Five years ago, Aylesbury Vale District Council began its cloud strategy, marking the start of a transition to virtualised working. Recently it has launched a new programme, part of which involves installing artificial intelligence into its working practices, which it calls Connected Knowledge.
AVDC has implemented DigitalGenius's ‘Human+AI Customer Service Platform' in the Salesforce Service Cloud; adding AI to its customer service operations. The software is used in all types of customer engagement, including phone calls, webchat and emails.
Using machine learning, the DigitalGenius solution has begun to improve on response times to common queries, such as council tax, bin collections and benefits. It has helped AVDC residents services team members lower their response times for enquiries from an average of eight minutes to three-to-five minutes - and the system continues to learn.
AVDC's digital strategy manager, Maryvonne Hassal, told V3, "[DigitalGenius] is being used to assist a member of staff to find the right answer to the customers' question more quickly. For example, if someone webchats 'How do I pay my council tax?', an automatic response is generated instantly for the agent to check before sending out. This is much quicker than the agent finding the answer themselves, and it provides greater quality and consistency in the answers."
She continued: "The Connected Knowledge strategy...moves us towards providing a holistic view of our customers to enable us to understand them more deeply and provide better, tailored services based on their current and predicted needs. It provides better services for staff by automating simple tasks, freeing up time to deal with more complex or delicate customer requirements and provides simple access from anywhere to systems staff need to use.
The customer service team is being assisted, rather than replaced, with the software, and Hassal tells us that they are "excited" at the implementation. It leaves them more time to deal with the complex or customer-specific questions (‘How much money do I need to pay in my next council tax installment?'), which the AI cannot currently process.
The Council has planned to use artificial intelligence since the inception of its Connected Knowledge programme, which was conceived to respond to residents' demands for a 24/7 ‘digital-first' experience - and prompted by the announcement that local councils would no longer receive government grants. Because of this move, AVDC had to consider how to keep costs down while also meeting residents' expectations.
"I believe AI will be crucial in the public sector over the next five years," said Hassal. "Councils are facing reduction in funding and increasing demands in terms of services. Councils needs to be more agile to meet these demands and to grow to allow new value-adding commercial services to be provided for customers, resulting in income to support the traditional council services."
As well as implementing the DigitalGenius software, AVDC is also one of the first councils to develop a ‘skill' for Amazon Echo's Alexa. Once released, residents will be able use this to make simple enquiries through voice commands.
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