The Omnichannel Revolution: How Government Call Centers Are Prioritizing the Citizen Experience

istock/Tero Vesalainen

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Today’s constituents expect the same type of fast and reliable service from government call centers as they do from the private sector, but agencies are struggling to keep up. An omnichannel approach could help.

In 2003, Best Buy and Walmart found themselves competing for the same customer base. Walmart was coming out on top, with prices that Best Buy couldn’t possibly beat. But Best Buy’s marketers had a better idea. Rather than try to compete with Walmart’s low prices, Best Buy would focus instead on something many considered to be priceless: the customer experience. That strategy paid off, and it paved the way for other commercial enterprises to adopt an omnichannel approach, which uses multiple channels of communication including email, phone, text, and web chats. It is built on the idea that the most successful products and services meet customers wherever they are — whether it’s on social media, via email or over the phone. 

Now, the same omnichannel approach is enjoying a renaissance in the public sector. Today’s constituents expect the same type of fast and reliable service from government call centers as they do from the private sector, but agencies are struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand. Fielding requests and questions from hundreds of thousands of constituents is no easy feat on a normal day, but now — thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic — agents are handling even more questions about everything from small business loans to health benefits. 

“Call volume has increased dramatically at today’s government call centers,” says Michael Lamberty, director of IT Modernization within Leidos’ Civil IT division. “Having omnichannel systems and self-service capabilities now allow those folks to be able to get service in a number of ways that they couldn't have before.”  

Taking the Load Off Call Center Agents 

As call center demand increases, so does the workload for agents responding to requests. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities can help take some of the load off without sacrificing the citizen experience. 

In fact, Lamberty and his colleagues at Leidos have worked with agencies to deploy solutions like AI/ML and robotic process automation to streamline repetitive tasks that would otherwise be handled by an agent. A call center might leverage RPA to sort through emails from constituents before fielding them to an agent or sending them to another form. RPA technology can also be used to gather information about a single citizen from various applications and sources, making it easier for call center agents to conduct productive and efficient conversations with constituents. For instance, if an individual were to call with a question about the status of their request for unemployment benefits, an RPA would gather information from their application and relay that information to an agent, saving time for the agent and allowing for easy and straightforward customer interactions. 

Agencies can also leverage chatbots and voicebots to direct citizens to the right place or determine whether a request can be fulfilled without conversing with a live agent. The ultimate goal of these technologies is to meet constituents where they are: If a citizen visits an agency’s website, the agency might deploy a chatbot to help them find what they’re looking for. Meanwhile, a voicebot would help field a citizen’s request over the phone. 

These omnichannel capabilities not only lead to productive outcomes for constituents, they can also help agencies reduce spending. 

“These automated tools empower agencies to meet dramatic increases in demand without having to spend time and money hiring more agents,” Lamberty said. 

This approach, he explained, has been especially valuable over the past several months. 

“During COVID-19, the demand for services increased so quickly, it was virtually impossible [for agencies] to recruit, train and clear potential personnel to respond to the high volume of inquiries,” he explains. “The use of AI/ML was the only way to get information to the constituents who needed help.” 

Solving Government’s Most Pressing Call Center Challenges 

Lamberty has spent more than two decades working to help agencies deploy IT and telecommunications solutions that meet their operational goals. One challenge that he continues to see agencies struggle with is the pace of technological change. 

“The call center and service desk space is seeing rapid innovations, and it can be difficult for government agencies to stay current,” he says. 

But with change comes opportunity — and that sentiment certainly rings true for government agencies. 

“With the availability of FedRAMP cloud offerings, the game has changed,” Lamberty explains. “We can stand up a call center today without any infrastructure on-premises to procure, configure or maintain.” 

To reap the many benefits of this new technology and provide citizens with the best possible service, Lamberty recommends a managed services model where “service providers are incentivized to develop innovative solutions to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.” 

At its core, Lamberty says, a successful call center operation puts the needs of the citizen first. Embracing an omnichannel strategy is the most effective way to make that happen. 

“The number of options that citizens have today to interact with various government agencies is improving their overall experience,” he says. “Agencies must continue to focus on the customer experience to continually identify opportunities to serve the citizens better.” 

Want to take your agency’s call center operations to the next level? Find out how Leidos can help.

This content is made possible by our sponsor Leidos; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of NextGov’s editorial staff.

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