How Virtual Agents Can Deliver Citizen Experience (Contributed)

The public is ready for government chatbots to deliver the high-value customer experience often found in the private sector, according to a survey. The benefits are significant, but developing new technologies will take work.

by Eyal Darmon / March 12, 2020

Today, in most countries, an array of digitally enabled government services are available for citizens to access online or over the phone. Many agencies have also started using virtual agents (or chatbots) to answer basic questions and information requests from citizens. However, too many agencies view virtual agents as simply a “plug-in” tool to increase efficiency and drive down costs, rather than as an instrument to increase citizen engagement and provide more efficient services. When deployed correctly, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) can achieve much more, such as personalizing government services, improving service delivery, increasing government workforce effectiveness and enhancing the relationship between citizens and government.

Recent Accenture research — based on a survey of over 6,000 citizens across 11 countries — found an opportunity now exists for governments to deliver “next-generation” citizen experiences by deploying their use of virtual agents. More than three-fourths (78 percent) of respondents to the survey said they see benefits to using virtual agents to receive services from government agencies and almost half (47 percent) said they would like to complete certain transactions using virtual agents. However, bridging the gap between the types of services citizens expect and what they receive requires a complete rethink of the government’s customer experience strategy and often far-reaching changes to an organization’s operating model. 

The Promise 

Whether filing taxes, applying for social security or updating personal details, citizens need to contact public services. Virtual agents can facilitate most of these service delivery needs by offering a 24/7 on-demand channel not bound by the availability of human agents. Our study found that most citizens interacting with government want ease of access to their personal information (74 percent), a quick response time to their queries (73 percent) and increased visibility into the progression of their application through its administrative stages (64 percent). These needs are easily addressable by virtual agents capable of reducing waiting times, personalizing interactions and supporting human co-workers to deliver more efficient and personalized services: 

  • Reduce waiting times: Virtual agents can be used to augment human employees and alleviate workloads. Most case management work involves interviewing people to determine their needs. Getting this work done by a virtual agent would free up case workers to perform higher value-added tasks. Respondents to our survey agree and see a role AI-enabled chatbots can play in reducing service waiting times. Half (50 percent) of respondents to our survey believe their query could be resolved in the shortest possible time using a virtual agent and a similar number (48 percent) anticipated benefits from the “24/7” access to government services that virtual agents can enable. 
  • Augment government employees: Conversational AI tools offer efficiency benefits for government agencies when dealing with large volumes of citizen requests. There is a strong case for deploying Virtual Employee Assistants (VEA) that specifically augment the human workforce. Employees that are supported by a VEA receive real-time information that helps process citizen requests and support for informed decision-making regarding the citizen experience. Within a digital chat with a virtual agent, citizens can acquire data and record that data quickly and reliably in real time, minimizing human error. Conversational AI enables agencies to capture and analyze data to unlock insights on customer needs and behaviors for personalized services. While virtual agents have a greater role to play in customer service, they will not replace the human workforce. Our research found that while citizens support the use of virtual agents, they still want to engage with knowledgeable (66 percent) and friendly (55 percent) human customer service agents. 
  • Personalize interactions: Citizens are rightly concerned about privacy — a complex issue with a raft of regulations and legislative frameworks that service providers, and users, often struggle to manage. While privacy regulations need to be considered and respected, citizens are often willing to share their personal data with government agencies in return for more personalized services. The vast majority (83 percent) of respondents to our survey said they are open to sharing their personally identifiable information with a government department in exchange for a more personalized customer service experience. Additionally, two-fifths (40 percent) of respondents said they would be comfortable with their personal information being shared between government agencies if it would enhance customer services. 

Realizing Potential 

Citizens still need to be convinced of the value of virtual agents, as many have not yet seen their benefits. Our research found that only one in seven respondents (16 percent) have used virtual agents in their interactions with government, and fewer than half said the agent was effective in meeting their needs (44 percent). Government agencies must take actions to improve citizen interaction with virtual agents if they are to unlock the operational benefits of AI chatbots. Offering next-generation citizen experience using virtual agents requires organizations to make far-reaching changes to their legacy operating models and data management infrastructure. 

Thankfully, most government agencies are reviewing how they provide citizens with information, how they manage and analyze citizen data, and how they can personalize services to empower citizens. These steps will ultimately leverage virtual agents to transform government services for the better.

Eyal Darmon is managing director at Accenture Health & Public Service. Eyal helps government clients take advantage of the digital innovations transforming the delivery of citizen experiences, specifically the implementation and delivery of conversational AI technologies. 

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