2023 Vertical Markets Spotlight: Speech Technology in Government
Americans today expect their government agencies to provide customer service experiences comparable to what they get from private companies, but there has long been a disparity between what citizens expect and what public sector entities can deliver.
Fortunately, speech technologies can help. Governments can use voice to automate routine tasks, streamline internal processes, improve customer service, provide proactive information, analyze customer interactions, and enhance accessibility. Effectively implemented speech tech can help agencies save time and resources, increase efficiency, reduce manual labor, improve accuracy, and ultimately better serve constituents.
As government agencies have unique needs, “speech innovations can help address these needs by providing faster, more accurate, and more efficient ways of communicating with the public, managing resources, and responding to issues,” says Angelo Sorbello, founder of Linkdelta.com, a generative artificial intelligence platform provider.
When citizens typically reach out to government agencies, it’s during moments of distress, like the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or employment loss. “Because of this, government agencies need to ensure an increased level of care for every citizen interaction. If this does not happen, government agencies risk further citizen distrust of government,” explains Mark Ungerman, director of product marketing at NICE inContact.
Kate Zawerucha, director of customer analytics and experience at Verint, identifies three key areas where speech technology can address government agency needs.
“Government organizations need to consider expanding their use of collaboration tools to replace onsite visits and appointments,” she says. “Speech analytics can be used to provide valuable insights that have gone untapped in the past.”
Second, government bodies are becoming more data-driven, and the rise of social media puts elected officials in the spotlight when things go wrong.
“Tools such as speech analytics enable government organizations to be more agile and responsive, by listening and understanding new and trending issues so that they can adapt and evolve,” Zawerucha adds.
Third, real-time agent assist solutions can help employees get the right information quickly to address complex concerns. Coupled with knowledge management solutions, agents can be quickly guided through next best actions to provide relevant outcomes efficiently and consistently, she says.
As populations become more diverse, government agencies can benefit greatly from voice-based translation technologies, experts say. “Speech recognition is far more affordable for smaller city governments than looking to hire translators or virtual services,” says Flynn Zaiger, CEO of Online Optimism, a digital marketing agency. “By providing multilingual support through speech recognition systems, government entities can better serve diverse populations and ensure language barriers do not impede access to essential services and benefits.”
Such technologies have already been implemented heavily among law enforcement agencies, but other technologies have also helped these bodies carry out their duties.
“Some police departments have implemented a speech-to-text tool that allows officers to dictate reports while on patrol, freeing up valuable time and resources,” says Iu Ayala Portella, CEO of Gradient Insight, a data science consultancy.
Other speech technologies in use by law enforcement also include speech recognition software to analyze emergency calls, identify potential suspects, and gather more accurate information for investigations.
Other government agencies took it upon themselves to revamp speech-based offerings in the face of COVID-19. One of them was Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, which built a virtual contact center with improved call routing and scripting for incoming calls and an optimized interactive voice response system to handle routine calls.
“This allowed Michigan DHHS to improve access, reduce frustration, and streamline operations,” Ungerman says.
On the back end, many of these same government agencies turned to voice biometrics to verify the identities of beneficiaries, speeding up interactions and cutting down on fraud. And in their 311 call centers, local governments turned to speech technologies to automate calls and relay the necessary information to residents without involving live agents.
Among the other speech technologies that are gaining in popularity are natural language processing, automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech, and generative AI.
With improved natural language processing and text-to-speech capabilities, government agencies have been able to field more sophisticated virtual assistants.
Thanks to better ASR, computers can now understand spoken words and convert them into text more accurately and quickly, improving transcription, form auto-fills, and captioning and subtitling of digital content for people with disabilities.
Voice-enabled interfaces “can help individuals with disabilities or low literacy access services that might be difficult to navigate through traditional channels,” Portella says. “And speech technology can help automate the application process for certain programs, reducing the barriers to entry.”
With the help of NLP and AI, the government is starting to automate customer service processes, reduce call center costs, and improve customer satisfaction with voice bots providing 24/7 customer service and support, according to Mark Wenger, CEO of Mygov.me, providers of an online portal for providing valuable information that drives effective civic engagement. “Some offices also use voice biometrics for improved security of government records and data.”
“When IVR is optimized, citizens don’t have to repeat their information, lessening the frustration that happens during these moments,” Ungerman adds. “IVR determines the next logical step for support for a citizen, driving a more seamless experience.”
Text-to-speech technologies are becoming more commonly used to deliver alerts about upcoming deadlines, regulation changes, and local emergencies. “Automated text-to-speech solutions can be used to enhance program response and access to information,” Wenger notes.
“Additionally, the rapid evolution of generative AI, such as ChatGPT, is driving automation around call summarization for use in claims, complaints, and call wrap-ups and to enhance higher-level real-time guidance for contact center representatives as well as customers,” Zawerucha says.
And then, AI-powered speech analytics can give government agencies valuable insights about interactions in real time. By analyzing the language used during interactions, these tools can identify whether callers are having a positive or negative experience and even coach employees in real time.
Across the board, though, the benefits for government agencies using speech technologies are numerous.
Speech technology has the potential to increase the utilization of government assistance and offerings by enabling citizens to easily obtain information and assistance. “Government entities can better inform citizens about the services and benefits they are qualified for by using speech technology. They can use voice-based applications, automated phone calls, and text messaging to tell citizens about what they qualify for,” Wenger says. “The use of government services and benefits could increase as a result of this.”
Speech can also facilitate more open and accessible government interactions, fostering better trust and accountability. “Automated speech recordings can be utilized to produce thorough reports on government actions and expenditures, enhancing accountability and transparency,” Wenger says.
“AI-driven technologies, such as automated quality monitoring, provide government agencies visibility across regulatory requirements on 100 percent of their voice and text-based interactions,” Zawerucha adds. “This helps provide reporting to regulators and allows the organization to address issues and manage performance.”
The Government Guide to Speech
For governments eager to add or better use speech technologies, it’s important to follow best practices.
“Start with a pilot project to test the technology and assess its impact. Conduct research to determine the best speech technology solutions for your specific needs. Then, develop an implementation plan that includes clear goals, timelines, and budget considerations,” Linkdelta’s Sorbello states.
Carefully evaluate the state of your IT infrastructure, too, to see whether adjustments are necessary. “This can entail upgrading your IT systems’ capability as well as assessing the software and technology you currently use,” Wenger suggests.
Before pulling the trigger on a speech product, Ungerman recommends the following tips:
- Use a single, cloud-native platform with a suite of the most advanced solutions. “To offer the same level of customer experience that private companies are providing, it’s imperative that government agencies move their solutions to the cloud,” he says.
- Implement AI-powered speech analytics to monitor customer sentiment in real time during interactions. This data can also be recorded and analyzed over time to monitor agent performance and continually improve citizen experience.
- Solicit feedback from citizens after interactions to gauge satisfaction. This helps agencies understand sources of frustration and how to do better in future interactions.
- Optimize IVRs if possible, which can make it easy and quick to connect with citizens. “An optimized IVR takes the more routine calls off of human employees,” Ungerman adds.
- Choose a vendor that is Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)-certified, which ensures it meets the highest data security requirements.
Lastly, experts urge government agencies to make sure that their speech tech is available to a wide range of people, including those with disabilities or language difficulties. And take time to regularly check and improve the technology to make sure it’s effective and secure, they recommend strongly. x
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.