The way public services are delivered is changing at an unprecedented pace. Challenges around efficiencies and productivity, meeting customer expectations and better customer engagement means that a digital strategy for councils is essential to identify how they will respond to these opportunities and challenges.
Increasingly, users of public services are expecting to access answers to their questions and general support 24/7/365 via a variety of digital means including telephony, desktop computers, ipads, mobile devices and voice assistants. Councils as well as other public sector bodies are being pushed to up-skill quickly to meet taxpayers needs as well as identifying innovative solutions to society's problems. This provides a host of new opportunities for councils to be the first to redesign public services around customer engagement and experience.
Many Councils are beginning to embrace these challenges and opportunities with the release of their customer and digital strategies. During this blog post, we’ll talk about the landscape, main challenges faced by councils as well as how the use of AI and chatbots can combat these challenges. For a more in-depth report, download our ‘Councils of the Future’ whitepaper.
Councils already have the knowledge base to power a chatbot capable of answering even the most obscure of queries. This is because they know: why people call, which services are most commonly called and how to respond to questions and/or how to direct them to services. Councils today are facing an increase in complicated, resource demanding enquiries from citizens driven by welfare reforms. IT Pro Portal found that there are 200+ questions posed frequently to local government organisations. Chatbots hold the potential to help with this, by handling simple, high volume queries, enabling frontline employees to deal with complex enquiries that require human judgement and empathy.
We recently implemented IntelAgent into Monmouthshire Council to deal with an array of FAQ’s around topics including bus timetables, jobs/careers, recycling waste, roadworks, school meals and library/hubs. Monmouth County Council have said that providing a simple, accessible route for customers to find information and complete automated transactions will encourage 'channel shift' away from the traditional, expensive contact routes - telephone and face-to-face contact.
A report going to Cardiff's policy review and performance scrutiny committee says that the benefits of using artificial intelligence include 'significant improvements' for non-native Welsh and English speakers with automatic translation into about 80 languages, and an avoidance of costs associated with sickness, leave, training and recruitment. It is being considered as the authority looks to make £14.3m in savings this year alone.
'Our organisation deals with a lot of complex issues. IntelAgent gives us the opportunity to deal with thousands more queries 24/7/365 in a cost-effective way, freeing up our front-line staff to deal with the things where people in our communities really need a human response.'
Fear of failure is often a barrier when it comes to transformation however, it’s important to remember that there should be fear of failure in the public sector, the public's money is at stake and it’s imperative that taxpayers money is spent wisely. Councils are responsible for looking after some of the countries most vulnerable adults and children so being cautious is in no way a bad thing. The public sector is under increasing pressure due to budget cuts and restraints but before we look at how chatbots and AI can help increase efficiencies and lower costs, let’s take a look at the other challenges that councils are facing:
- Increasing resource demanding enquiries from citizens - added pressures on Contact Centres (particularly around waste and recycling)
- Budget cuts and constraints
- Heightened expectations of transparency and accountability
- Heightened expectations of service level and digitisation
- The digital generation being left behind
- Issues around delivering a high quality social care service with a restricted budget, for example loneliness causes strain not just with local authority services but also with emergency services
- Current processes are convoluted and complex
“The challenges come at a time when the sector already faces huge financial pressures. Analysis reveals that local government net borrowing has been increasing since 2013/14. The last time local government ran a fiscal surplus – with revenue exceeding expenditure – was in 1996. In the 2016/17 fiscal year, local government net borrowing stood at £8.6bn.”
How can we help?
Chatbots automate processes that would otherwise take up thousands of man-hours and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. We recently carried out some analysis with a large South Wales based County Council whereby we monitored waste related queries over a six week period. We found that there were 33,000 waste related phone calls taking approximately 7 minutes per phone call, with an industry standard cost per minute at £1, the cost to service these call is £231,000 over the six week period. Considering that chatbots can be built for as little as £15,000, they’re a no brainer. As well as answering FAQ’s, bots can also offer the following:
- Planning permission queries
- Pay council tax bill
- Reach out to citizens for surveys
- Issue street parking permit renewal reminders
- Provide information on bin collection day changes
- Report creation, for example potholes
- Winter service, for example answering gritting enquiries
- Find your local councillor based on location
- ‘What's on’ calendar
- Reviewing internal processes and policies to speed up services and take away demand from council resources by using Automation within the workplace.
We found that there were 33,000 waste related phone calls taking approximately 7 minutes per phone call, with an industry standard cost per minute at £1, the cost to service these call is £231,000 over the six week period.
Then options are endless when it comes to chatbot capabilities. Remember to download our ‘Councils of the Future’ whitepaper for a deep dive into how Councils can benefit from bots.