The Department for Work and Pensions is to implement "virtual agents" to help deal with citizens’ phone calls concerning Universal Credit queries, as part of a major modernisation of its telephony services.
DWP is engaged in a wider project to transform services and, according to a commercial notice published last year, address the department’s current lack of “a clear strategic, multi-channel customer service design for how we engage with our customers, and how they engage with us, [where] many calls to DWP are not "once and done", half are made by a small percentage of customers, and most of our services do not provide self-serve options for simple transactions”.
A key strand of the upgrade programme is focused on upgrading its use of telephony to support service delivery, according to social mobility minister Mims Davies .
“The project is looking at technologies available to improve and support DWP’s future telephony demand,” she said. “User research from customers, agents and providers is at the centre of their design and build approach.”
The project’s “first enhancement” will see the helplines equipped with an automated tool known as “DWP’s Virtual Agent” which, according to Davies, “will support customers through their telephony journey and best determine how to respond or help with their enquiry”.
The department’s intention is to implement the automation tech across various service lines over the coming years, beginning with calls related to benefit claims.
“The objective of this technology is route calls to the right person or support available at the right time and providing a better overall customer experience than now,” Davies said.
“Starting with Universal Credit; we then plan to introduce this technology further over the next three years. In terms of accessibility, this technology has been fully approved to standards required and will not replace, but complement the pre-existing support available for those customers who require it such as Relay UK and Video Relay Service.”
The minister's comments were made in response to a written parliamentary question from Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared