Arkansas Redefines Citizen Experience
- Industry: State
- Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
- Employees: 59,500
- Population: 3,000,000
- Tyler Client Since: NIC Arkansas state partner since 1997
- Tyler Products Used: NIC solutions and services
- Website: https://portal.arkansas.gov/
A major shift in thinking is underway in government agencies across the country. In the past, agencies deployed innovative technologies to put more services online and then to put more tools in citizens’ hands. Site search, mobile apps, notifications, and visualization tools all helped to empower citizens. But today, agencies recognize citizens come to a government website primarily for help and assistance, not to search for answers or browse lists of services.
This shift became even more apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a surge of users across all Arkansas.gov’s online services, underscoring the need for state and local government to quickly pivot their customer service approach from in-person to online and find a way to further extend government’s capacity to provide quality customer service while many offices remained shuttered.
With customer service becoming the new touchstone for an agency to successfully serve the public, the team at NIC Arkansas got to work building a new Arkansas.gov citizen portal that embodies this focus. The new Arkansas.gov no longer presents the user with a search interface, but with an invitation to start a conversation with the cross-agency chatbot.
Now powered by an intelligent, cross-agency chatbot enabled to respond to citizen questions with greater speed and fewer resources, the new Arkansas.gov engages users with machine learning and artificial intelligence to help them register a vehicle, find information on a specific payment, and more than 1,000 other government services — all through a simple, intuitive conversation.
By using natural language processing along with human-aided learning, the chatbot now guides the user to the best resources, seamlessly blending knowledge bases, site search, workflows, data integrations, and live chat into one experience.
In the spring of 2021, Arkansas added three new features to the chatbot: bot-to-bot communication, data integrations, and help flows. Bot-to-bot communication allows bots to access each other’s knowledge bases, so a question asked on Arkansas.gov that is better handled by a bot on another agency website can be answered without the user leaving the site. Data integrations allow bots to access information about a user or interact with other systems. For example, Arkansas.gov’s chatbot can help a citizen understand the status of their vehicle registration, find a payment, or create a support ticket – all through chat. Finally, help flows walk a user through a complex problem, such as understanding how to renew a license plate.
“Arkansas is a leader in government technology, and I am pleased to see our state recognized for its continued innovation and digital success,” said Jonathan Askins, chief technology officer, Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services, Division of Information Systems. “By adding new intelligence and data integrations to our chatbot services, we are seeing more efficient and accurate responses to citizens’ requests while also helping them find services they need in a more timely and efficient way. We are proud to offer some of the most innovative and useful services in the nation to the citizens of our wonderful state.”
In instances where human-to-human interaction is necessary, the data gathered by the chatbot can route customers more effectively. As chatbots have more interactions with customers, they learn from each conversation. Even if the conversation is handed off to a live agent, the chatbot is learning through participation in hybrid conversation with the agent. In addition, the service desk team analyzes chatbot logs to find areas for improvement. And if the bot doesn’t have the answer, Arkansas.gov’s award-winning Service Desk team is standing by to assist with live chat. Outside of business hours, the bot will log a case for follow-up.
The Arkansas.gov chatbot consistently handles more than 16,000 citizen conversations each month, across all agency interactions. By automating the simplest conversations and answering standard questions, it can unchain its workforce to do more complex tasks.
Freeing up human agents to address complex inquiries rather than routine questions also allows the representatives to take their time and provide better service. In fact, connected chatbots across Arkansas.gov and state agency websites answer 75% of the routine questions posed by visitors to the site, without the need for human response.
In 2020 alone, chatbots on Arkansas.gov, the Arkansas Department of Public Safety (DPS), and the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) websites provided service to visitors through more than 48,000 automated conversations, dramatically improving the customer experience and reducing the cost of support. Compared to usage stats in 2020, conversations with the cross-agency chatbot are up 64% in the first two quarters of 2021 alone.
According to research conducted by IBM, chatbots can reduce customer service costs by 30%. The average cost of a customer service phone interaction is $35-50; whereas, a text interaction via chat costs around $8-10 per session. That’s a savings of $25-40 per interaction.
Of the more than 122,000 questions fielded by the Arkansas.gov, DPS, and DHS chatbots in 2020 – Q2 2021, 24% were transferred to a customer service representative for additional assistance. That means 76% — or nearly 93,000 questions — were answered by artificial intelligence without the need for human interaction.
For every second chatbots can shave off average call center handling times, as much as $1 million in annual customer services costs can be saved.
Using the IBM figures of chatbot interaction costs, that’s a combined savings of $2.3-3.7 million for the Arkansas.gov, DPS, and DHS service desk.
In fact, chatbots have proven so effective at improving the customer experience that investment in deeper integrations and help flows is imperative. As more agencies deploy chatbots, bot-to-bot communication will prove to be critical so citizens won’t need to “bot shop” for the right place to get help. Data integrations will also be invaluable in allowing citizens to solve problems quickly without needing to make a phone call or visit an agency in person.