Accelerating the response to West Virginia workforce needs through the cloud
In the United States, unemployment insurance claims are rising, with the current insured unemployment rate at 15.7%—the highest since the end of World War II. In the first three weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, sixteen million people filed for unemployment insurance, overwhelming states’ systems.
Many states are struggling with the volume of applications, causing legacy back-office systems to crash. In some cases, states reverted to paper applications to relieve overloaded systems and keep up with the rapidly expanding workload. As people try to file and follow up on applications, they are calling their state’s workforce and labor agencies in unprecedented numbers, overwhelming phone systems and call centers.
In West Virginia, the Department of Workforce (Workforce West Va.)—the organization that oversees the unemployment insurance program—wrestled with their call center operations to keep up with the spike in call volume. Workforce West Va. identified three actions they could take to improve constituent services: hire and train call center staff to keep up with demand, update their automated interactive voice response system (IVR), and provide regional claim offices with updated infrastructure including routing calls, call queuing, and IVR response capability. Many of these actions were enabled by the cloud.
Fully featured, cloud-based solution
To modernize their contact center, Workforce West Va. turned to AWS Partner Network (APN) Premier Partner Smartronix, one of their existing cloud service providers. Understanding the agency’s need for a secure, reliable, and scalable modern contact center that was simple to set up, Smartronix deployed Amazon Connect, an omnichannel cloud contact center. They created and implemented the contact center within 72 hours.
The agency hired and trained students from West Virginia University and members of the West Virginia National Guard to support the call center volume. The newly designed system began taking live calls in both English and Spanish using Amazon Polly. To ensure everything was operating properly, during the soft launch, the call center only took 30% of the expected full call load. Three days later, the new system was handling the full call volume. At full volume, 98.7% of calls were answered and entered into the queue within one minute.
The new contact center forwards all external calls to the Amazon Connect instance to consolidate call volume, provides intelligent call routing (to three contact pools deployed across the state), and provides real-time monitoring of call volume. By combining all field offices into three pools or tiers, volume is spread more effectively over the entire set of resources. Using an automated agent reduces call volume by offering a general set of frequented asked questions that can be sent to a caller’s mobile phone using SMS. Agents have softphone capabilities such as caller ID, call holding, reconnect, and forward or transfer from the workstation, giving them a wider range of options and call handling. The agency has visibility into performance with real-time dashboards and call metrics to help make decisions on how to increase or distribute staff.
In phase two of the implementation, Amazon Connect was integrated into Salesforce for calls that required a callback. Salesforce provides the workflow management of these calls, places them into a queue for a specialist, and provides all the necessary information for a higher skilled agent to call the constituent back and answer their questions. Additionally, Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly provide voice recognition in multiple languages and responses to simpler, more common questions. Finally, AWS Chatbot provides chatbot capabilities for constituents searching for information via the department’s website. Automated agents are integrated into the website to answer basic questions without the need for human intervention.
This project was executed without additional investment in on-premises hardware. The quickly implemented solution led to a modern, digital contact center system that sits at the core of the workflow and can be integrated with other key services. Since its inception, the call center has handled 600,000 calls with only 10 percent needing to speak to a live agent, while the remainder were handled through IVR. The new contact center has sent more than 5,000 text messages using Amazon Pinpoint in response to customers’ requests.
For more information on Smartronix’s work for state and local government, visit the Smartronix website.
Stream the latest episode of the AWS podcast Fix This, featuring an interview with Robert Groat, executive vice president of technology and strategy of Smartronix. The episode dives into how the cloud is helping improve constituent services for state and local governments. Stream it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, Overcast, iHeartRadio, and via RSS.