In my previous blog, I looked at some of the challenges border agencies face as they address the flows of people and goods in a world that is increasingly volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous (‘VUCA’). To adapt and evolve their services to better meet these challenges, agencies need to start seeing the world from the point of view of the travellers and traders that they serve. Adopting that perspective is essential to get customer service right. Whether a business setting up an ecommerce capability to trade internationally, or a person looking to resume their cross-border commute, these border agency ‘customers’ are in need for answers, guidance and services that are digital, uncluttered and safe.
To achieve that, border agencies will need to unlock data and insight stuck in siloed systems and teams, double down on automation and AI and the use of digital collaboration tools. They will also need to look past their own organisation, procedures and even beyond their existing mandate. That means linking up knowledge, experience and insights not only from within the agency, but from outside too. As customers often need answers to more than one question about different but related subjects, integrating different agencies in a single interaction is essential. For example, the Finnish government has created chatbots that are able to answer questions about immigration, tax and business registration all within a single conversation. The result is a more efficient and effective response that gives customers what they need in one go.
So, what do agencies seeking a similarly customer-centric approach need to focus on? In my view there are a few key steps. First, they need to set out their north star for customer experience, develop a channel strategy and business case for reimagining customer interactions. This needs to embrace both the front-end experience and the back-end systems that will be required to support it, as well as connection points to other agencies operating at the border.
Think big, start small and scale fast. When it comes to building a digital assistant for instance, automating the most common enquires that contact centres deal with alone, will already have a great impact on contact-centre operations: many conversations between traders and customs, for example, will be very similar. Digital assistants can cover most of those interactions in their entirety. If a more complex issue requires human intervention, digital assistants can identify the best-qualified person in the agency to step in to continue the conversation. By rapidly getting people to the information and answers they need, automation can improve voluntary compliance through more timely and targeted guidance.
Digital assistants must also be integrated with back-end processes. Intelligent automation can address numerous aspects of the case handling process – such as creating service tickets and processing emails and scanned documents, enabling the 24/7 operations that customers desire and have come to expect. It also means that agencies are better prepared to deal with unexpected changes in demand.
Agencies also have the opportunity to make better use of the data they capture, making it as accessible and useful as possible so that the whole organization continues to learn and generates the insights for continuous improvement. Making sure the right data is available to the right people and at the right time, through digital collaboration and AI tools such as intelligent dashboards and internal digital assistants, is a key enabler for remote working and can help agency staff to solve problems more effectively and make more informed policy, operational and tactical decisions, as well as improving customer service.
Crucially, introducing more automation does not mean replacing people. Quite the opposite, in fact. The combination of human+machine is powerfully synergistic. As employees become more used to working with AI tools and focus on more complex conversations and cases of intentional non-compliance, they will become knowledge engineers, using their skills to continuously enhance digital channels and driving more from the technology they use. Achieving that requires organizational flexibility to redesign service delivery, adopt as a service models to scale and maximize the cost-effective use of digital assistants.
There’s no question that these are challenging times. But the use of smart technologies with a human-centric approach can help border agencies address the challenges of today and build the resilience they need for the future. The time to start? Right now.