Each of us, every day, directly interacts with digital services that can be delightful or frustrating. Because we don’t become different people when we deal with different service providers, our expectations of government services are shaped not only by our interactions with other public services agencies, but also by our everyday digital experiences. For example, a recent Accenture survey of over 5,000 citizens from five countries found that as citizens encounter more user-friendly AI solutions in their daily lives, their expectations for government use of these technologies increase.

In recent years, proliferating digital technologies have created multiple customer service channels and touchpoints through which citizens can access online government services. Unfortunately, when it comes to the design and deployment of new government digital services the user experience is often overlooked. But in this fast-changing environment, the need for convenient and seamless customer experience across all engagement channels has never been more pressing.

Putting citizen needs first

Citizens expect rapid, accurate service when interacting with public services online. In response agencies have deployed many different channels and technologies. However, far too often, citizens are left frustrated by what they view as complex processes and excessive waiting times. Those frustrations are compounded when services or solutions – whether chatbots, mobile apps or websites – are not designed around citizens’ needs and the outcomes they want to achieve.

For example, when contacting government agencies, citizens often face a combination of complicated voice or numeric-based interactive response (IVR) systems, overextended customer service agents, and underperforming chatbots. These solutions are often unable to quickly resolve inquiries or, as in the case of IVRs and chatbots, to escalate requests to a human agent in a timely manner. The result? Poor overall customer service.

Knowing what citizens want

Problems also arise when government agencies cannot determine customer intent. Response systems at contact centers often send customers around in circles, transferring them between agents. This is both frustrating for citizens and extremely costly for organizations. Despite investing significant amounts of money in automation, agencies continue to spend heavily on recruiting and training personnel to perform basic administrative tasks that, with the right design and planning, could be automated. In fact, training front-line service staff remains one of the biggest expenses for some government agencies.

By developing a detailed library of customer intents, the right technology can effectively address customers’ needs as efficiently as possible. Clearly understanding customer intent enables organizations to build a channel strategy for each customer contact. At the same time, high-performing self-service technologies should be able to quickly determine which calls are suitable for automation.

The Oregon State Treasury – OregonSaves Program is putting their citizen needs first.  They have deployed a virtual agent and have developed an intent library of questions that are best suited to be answered by a virtual agent.  The result? High quality customer service and more than 10,000 messages answered through a virtual agent!

Before they leap to adopt new technology, government agencies need to think more holistically about the changes they’ll need to make to achieve the full potential of technologies like conversational AI that support a better customer experience. After all, a chatbot interface that delivers poor user experiences and ultimately unsatisfactory service delivery serves neither government nor citizen.

In my next blog, I’ll take a closer look at how AI is enabling chatbots to offer a more engaging and useful experience to citizens.

Eyal Darmon

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Public Service

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