Alexa, how can I talk to my council?
What’s your view on voice assistants? Devices for teenagers too lazy even to type the names of their favourite bands into a computer? Or invaluable guides to the brave new digital world?
I’m firmly in the latter camp. And, as 8% of UK adults now own a voice-activated speaker, up three percentage points in just the first quarter of 2019 (and rising faster than you can ask Siri for the latest figures), it seems I’m not alone.
As far back as 2016 – an aeon in technology terms – 20% of Google searches were conducted by voice assistants, which use natural language processing to convert your spoken query into one your computer can understand.
And if your council isn’t listening, then it’s neither meeting the needs of its customers nor delivering the most cost-effective service.
So why should your council care about teens and their Alexa addictions? In fact, it’s at the other end of the age scale that the real benefits could become apparent.
As ‘ambient computing’ requires fully accessible technology with dramatically simpler interfaces, it’s potentially good news for everyone – and especially for disabled and elderly people.
If you now have an image in your head of grandma Muriel in the BBC’s Years and Years, who needs a handwritten note to remind her of what her voice assistant is called, then think again.
The very newest technology could be putting blind and elderly people in the driving seat – literally.
Driverless cars have already been successfully test-driven by a blind person, and hopes are high that they’ll be helping vulnerable people regain their independence within the coming years – if they can win over the 75% of people of all ages who are fearful of them!
More realistic – yet still inspirational – for local councils is the fact that the NHS has teamed up with Alexa to enable blind, disabled and elderly patients to take control of their lives and search for health advice through voice searches. They don’t even need an Alexa device, just an app.
So if your council is one of the many wondering how on earth to make social care budgets stretch to meet the needs of an ageing population, then I believe that Alexa and her ilk could be here to help. A voice-activated chatbot on your council’s website could answer their questions or refer for further support.
Which brings us to the question on every beleaguered budget-holder’s lips: Siri, how much will all this cost?
The good news is: it could save you money pretty quickly.
Oxford City Council recently led research involving several councils, which found that by pooling resources and investing in a chatbot for their website’s Waste and Recycling services, each could save around £110,000 per year.
They chose Waste and Recycling Services as their research showed that first-line responders can handle 98% of such queries (email, phone call or in person), making it simple for chatbots to provide the answers.
In the case of Revenue and Benefits, just 33% of queries could be handled by first-line responders, with the remainder requiring follow-up from other teams. That would make it harder to implement savings by introducing chatbots, whether voice activated or not.
However, those researchers had clearly not met Monika!
She’s Connect Assist’s very own demo voice assistant, who can talk to customers via Alexa and Siri. Customer experience shows that automated technology can handle 70-80% of Council Tax voice queries.
That spells better, faster, all-hours service for your customers, and much-needed cost savings for your council.
Of course, the rapid pace of technological change means that people have privacy concerns about Alexa and Siri. That ‘trust gap’ that applies to driverless cars is also apparent in attitudes towards voice assistants, which must of course be GDPR compliant.
But it’s vital that we’re all listening to what new technology can offer – and how it can help our customers tell us what they want.
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