COVID-19 Froze Digital Transformation Initiatives. Here’s How to Overcome That.


It’s essential to focus on citizen experience innovations that will deliver the most impact without breaking the bank.

State and local government agencies are facing a dual economic challenge: delivering support while dealing with a loss of tax revenues and fees. Cities, towns and villages can expect to face a collective $360 billion budget shortfall from 2020 through 2022, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

For government contact centers, this means citizens are demanding immediate services when agencies are forced to reduce technology investments and other spending. However, government contact centers can still improve speed and service quality while reducing costs with the right strategy and mindset.

Think Incremental Innovation

When government agencies are operating on thin budgets, it’s essential to focus on citizen experience innovations that will deliver the most impact without breaking the bank. Consider criteria such as:

  • Does it meet a pressing need? 
  • Can it be deployed quickly without IT resources? 
  • How long will it take to show outcomes and recoup costs? 
  • Does it require purchasing new technology and/or hiring more employees? 

For instance, faced with unprecedented demand for unemployment assistance related to the COVID-19 outbreak, one state’s labor department needed to quickly upgrade its contact center. Rather than overwhelm phone lines or hire more staff, the agency implemented mobile messaging to interact with citizens quickly and efficiently.

The state agency added chatbot and messaging options for citizens seeking unemployment assistance such as payment status, appeal process, website login issues, filing new claims, and eligibility questions. Instead of waiting on hold, callers received an interactive voice response prompt option to connect to a remote agent trained to answer questions via text messaging. For website visitors, an automated chatbot also connected users to a human agent.

This was the first time the state used messaging as a contact channel, and its fast adoption illustrated the public’s willingness and preference to use the cost-savings channel. Within weeks, messaging volume reached nearly 35% of all contact volume. Associates handling messaging closed approximately twice as many contacts per hour as their voice counterparts and in less than 10 days, the number jumped to 3.5 times as many contacts closed per hour.

Key takeaway: Incremental innovations that leverage existing channels—e.g., supplementing voice calls—can close the gap between sudden volume spikes and limited resources. 

Leverage Front-Line Expertise

Experienced front-line associates have a lot of expertise that is often underutilized and overlooked. As automation and artificial intelligence free associates from repetitive tasks, they have more opportunities to leverage their knowledge to proactively improve services. With the right training, coaching and protocols, agents who notice an uptick in self-service complaints, for instance, can document the complaints and raise the issue with IT to resolve the issue sooner. This also allows talented employees to turn a monotonous role into a more strategic and rewarding one, increasing retention.

Key takeaway: Upskilling contact center associates for new roles increases satisfaction and retention rates, which saves the cost of hiring a replacement. It also produces a more well-rounded, cross-trained workforce, improving effectiveness and outcomes. 

Train More Agents Faster with AI

At a time when in-person training is impractical and often unavailable, AI-enabled training and simulation programs provide tremendous value in allowing public-facing employees to practice their skills anytime, anywhere with virtual, simulated conversations

And instead of waiting for trainers to provide feedback, an automated training program that delivers real-time feedback allows associates to quickly learn from their mistakes and ramp up even faster. Human trainers, in turn, can monitor the AI and provide necessary expertise.   

Key takeaway: Nothing can replace a knowledgeable and experienced trainer, but when resources are spread thin, AI can act as an extension, saving the organization time and money. 

Quick Wins Today, a Stronger Foundation for Tomorrow 

Fallout from the pandemic has forced government agencies across federal, state and local levels to think hard about new technology investments. It’s up to agencies now to build on existing resources that also set a citizen-centric foundation for the future.

Andy Martin is group vice president of public sector business development at TTEC.