Government agencies are often challenged in their effort to optimize communications with their citizens. Most government executives want to increase the frequency and quality of their interactions, but tightening budgets have resulted in fewer interactions, not more. They’ve stopped sending annual booklets, they send fewer reminder notices and wait for consumers to call them rather than proactively reaching out. Reduced communication results in lower compliance and an increase in downstream problems.
At the same time, more people than ever are using smart phones (SMS, email and web apps) and other electronic communication tools. Recent data from Deloitte tells us that 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone and its usage is so ingrained in our daily routine that 61 percent of Americans check their smartphone within five minutes of waking up.
How long after you wake up do you check your smart phone?
With this as a backdrop, it’s no wonder private sector firms are turning to automated communications to increase the quality and quantity of their customer engagement. This is where automated communications can also help government agencies. Not only is automated communication less expensive, it requires less staff to manage, and enhances the citizen experience. Automation improves the sophistication of the contact strategy with each citizen, ensuring they receive messages in their preferred channel, at an optimal time with clear instructions on what to do next. This results in increased compliance and a decrease in inbound phone calls. Customer service ratings also go up as the contact strategy is less intrusive, more personalized and seen as more convenient in our busy modern lives. The opportunities to improve engagement are broad. Let’s look at just one application of automated communication for governments, the collections of taxes:
Example: Tax Collection Customer Service
- Reminders before due dates. Businesses and individuals register for automated reminders prior to due dates. Through SMS and email outreach, the taxpayer benefits from reminders, and the department benefits from lower non-filer rates.
- Account clean-up and closing. Taxpayers who have not filed recently, and have no other record of activities can be contacted to automatically close their account. This cleans up tax rolls and reduces non-filer and compliance activities.
- Customer Service Campaigns. After new laws or regulations have been enacted, targeted reminders are sent automatically.
- Refund Status. Many tax agencies are inundated with phone calls from taxpayers asking about the status of their refund. Imagine having a spot on the tax form where the taxpayer can request text messages regarding their refund status. An automated SMS can be sent for ‘return received’, ‘return processed/refund approved’ and ‘refund sent’, for example. Each can include an estimated refund date. This would reduce phone calls and if the taxpayer is delinquent in a subsequent year, documents the phone number to call.
- Filing Zero Returns. If a taxpayer has signed up for a filing date reminder but still does not file on-time, and if that taxpayer has a history of ‘zero’ returns, send an email or text message with a link to certify a zero return for that period.
- Registration Renewal. Reminders can be sent for registration renewals and automated renewals could be provided using the same payment source used the prior period.
- Text messages or emails replacing or supplementing US Mail. US Mail contacts are expensive and delay the collection process by a handful of days. Contacts that are not mandated by statute could be replaced or supplemented with emails or text messages, expanding reach and reducing costs.
- Fully Automated, Unattended Phone Calls. Many agencies use predictive dialers to enhance their outbound call campaigns. Technology now offers fully interactive voice phone calls. These calls allow the taxpayer to make a payment, enter into a payment arrangement, or connect with a live agent. This approach can leave messages which connect call-backs with an automated attendant rather than a live agent. Experience shows most people prefer this to a phone call with a collector (as it is less embarrassing, intrusive and confronting)
- Smart Phone App for Payments and Payment Agreements. Apps can provide taxpayers with their balance and facilitate payments or enter payment agreements. It can also hold a payment source for recurring payments which can be used as a levy source if needed.
- Initial contact. While the state likely needs to use US Mail to make official contact with the taxpayer to establish due process, the initial contact could potentially be made much less expensively using email or text messages. This results in significant savings and for low risk taxpayers, can resolve delinquencies faster.
- Automated contacts. Audits are typically conducted using US Mail and the telephone. In the future, individuals and businesses can be contacted using SMS, email and smartphone app. This speeds up case resolution and improves customer service.
- Continually improved operations. Technology can be used to evaluate the results of the programs mentioned here. Predictive analytics and machine learning can determine the optimal number of days before or after a due date to make contact, the relative success rates of SMS, email, smartphone app and live calls to continually improve strategies.