Sullivan County: Serving the public faster with virtual agents

“The DMV experienced a more than 56% reduction in call volume in the last four months compared to the same time last year. It blew past our expectations.”
– Dan Hust, Sullivan County Director of Communications

With limited staff and budget, Sullivan County worked with Egen and Google Cloud to create a solution that supports residents beyond traditional work hours while freeing up government workers to focus on high-value strategic work.

The offices for Sullivan County in New York support more than 40 departments, ranging from the county clerk’s office to emergency services and parks and recreation. The busiest county offices were handling hundreds of phone calls and emails every day about the same basic questions such as, “What are your hours?,” “Where can I pay my taxes?,” and “How do I renew my driver’s license?” Serving more than 78,000 county residents with limited staff and budget made it difficult to keep pace with call volume demands and maintain responsiveness to residents.

The county wanted to provide residents with a higher level of service and reduce the growing workload on staff, but it didn’t have the resources to expand the team or set up costly call centers. Instead, the county focused on how best to answer simple questions quickly and reduce the amount of calls coming in so staff could devote their time to help residents with more complex questions that require human attention.

Sullivan County turned to Egen for help using Google Cloud’s tool Dialogflow to establish a Sullivan County Virtual Agent that immediately helps web users find the right information. Egen teamed with Sullivan County and Google Cloud to bring the deep AI, data, and technology expertise required to develop and launch the solution in just under three months.

The Sullivan County Virtual Agent is an artificial intelligence-driven program on the county website designed to immediately answer common questions. When a person clicks on the chatbot logo in the lower right of their screen, the Virtual Agent provides a list of topics and a place to type in questions.

“We were particularly impressed with how they, as large tech companies, strove to understand our needs, concerns and limitations as a small municipality with a limited budget and staff, yet a large geographical region to cover,” says Dan Hust, Sullivan County Director of Communications, about working with Egen and Google Cloud. 

The Sullivan County Virtual Agent provides residents with a multimodal experience accessible in real time and saves county employees time so they can focus on more complex tasks. The county clerk’s office, for example, which processes thousands of documents for various passports, permits, and courts, uses the virtual agent to automatically answer questions about operating hours or document filing processes so residents get answers in moments rather than waiting to talk with the next available representative.

“Our employees are happy that they can get more done and that they’re able to provide a better customer service experience for our residents and visitors.”
– Josh Potosek, County Manager.

The Sullivan County chatbot is also helping the county DMV continue serving residents outside of normal operating hours, such as nights and weekends, so they can have 24/7 access to the information they need. “If it’s midnight on Saturday and someone is figuring out when they can go to the DMV on Monday, now they don’t have to wait until we’re open on Monday morning to find an answer,” Potosek says.

As people access resources via the chatbot, call volumes are declining. “The DMV experienced a more than 56% reduction in call volume in the last four months compared to the same time last year. It blew past our expectations,” Hust says.

The successful use of Dialogflow is driving further change across Sullivan County. One of the county’s goals is to introduce Dialogflow-powered virtual assistants to every department in the county so they can offer improved support to residents.

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