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This article originally appeared in GCN.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed – and the recovery will change – just about every facet of American life. Customer service and how people interact with companies and government agencies is merely another example.

For many, the most apparent impact of customer service issues came from how long it took to handle their requests. A recent Washington Post story reported that "People hoping to defer mortgage or credit card payments, collect unemployment, cancel airline flights or locate missing shopping orders are all running into unprecedented waits for customer service by phone."

Based upon that experience, it is no surprise that one of the key facets of the American Rescue Plan is to ensure funding for modernizing technology across the federal government, a key priority for the Biden-Harris administration. The plan allotted $2 billion for IT modernization and cybersecurity initiatives, including a $9 billion request for the General Services Administration's (GSA) Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) – which historically has topped out at $25 million.

The Art of Possible

They say necessity is the mother of all invention, and the pandemic further illustrated that point as government contractors and agencies alike created new best practices and expectations that are likely to endure well beyond the end of the global pandemic.

These include remote federal technology responsiveness, effective and secure citizen services at a distance, and greater need and demand for accurate information access to resources without physical presence. Technology modernization is essential to the agenda of the Biden-Harris administration, especially with agencies needing to meet the high demands for citizen services.

Today, most citizen services needs fall into these five categories: answering questions, filling out and searching for documents; routing requests, translation; and drafting documents. Whether it's filing taxes, renewing a driver's license, or receiving health and human services support, an Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVAs) can facilitate most of these service delivery needs. Most citizens want to interact with government easily and on their time. Since IVAs provide 24/7 service without requiring a fully staffed contact center, citizens receive the information they need anytime, anywhere.

In most government agencies, IVAs achieve much more by integrating their existing technologies with conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize the citizen experiences (CX). Conversational AI improves service delivery, increases government workforce effectiveness, and enhances the relationship between citizens and government.

Here are three positive impacts of using an IVA:

1) Personalizing CX while driving operational efficiencies

Citizens are ready for government to deliver the superior citizen service often found in commercial companies. IVAs have the potential to positively impact the overall quality of any interaction with a federal government agency, as well as deliver operational outcomes like increased efficiency and reduced costs. When deployed correctly, IVAs become the connection between people, technology, and process that overcomes the limitations of less sophisticated technologies, like the dreaded "phone tree" experience delivered by an IVR.

IVAs, powered by conversational AI, aren't just getting citizens the essential information they need; behind the scenes, they're also feeding human agents intent data and analysis to deliver better and faster outcomes while providing personalized and positive CX. 

2) Reducing Wait Times

When citizens have a question, they could be regulated to long hold times via phone. IVAs can drastically improve citizens access to real-time answers and could even be used to formulate and fill out documents, especially for routine tasks. By deploying IVAs powered by Conversational AI, the government can deliver the next generation of citizen services that automate everyday citizen service transactions.

3) Supporting live agents to deliver more efficient services

Some federal agencies handle over 1 million calls every month from citizens. IVAs are expected to handle 20% of all citizen service requests by 2022. When citizens speak with a live agent these days, IVA tools are bringing them up to speed before they get on the line. Live Agents that are complemented with an IVA already know who you are, what you need, and, in most cases, how to get it.

Summary of the Potential

IVAs have the potential to have a significant impact on the way citizens experience and interact with government. While an IVA may not be a solution to all citizen service delivery problems, it is one powerful tool to increase CX outcomes and contact engagement center efficiency. Implementing IVAs in citizen services may also become an indicator of how the public sector can leverage other emerging digital tools.

The increased interaction with IVAs and enhancing upon legacy systems, government delivery of citizen services could soon mirror the ways citizens interact with technology in their personal lives and open up a new technology roadmap for the Public Sector.

Learn more about how IVAs can drive better outcomes for citizen service delivery here.