The City of Espoo wants to benefit from automation and robotics in customer service

2017-03-23 14:16

Data collection and processing add up to 35 per cent of a Finnish information worker’s work. However, spending human resources on routine tasks is no longer efficient for either the service provider or the customer. When quickness is required, a machine may already beat humans in customer service as well.

“Two-thirds of all data collection and processing will be automated in the next ten years. This will be one of the most drastic changes in working life in the future,” says Heikki Länsisyrjä of Digital Workforce Services Ltd.

In a workshop organised on 9th March 2017, the City of Espoo got together with companies specialising in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence to generate ideas on how the city could make use of new technology to support customer service, in particular. The workshop was part of the SATu (electronic customer service support) project, which is one of the projects in the Six City Strategy.

Up to 80 per cent of the questions asked via chat and social media channels are the same

The banking and insurance sector is a pioneer in automating customer service, in which data collection and processing take up to 70 per cent of the working hours. Finnish banks and insurance companies are already making full use of digital employees. One example of customer service automation is a chatbot – a software robot that answers questions asked by customers online.

“The chatbot can be trained by feeding data into it from websites and various kinds of instructions, for example. You can provide the machine with feedback on its answers, so it really ‘learns’ things”, says Tuukka Vartiainen of IBM Analytics.

The volumes of chat and social media channels are constantly growing, but up to 80 per cent of the questions asked remain the same. The work is stressful for people, and staff turnover is often high.

“If a chatbot based on artificial intelligence takes care of the repeated questions, people can concentrate on the more difficult questions and service improvement,” says Teemu Kinos of Get Jenny.

Several ideas created in Espoo for further processing

The City of Espoo already has one digital employee, Ropsu the home care software robot, which requests temporary workers and provides them with customer routes. Just a few months in, Ropsu has already proved its efficiency. What is more, Ropsu began its career by winning an international innovation competition.

The city’s automation workshop saw a need for similar digital employees in, for example, payroll and financial administration routines, room reservations and logistics.

The use of actual customer service robots was deemed suitable for serving foreign language speakers, in particular: Espoo’s foreign language speakers – people whose native language is not Finnish or Swedish – are one of the most quickly growing demographic groups, and service is often made more difficult by the language barrier. Many ideas were expressed at the workshop for serving exactly these people: for example, a translator chatbot or a robot that could guide customers to the beginning of the service path in several different languages at the library or Citizen’s Services.

The ideas compiled will be further processed as part of the service development work. Both city residents and companies are involved in the development work.

For more information, please contact:                                          

Paula Hirvonen, Project Manager
SATu (electronic customer service support) project
tel. +358 50 589 7612, paula.hirvonen@espoo.fi

Also read the blog posting by Services Development Director Päivi Sutinen.

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