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How AI is transforming public sector customer service

The 2021 federal budget was notable for the $1.2 billion funding support provided for the Digital Economy Strategy, which forms the basis of the federal government’s vision for Australia to be a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

One of the more significant investments in the budget — $124.1 million — was for artificial intelligence initiatives, with a view to driving greater AI adoption across the economy.

There are any number of applications for AI across industry sectors, but the role of AI in the public sector itself shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly in the area of customer service.

Gartner expects that by 2023, more than 60% of all customer service engagements will be delivered via digital and web self-serve channels – up from 23% in 2019 – that will largely be driven by AI. While that prediction might be a little ambitious, particularly as it applies to the delivery of government services, there is incredible potential here with the right investment.

The Digital Economy Strategy has frictionless government service delivery as one of its goals, with 100% of federal government services available online as a measure of success. To achieve this, the government at the same time needs to focus on more foundational digital transformational activities, such as consolidating and integrating IT systems and data, and improving information sharing and analytics.

The good news is that this is being done; there were also several specific announcements in the budget, including $120 million for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to consolidate its IT system and create a data-sharing analytics solution.

Automation and saving time

Once you have established integrated systems that can access and share data both within specific agencies and also across departments, tremendous opportunities open up to deliver increasing levels of automation and self-service — and to do this across all forms of communication, from social media queries and live web chat, to email and telephony interactions.

AI is already in use in many contact centres, particularly in efficiency areas such as skills-based routing or workforce management. Where AI can start to play a much bigger role in customer service is in routine enquiries that have typically been dealt with by live agents. AI also allows government agencies to scale up and be far more responsive to spikes in demand from the community, such as information or advice with regards to COVID-19.

AI can also be applied to automate the post-call process where an agent needs to enter additional notes about the interaction they have just had. This saves them time, increasing the agent’s availability for the next call. Instead of typing up the notes, the agent can review the comments entered automatically by the AI bot and simply click ‘OK’ if everything is in order.

Some of the other applications of AI to enhance customer service include virtual agent learning engines to improve performance incrementally based on customer interaction, improving the time taken to solve the customer’s query. That could also include behavioural analysis to ensure that the resolution isn’t just achieved more quickly; it’s producing more positive customer satisfaction as well.

The new age of voice

The pandemic has seen a resurgence in the use of the phone. In 2021, RingCentral users worldwide clocked in more than six billion phone calls, totalling 315 million hours on the phone. This is a significant increase over 2020 – the first year of lockdowns – when calling and SMS volumes already experienced a massive surge compared to 2019. 

We expect AI will play a big part in making phone (and video) conversations more seamless and efficient. This will have a big impact on internal communications and how customer service agents deal with the public.

In the near future, our interactions with technology will evolve from typing and tapping into more natural forms of expression, such as speaking. Voice tech is already smarter at recognising patterns, making predictions and distinguishing voices. AI-driven features include:

  • Live transcriptions: Turning entire conversations into written words in real-time.
  • Meeting summaries: Providing users with a recap of the voice conversation and an auto-generated short-form summary, video highlight reel and keywords.
  • Robocall mitigation and spam blocking: Predictive AI takes advantage of industry tracebacks and the ‘STIR/SHAKEN’ framework to stop fraudulent robocalls and fraudulent spam attacks.

We also predict the increased use of conversational AI, such as chatbots or virtual agents. These use large volumes of data, machine learning and natural language processing to help imitate human interactions, recognise speech and text inputs and translate their meanings across various languages.

Online chatbots, for instance, can answer frequently asked questions or provide personalised advice.

The rise of unified communications

The other foundational component that’s needed to implement AI-enabled automation is a single unified communications platform, which ensures the service experience is consistent and the interactions are managed and captured across all channels.

The level of integration that’s already possible today with AI apps in cloud communications platforms such as RingCentral allows for a much faster implementation of AI capabilities and an acceleration in the agency’s customer service abilities.

This acceleration will be critical when we consider the opening paragraph to the Digital Economy Strategy: “Australia’s place in the world will be defined by how we adapt to digital technologies and modernise our economy. The next 10 years will determine whether we lead or fall behind.”

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