How AI Can Help Local Authorities Handle COVID-19 Queries

With COVID-19 impacting on services in both the private and public sectors, we wanted to take a look at ways we could help Local Authorities (LAs) deal with the surge in demand you’re experiencing in your contact centres.

Our response has been to waive all set-up charges and to introduce low-cost, short term contracts for our 24/7, plug and play self-serve technologies. These include our intelligent IVR platform and our AI-powered Chatbots.

Here, we take a look at how these technologies can help you navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

The importance of effective communication

As COVID-19 has forced the closure of large swathes of the economy, businesses have experienced dramatic disruption to almost every aspect of operations – from supply, through logistics, to sales and customer service. In local government, LAs are struggling to cope with the implementation of lockdown measures, the organisation and execution of a coherent response to the virus, and a drastic increase in the number of enquiries they’re fielding.

At a time like this, when events are happening at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with and circumstances can change in a blink of an eye, the ability to communicate information quickly and clearly is key.

How AI Can Help Local Authorities Handle COVID-19 Queries

Whether it’s information regarding the economic relief measures put in place by the central government, applications for benefits or changes to regular services, such as waste and recycling collection, customers are requesting far more assistance from LAs than usual.

If local and central government are to protect residents and provide them with the assistance and resources they need at this time, important information must be communicated in a way that:

  1. Is cost-effective
  2. Reduces the strain on human agents
  3. Is responsive to sudden changes in circumstance

How can you communicate necessary information?

At the start of the crisis, the vast majority of organisations posted a COVID-19 advisory detailing how they were reacting to the crisis on their website. Many also sent out emails containing information on the measures they were going to take and how the virus was affecting services.

While this is an effective means of delivering initial information, it’s not sufficient over a longer period. This is because emails suffer from a low open rate and they’re not responsive to customers’ needs – they contain information chosen by the sender and there’s a good chance that recipients won’t find the answer they want within the email.

This means that we must look at other options. Namely, AI-powered technologies like Chatbots and Intelligent Telephony.

How AI-powered self-serve tools can help your customers

Our AI customer service technologies meet all three of the communication criteria established above. Let’s take a look at how they do so.

IVR

As well as being a powerful channel shift and automation tool that’s capable of moving large volumes of customers to cost-effective, self-serve channels, IVR is also able to provide important information and generate data-driven insights into what your customers want and need.

How AI Can Help Local Authorities Handle COVID-19 Queries

While an intelligent IVR menu system will ensure that customers reach the right agent at the first time of asking, they’re also capable of handling up to 60% of all calls without agent intervention. At a time when a large proportion of enquiries will concern a relatively small number of issues, this technology is invaluable due to its ability to reduce the pressure on contact centres and staff.

Inform IVR systems are particularly suited to the current crisis because of our ability to quickly alter scripts and menus in response to LAs’ emerging and developing needs. Whether you want to filter COVID-19-related calls into a separate sub-menu or direct customers to a useful Universal Credit guide that your staff have just produced, we’re here to help make sure it happens.

Learn more about Inform’s Intelligent Telephony

Chatbots

Chatbots are an excellent means of communicating information and automating high-volume enquiries in a conversational, engaging manner.

Rather than relying on a static FAQ that may not contain up-to-date, accurate information, LAs can utilise Inform Chatbot services to provide customers with the latest information. Not only does this make information retrieval easier for customers, it drives down demand for expensive and inefficient channels like telephony.

Importantly, Chatbots boast two important features that make them a particularly effective tool in the current circumstances:

  1. Natural Language Processing (NLP) – Chatbots making use of AI-powered features such as NLP can better interpret customer meaning and intention, ensuring they successfully understand and resolve customer enquiries, no matter how they’re phrased. NLP also ensures your bot learns from the language used by customers.
  2. Interaction with a central knowledge base – Chatbots provide answers by referring to an organisation’s knowledge base. This means the organisation only has to alter or input information in the central knowledge base once to ensure customers receive up-to-date info.
Learn more about Inform Chatbots

Improving your knowledge base with AI

However, it’s important to know that Chatbots don’t just draw on this central knowledge base – they’re also continuously contributing to and improving it. The AI engine behind our Chatbots is able to collect, process and offer key insights into the data your customers are providing.

Whether you want to know what kind of questions customers are asking, how they’re phrasing their enquiries, or if common enquiries are being comprehensively and satisfactorily resolved – Chatbots can provide data-backed solutions to essential customer service questions.

How AI Can Help Local Authorities Handle COVID-19 Queries

This means that they’re not only providing customers with the answers they need but that they’re also always working to improve your customer service provision for the future.

Why Inform is well suited to assisting Local Authorities at this time

We’re ideally positioned to help Local Authorities through these unprecedented times for two principal reasons.

  1. We have over 30 years of experience working with public sector customer service teams and have developed a wealth of experience during that time. Having successfully partnered with UK Local Authorities, NHS Trusts, the UK Central Government and housing associations and charities, our customer service technologies are operationally, financially and politically proven.
  2. Our self-serve technologies are available for all service areas but have proven particularly popular and effective in two areas that are currently overwhelmed and struggling to field enquiries – Revenue & Benefits and Environmental Services.

What Next?

We know how difficult it is for Local Authorities, businesses, families, friends and individuals during this time. That’s why we’ve decided to try and ease pressure on local councils by waiving set-up charges and offering low cost, short-term contracts for our Chatbot and IVR technologies. In this article, we’ve shown how these tools can help you through the current crisis. If you’d like to know more about the services or want to introduce these technologies into your Local Authority, please visit our COVID-19 support page.