Conversational AI: Transforming traditional practices to better serve and protect communities

From delivering virtual court services to sharing critical health research, knowledge is power anywhere, anytime, on any device

By Jennifer C. Clemente

With an average temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit — or 25 degrees Celsius — the month of March in Phoenix, Arizona kicks off the metropolitan area’s busiest wedding season. And that amounts to around 25,000 marriage licenses a year processed by the Clerk of the Superior Court of Maricopa County.

But this past March, the rising number of COVID-19 cases started to raise alarms, leading forcing Governor Doug Ducey to issue a Declaration of Emergency. As officials issued stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, the court swiftly opted to improve on a nearly 150-year-old Arizona tradition of tying knots within courthouse confines.

Soon, Arizonans in Maricopa County were able to skip previously required in-person appointments and apply for marriage licenses anywhere, anytime.

How diving into customer intent drove a critical service change

Even before the pandemic hit, the Maricopa County Superior Court had acted on its mission to provide a more equitable justice system, implementing sweeping digital transformations to provide wider access to services and documents. Real-time insights served up by IBM® Watson® Assistant not only validated the court’s strategy, it brought other unexpected benefits, explains Chris Driscoll, Innovation Delivery Manager at Maricopa County Clerk of the Superior Court.

In a recent discussion, Driscoll explained that the court’s virtual assistant “Cleo” held the key to helping the court adjust service offerings to meet constituents’ needs. Once he and his team started getting near-instant direct feedback from citizens, they noticed most queries concerned whether and how the court was still issuing marriage licenses. “The Watson agent was telling us this was the number one customer concern,” says Driscoll, “so it was something we wanted to push forward.”

For a government agency deeply dedicated to serving its constituents, the ability to issue marriage licenses so quickly was deeply gratifying to Driscoll. “In 36 hours, we identified and set up a new procedure for people to apply online and receive them in the mail,’ he says, “so with social distancing they didn’t have to come to the court. Those kind of rapid responses, rapid changes and ability to determine what it is the customer wants from us was useful and unexpected.”

Read in detail here about how the Court augments services with Watson Assistant to deliver information quickly to the vast desert county’s four million residents. In addition to assisting with marriage licenses, a virtual agent helps the public quickly navigate requests for passport application services and court records. The solution has managed to dramatically reduce nearly 11,000 service calls it receives monthly. Most important, it gives citizens more options to secure court services safely and effectively outside the confines of its operating hours via web, SMS, and with voice-assisted services through Alexa and Google Assistant.

Long gone is the need for in-person appointments, or even a computer to access timely critical information. This change in the landscape could very well persist in the post-COVID era.

Facts over fear: Access to research helps bridge the COVID-19 knowledge gap

Along with public-serving organizations like Maricopa County, healthcare institutions have also experienced massive surges in demand for services during the pandemic.

Hill Country Memorial (HCM) used a conversational AI platform from IBM to better engage digitally with its diverse community of members who inhabit 14 counties from the urban edge of San Antonio, Texas well into the sparsely populated West Texas region. Having a central repository of updated information has helped meet HCM’s mission as a trusted resource for the community it serves.

As a response to community members’ questions about COVID-19, HCM worked with IBM to build an interactive platform based on IBM Watson Assistant. The goal was to ensure all Hill Country residents have access to research-based knowledge,” explains Jennifer Page, Marketing Manager, Hill Country Memorial.

“The IBM team was so helpful answering questions, explaining and ensuring a quick implementation and execution so we could get information into hands of community members and offer fact over fear,” said Page in this conversation about the impact of engaging with constituents digitally in 2020. “With the help of the IBM team we were able to build out customized and localized responses that provided granular community level information for our service area.”

Watson Assistant assists community members seeking answers about COVID-19 symptoms, testing sites, as well as the status of schools, businesses, transportation and other public services. The virtual assistant is trained to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19, based on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and/or the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). Read further about how IBM Watson is helping connect community members to the information they need to stay healthy and safe.

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