Closing the gap between private- and public-sector service delivery
Improving the quality and efficiency of government services is a goal shared by elected officials, government administrators and employees, taxpayers -- and anyone who has stood in line at a Department of Motor Vehicles office, waited on the phone for assistance or searched a government website for answers.
The era of digital commerce has raised expectations to new levels. Citizens expect government agencies to offer service on par with the private sector, and too often they are disappointed. A recent survey sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton found that consumers want government websites to be easier to use. Some 82% of respondents said today’s commercial websites make it easy to obtain the information and services they’re seeking, but only 61% said the same of government sites.
As government agencies around the world consider new technologies and invest in solutions to narrow the gap between public- and private-sector experiences, they should look to artificial intelligence. Federal, state and local agencies are increasingly turning to AI-driven applications to improve efficiency and service quality. Many are reaping significant benefits through the deployment of conversational AI across a variety of service and support environments.
Conversational AI includes messaging and speech-based applications and chatbots that streamline and automate the way citizens access and interact with government. Agencies are realizing immediate benefits from these AI deployments, and those gains can be expected to grow significantly as AI’s reach extends into new problem areas to improve service access, resolution times, user satisfaction, cost efficiency, employee productivity and value to the taxpayer.
Chatbots are now being used by many government agencies, but their intelligence, functionality and value vary widely. Some are limited to answering frequently asked questions with pre-loaded answers, while other chatbots are capable of handling more complex interactions and responsibilities.
These more intelligent and connected chatbots, often called virtual agents, are bringing the true power of conversational AI to government services. They integrate natural language processing, machine learning and other AI technologies to automate significant portions of service engagement and delivery -- from capturing service requests from citizens/residents and forwarding those requests to the right service agent, to fulfilling a wide range of requests with no human intervention whatsoever.
Some states are deploying virtual agent technology across agencies to improve the consistency, usability and accessibility of services. Powered by conversational AI, the virtual agent successfully answers questions from residents, visitors and businesses and quickly guides people to the right agency for the services they need. The technology also gives the agency valuable intelligence for improving services and related work processes.
Here are just some examples of how state and local governments are using virtual agent technology:
- A state DMV uses the virtual agent to help residents renew vehicle registrations, schedule driver’s license exams and answer requests regarding vehicle records.
- The department of taxation uses the solution to guide citizens to online tax bill payment and answer tax-related inquiries.
- A virtual agent manages business registrations and guides business owners in filing annual reports with the state.
- Open access allows a virtual agent to take birth and death certificate orders from residents and guides them in obtaining other vital records.
- For non-emergency law-enforcement scenarios, a virtual agent receives, prioritizes and categorizes requests from residents.
- Even within the government administration itself, virtual agent technology is centralizing internal service and support functions between the agencies for efficiency and effectiveness.
For one state’s DMV, the virtual agent helps citizens communicate with the agency’s online portals via text, voice or a variety of popular messaging apps, such as WhatsApp. The virtual agent can answer queries and handle a number of actions, including appointment scheduling, registration renewals, wait time verifications and more. Citizens now can get personalized support on a 24/7 basis, while DMV staff members spend less time on routine tasks and concentrate on other complex activities and services.
The system becomes informed about service issues and resolution workflows by ingesting data from several systems, such as driver and vehicle data, internal back-office systems, partner systems and other sources. It then uses machine learning to uncover patterns between inquiries and problem resolutions so that when a familiar request comes in, say for a car registration renewal or an appointment at a DMV office, the virtual agent can respond appropriately. The system gets smarter over time based on knowledge gleaned from its interactions with users.
Some of the key benefits for the DMV and its customers include:
- Significant reductions in wait times at DMV offices.
- A 30% decrease in walk-ins and telephone inquiries.
- Reduced service costs due to faster throughput.
- Real-time feedback on performance issues.
- Continuous intelligence about how to best handle complex inquiries.
- Reduced service and support errors and improved user satisfaction.
As they plot their digital strategies, government leaders and IT experts would be wise to consider adopting new AI-powered solutions, such as virtual agents. As shown by the use case above, technologies like conversational AI are now proven and ready to narrow the gap between service experiences in the public and private sectors.
Wai Wong is the founder and CEO of Serviceaide.