The rapidly advancing digitalization in customer communication also puts increasing pressure to act on public administrations. While service providers in the private sector are constantly improving their accessibility through modern, AI-based automated text and speech dialog systems (voice and text bots), such systems are still hard to find in the public administration environment. However, the advantages of such systems are clear: mastering the constantly increasing volumes of calls, smoothing out peaks, eliminating endless queues, 24/7 availability, preventing employee overload and burnout, automated answering to free up employees from handling routine inquiries and use limited human resources for the timely resolution of more complex customer issues, etc., to name just the most important ones.
The growing use of such modern communication interfaces in the private sector is increasing customer expectations of service quality. Public administrations cannot ignore these expectations. Taxpayers want answers to their questions, not only during the limited opening hours, but ideally around the clock and, as experience shows, largely on the phone. However, this cannot be accomplished with the existing human resources, which will likely lead to growing dissatisfaction among the population.
The road traffic offices of various cantons in Switzerland are pioneering in using tech solutions to address the issue. A growing number of them have recognized the enormous potential of the automated intelligent voice systems and are already using them. Most rely on the leading solution from the Swiss language technology provider – Spitch. A very important argument for using the Virtual Assistant by Spitch is its ability to understand all Swiss German dialects and many variations of them almost perfectly, in addition to the standard German, French, Italian, and English, and to react or answer accordingly. Spitch technology also allows omnichannel operation, i.e., processing interactions in the voice and text channel. Such Virtual Assistants can be activated in a few days at a low cost and without additional IT resources and can operate seamlessly across channels, if required. True to the motto: "Order today, install tomorrow".
The solution implemented by the Aargau Road Traffic Office (StVA AG) in 2021 is an excellent example of what such an AI-based conversational AI solution can do. Around 330,000 calls reach the 200 employees of StVA AG every year. Around 70% of the inquiries are repetitive standard questions such as "What are your opening hours?", "Postponement of the appointment for the motor vehicle control", "How do I register my vehicle after moving to another city?" The vast majority of people prefer making a phone call. One can easily imagine that constantly answering the same questions over and over again does not only strain the available human resources to the limit, but also severely affects the motivation of the employees. Gathering relevant information on the website is increasingly unpopular and takes a lot of time. Callers want answers immediately – i.e., without waiting in queues – at any time.
At StVA AG, callers to the main contact number can communicate their concerns to the voice bot with the beautiful name, Vicky, or join the queue to speak to an employee during regular opening hours. According to Sandro Fanti, Head of Specialist Services and Human Resources at StVA AG, the introduction of the Spitch Virtual Assistant was exceptionally well received by the staff. As the increasing number of users shows, this also applies to customers. According to Sandro Fanti, the first priority in choosing this solution was to relieve the level of stress for the staff and offer the service outside of the regular opening hours. It was absolutely essential for StVA AG, Mr. Fanti continues, that Vicky understood not only German but also all Swiss German dialects including modified versions. Vicky is now being used particularly often outside of the regular opening hours. It can already be said now that Vicky saves at least three minutes of working time per call. Surveys have shown that using such a voice bot solution results in a relief for around 40% for employees.
In close cooperation with the well-known IT service provider and Spitch partner, Adnovum AG, standard solutions available for immediate deployment were developed specifically for the public sector. These solutions can be seamlessly integrated into the existing IT landscape without any adjustments. Detailed information on this topic can be found at https://spitch.ai/de/conversational_ai_fur_offentliche_verwaltungen/ (in German)
Patrick Naef, former CIO at the Emirates Airline Group, member of various boards of directors, and Managing Partner at Boyden Executive Search, says: "The rapidly advancing digitalization has led, among other things, to a significant change in customer expectations of service quality. Today's callers expect inquiries to be answered immediately and around the clock. Up to 70% of these inquiries are standard questions and can be answered automatically with the help of AI-based voice and chat bot solutions such as those provided by Spitch. Fast, uncomplicated, and above all, without the unpopular waiting loops. Many companies have already jumped on this faster-moving bandwagon and offer their customers this highly popular service. Public service providers and authorities are still lagging behind, however, with the exception of a few facilities like the road traffic authorities in the cantons of Zurich and Aargau, which have taken on a pioneering role. This is despite that fact that the financial industry and public administrations are also heavily exposed to this new customer behavior and are confronted with an increasing volume of inquiries in view of the ongoing crises in the energy and health sectors, among others. Unfortunately, they will never be able to cope with this in a cost-effective way with the existing human resources and their existing worktime models. Sooner or later, this is bound to lead to greater dissatisfaction among customers. Here, too, digitalization offers attractive solutions to address such bottlenecks effectively".
Dr. Thomas Borer, Management Consultant and former Swiss Ambassador to Germany, says: "Public administration is the classic but often forgotten service provider for the Swiss population. However, we are increasingly measuring the performance of our authorities against quality and efficiency standards, such as those of telecom providers or insurance companies. Fast and precise information is expected – ideally via various communication channels, day and night. Nowadays, it should be possible to handle simple administrative processes in an uncomplicated and efficient manner. In my opinion, the solution is obvious: digitalization via internet language solutions. They could support the authorities in cost-effective manner and efficiently by automating the completion of simple processes, relieving employees, and allowing them to concentrate on essential tasks. Thanks to the unique ability to effortlessly handle Swiss German, Spitch's technology also responds to a demand trend in the Swiss market. People do not like it when they have to speak "standard German" when making inquiries".
About the author: Stephan Fehlmann is Country Manager for the DACH region at Spitch. He was one of the first employees of the company. His academic background is in the fields of international management and business informatics. Today, he is happy to pass on this experience to students in guest lessons.