Topics: IT Services; Software; Digital Transformation; Fed.
Innovative solutions are being considered by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to streamline the management of client enquiries, as its transitions from “high-cost in-person channels to lower-cost self-service digital channels”.
As part of a current Expression of Interest (EOI) for solutions to improve Client Enquiry Services at its onshore and offshore Services Centres, which are largely handled via telephone and email, the department is interested in “understanding innovative models that may better meet the department’s objectives”, such as web chat and social media.
“As client expectations and world-wide, best-practice customer service standards rise, the Department is exploring innovative solutions to enhance its Client Enquiry Services, especially in Service Centre environments”, tender documents state.
While the core scope of the EOI is for the provision of telephone and email enquiry management services for tier one and two enquiries – those either answerable with publically available information or requiring specific knowledge of the client, the solution may include web chat enquiry management and social media enquiry management.
“The department is seeking approaches that are cost neutral to the department, particularly for telephone and email enquires where there is a self-service option available. This may involve charging clients a fee for service.”
Either the solution provider or the department will respond to enquiries, depending on the channels used. However, “the department expects to retain [some functions] as there are dependencies or considerations that mean they cannot be moved outside the department’s control...”
The department currently has three centres servicing client enquiries – one onshore service in Sydney, and two offshore services in Ottawa and London. These are managed by Client Enquiry Officers five days a week.
Web chat sessions are currently “proactively offered” to clients when their use of the website matches pre-defined patterns, and social media only used to respond to generic enquires (tier one).
Moving away from “high-cost, resource-intensive service channels” through the increased use of online channels was highlighted in the department’s 2015-16 Annual Report. This includes growing its award-winning ImmiAccount service, increasing online lodgement, trialling web chat services, engaging clients via social and using online booking systems.
Web chat services and engagement through social media is being piloted at the department’s Client Service Counters, according to the report.
Federal and state government agencies are increasingly using virtual assistants and online chat tools as an alternative means of communication to improve service delivery.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) implemented its virtual assistant, known as Alex, on their website in August 2015. Using natural language processing, Alex can understand conversational language, respond to queries about taxation, and learn from questions to improve answers. A separate web chat function is also offered by the ATO through small business assist.
While not as technologically advanced, the Legal Services Commission of South Australia has also developed an online chat tool to respond to a growing need for legal information. The Legal Chat solution allows staff to handle multiple interactions simultaneously, whereas telephone calls are typically dealt with only one at a time.
The Department of Human Services is also developing a virtual assistant or avatar that uses true machine learning for its next generation splash page.
Submissions to the EOI closes 17 November 2016, with an industry briefing to be held on 3 November 2016.