by Laura Starita
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Transforming Federal Customer Experience With Public Sector AI

public sector AI

The current White House has prioritized improvements to the experience constituents have with government agencies. A recent executive order, Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, has made that goal more concrete by citing a number of life moments that affect the majority of government stakeholders. Examples include turning 65, having a child, or applying for a small business loan.

Notably, all three of these life events represent major financial moments for people.

It’s hard to overstate the critical role played by government financial agencies when citizens experience these milestones. From the Social Security Administration providing critical retirement income, to the Office of Federal Student Aid serving family needs for financing college, people rely on their government for support. The fact that President Biden issued this executive order points to the reality that agencies don’t make it as easy as it could be to engage with them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for improvement. The government support programs such as direct payments, debt moratoria and rent forbearance have been a lifeline for people. But they were also very challenging to deliver. Given that context, this executive order can be viewed as a call to build stronger capabilities.

How digital technologies can help public service agencies improve the constituent experience

Governments today have a powerful tool in their experience-delivery arsenal in the form of digital technologies. Digitally-enabled agencies are better equipped to deliver compelling constituent experiences. One example from the pandemic can be seen in the rapid rise in the ability to deliver electronic government payments. Agencies that embraced digital capabilities and remote working tools were also able to maintain service despite office closures and social distancing.

Government digitalization was on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The 2018 passage of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act pointed to a broad need for digital options from public agencies. The response has been increased investments in digital channels to deliver service, an embrace of data and analytics to inform government activities, and Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to automate processes and deliver service at machine-scale.

Natural language processing – the area of AI concerned with interpreting and producing human-sounding language – is particularly relevant for government agencies looking to improve CX. Language AI can allow organizations to “sense” constituent needs from unstructured data (like voice messages) and generate new content. Persado focuses on that latter capability of generating language and driving decisions related to it. Embracing this field of AI can transform how public sector agencies create more compelling constituent experiences.

Consider the following financial agency use cases:

Using language AI to improve tax-payer experience with the Internal Revenue Service

The IRS interacts with every adult constituent in the United States. The sheer scale of engagement would challenge any organization aiming to provide effective, timely service. The IRS faces particular difficulties – so much so that the NSA published an open letter to Congress about the need for greater transparency from the agency for taxpayers and tax professionals.

For agencies facing unprecedented demands, clear communication can help taxpayers understand what they need to do and by when. This can limit customer service issues that require human intervention. Language AI can help.

Persado’s credit card and banking customers offer helpful use cases for how public sector financial agencies can use AI. One credit card company used a banner ad on its website to communicate the benefits of a low-interest rate option for customers with high balances. Working with Persado to find the right words and format for the message resulted in 133% higher engagement than the firm would have achieved with its control message. An important aspect of this example is that it helped recipients make better financial decisions and save money.

Using language AI to promote retirement advice for Social Security Administration beneficiaries

The SSA pays benefits to 64 million people, making social security one of the largest sources of retirement income. The agency fields more than 4 million customer service calls per month. Some callers are looking for a payment, registering for benefits, or seeking information. The sheer volume of customer service calls suggest an opportunity to point callers to different services. Self-service and automated systems are ideal for straight-forward issues like changing an address, for example, while highly-trained specialists are needed for complex information needs.

An example of leveraging language AI to address public sector service needs comes from an insurance company. Persado worked with the firm to increase adoption of digital processes for onboarding new customers and addressing common service issues. Communicating about the digital options with the right language doubled engagement with digital channels.

Improving service at the Office of Federal Student Aid with language AI

The government Office of Federal Student Aid issues $120 billion annually in student tuition assistance through a combination of loans, grants, and work-study programs. That volume makes the agency one of the largest providers of education-related funding in the United States. Efficient servicing and on-time payments are key — as is clear, respectful information for people having trouble meeting their debts.

Consider, for example, the experience of a credit card company that wanted to improve its reputation. Customer surveys found that people viewed the brand as cold, impersonal, and vague in its communications. In an attempt to reform that view, the credit card company planned a direct mail campaign. Using data gathered from digital channels on customer engagement, Persado crafted eight versions of letters to communicate a warm, clear message. When the credit card company ran a follow up survey with a random sample of recipients, it found a significant improvement. Customers now perceived the brand as helpful and respectful. That improvement also increased trust, as customers reported feeling less “skeptical” of the company’s messages.

Creating efficient, effective, and trust-building customer experiences at scale is challenging for any organization. It’s nearly impossible without the help of AI to supplement human talent. With Persado, government agencies have a powerful tool at their disposal to help optimize and test digital content, with the aim of meeting the CX expectations set out in the new executive order.