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Interview with Gemma Hancox, Customer Contact Group Manager at Telford and Wrekin Council

Artificial Intelligence is growing as our world is changing, demanding more and leaving us looking for new ways of doing things. Local governments have a responsibility in so many different areas and need to provide a continuity of care to their residents.

Telford and Wrekin Council logo

ICS.AI began working with Telford and Wrekin Council to enable them to be there for residents in a new but necessary way.

Gemma Hancox, Customer Contact Group Manager from Telford and Wrekin Council, who has a passion for delivering best practice through new innovation and process improvement to maximise service delivery and customer satisfaction answered some questions and shared her genuine responses to the process of implementing an AI Assistant with ICS.AI.

What was the factor that led you to your Artificial Intelligence journey? E.g influx of calls and struggling to respond affectively and was this factor your aim throughout the project?

The main driving factor was our desire to have a method of giving customers assisted access to resolve their queries 24/7 and giving them the A1 service, with the majority of our services they have to come to us, we're out there to give them 100% the best customer service and we felt going down this route would allow us to do that. However, it also has the added value of giving visitors to our website an alternative route to finding information rather than the traditional search or browse method.

Chart showing AI Assistant use by time of day
Telford's AI Assistant usage by hour of the day

The chatbot also provides a route to accessing information that some customers who are less digitally skilled may find easier to use than navigating through large amounts of information, so we hope that in time this will translate to more customers using this contact method than calling our contact centres.

Tom AI Assistant chatbot window from Telford website
Tom, Telford's AI Assistant chatbot

Why is good customer service important for local councils?

Customer Service excellence is at the heart of everything we are trying to achieve at Telford & Wrekin Council. Nothing is more important to us than serving the needs of our residents, visitors and service users and we firmly believe begins right from their first point of contact.

Council service users may not have a choice of providers, but as a publicly funded organisation it is essential that they see and feel that that we are accessible and responsive to their needs.

Why did you choose ICS.AI to work with on your digital transformation journey?

We had several demos from different companies offering a bot, including a company with whom we already work with extensively. The demo from ICS.AI was personable and engaging and I'll be honest we all came away from the demo very impressed, thinking about how it could work for us and future development, we knew straight away we wanted to go into a partnership with you. You weren't trying to sell to us you were listening to us, what we wanted and why we wanted it and telling us how you could help us, we felt you really wanted to come on this journey with us.

What factor of the chatbot was most appealing?

Its ability to answer the quick, simple questions, but a friendly and personable way; leaving advisors free to help customers with more complex enquires and being available for those simple, much asked questions 24 hours a day.

Chart showing queries to Tom by day and in business hours
Usage of Tom inside and outside of business hours

'Tom', tell us about the naming of your assistant?

That was probably the most difficult part, if anyone else is going on this journey don't think it's going to be easy, or it might be for you but it certainly wasn't for us. We had a competition within the authority and the name we chose first wasn't quite right, but in the end we chose Tom due to Thomas Telford, our town's namesake.

Statue of Thomas Telford in Telford, Shropshire
The Thomas Telford State, Tom's namesake

Have ICS.AI improved your technology and developed your citizen engagement with the creation of your chatbot? Are there any metrics or benefits you can share?

There are so many positives really, we can reach out to those customers who may not be able to contact us during the normal hours that we're open. We're seeing around 33% of our questions and queries are coming out of hours, during the night and at weekends. For customers who aren't so sure of navigating around the website, Tom is helping them do that because it’s directing them to the information they need as well as breaking that information down. It's helping the customers who are calling us for the basic things as Tom is answering those questions for us and enabling us the time to answer the more in-depth questions.

So far we've seen a 40% decrease in the amount of web chats we're receiving.

The most common contact we're getting via Tom is people asking how to pay their council tax.

Since implementation which factor has been most beneficial?

It's still early days at the moment but I think the main benefit so far has been residents who are struggling to pay their Council Tax or are requesting help paying rent reaching out. This is the area where we have the highest number of enquiries so far. I think going forward we will start to see a reduction in the standard missed bin collection and replacement bin calls also.

We've got some quite ambitious plans together of what we would like to do with Tom, can you share any key things you'd like to do in the future?

I think for myself when I saw the potential that Tom has and what it can do I was so excited and there is so much I want to do that we haven't even discussed yet. At the moment we're concentrating on leisure; bringing leisure into Tom. It's a contact point and we're getting a lot of phone calls and again, that's 24/7 as leisure is not a 9-5 service. Hopefully, we can control some of the demand for that service and improve it.

We're also integrating into our current webchat offering, Tom will be the first point of contact and if tom needs assistant from an advisor tom can then reach out to one. We're also developing a MyTelford app that will support Tom.

In terms of your area of the public sector, what would you say to other councils as the main reason they should use AI?

To help residents get answers to the everyday questions that they ask day in day out...

  • When's my bin day?

  • My bins has been missed

  • What time is swimming class tonight?

All of these questions can be answered simply via AI leaving your advisors to help with the more complex questions or to help the residents who aren't as tech savvy, offering a better service for all residents.

It is also incredibly useful as an alternative way to help customers to navigate through the vast amounts of information that are available on the council's website.

Can you sum up the experience in one sentence?

Working with ICS.AI has been a dream, they have guided and supported us throughout the project, their knowledge in this area is phenomenal and now as we look to develop further, they are on hand with ideas to help us achieve our ambitions.

The implementation of the chatbot was one of the fastest and smoothest system implementations we have been involved in, being just 3 months from initial discussions to going live.

What has been the overall feedback towards the AI assistant?

Overall feedback from staff, senior management, Councillors and residents has been universally positive.


Watch the Webinar

Find out more about Telford's use of Smart Chat by watching our webinar. Presented by ICS.AI's own CEO, Martin Neale, and Solutions Director Andrew Smith plus featuring Gemma as a guest speaker.

Find out more about our AI assistants by visiting our Smart Chat page. Or simply contact us from our Contact page.

Note: Parts of this interview have been extracted and transcribed from a live webinar event.

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