessions on an ongoing basis to understand where the new system’s pain points were, and to understand their established ways of doing things.

As a system becomes better used and more successful, more people are willing to come on board, and a virtuous cycle of system usage develops. Today iCARE is deployed widely across CPFB. Over the years, we have also made continual enhancements to make the system even easier to use and more productive for our staff.


The people factor is more important than the system.

Since its inception, iCARE, supported by our strong service culture instilled over several generations of leadership, has helped propel CPFB in its service excellence journey. We believe it will be an important part of our future strategy to deliver more streamlined, integrated and relevant services for our members.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lim Boon Chye was Director of Accounts and Services Planning and the Quality Service Manager in the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. He is now Director, Policy Studies & Business Insight.

Stephanie Ng was Deputy Director of Business Process and Services Planning. She is now Deputy Director, Withdrawal Schemes.

As part of its research on innovative service delivery, the ETHOS editorial team met with Boon Chye and Stephanie in January 2013.


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