Chatbots, albeit slowly, are making their way into governmental organisations. At the end of 2020, being one of the first in Lithuania, the State Tax Inspectorate (VMI) installed a smart chatbot which has since managed to answer more than 1.2 million customer queries. The head of Tilde IT, the language technology company that designed and implemented the chatbot, said that the VMI chatbot was one of the flagships in Lithuanian public services, and today others are starting to follow the organisation’s example.
“The technological progress is extremely fast. It is not easy to adapt to it, especially for public institutions. Even if you are aware of the values provided by technologies, it takes time to make a decision, and sometimes you have to be courageous enough to do something that others have not done yet,” commented Renata Špukienė, head of the language technology company Tilde IT.
A chatbot helps in times of change
The VMI virtual assistant project manager Lina Kurlenskaitė said that the implementation of the chatbot, known as the VMI’s virtual accountant SIMAS, was undertaken in order to improve the quality of counselling services and help taxpayers get general information on relevant issues faster, without any limitations on their number.
As of the end of 2020, SIMAS has already helped 180 thousand taxpayers and responded to more than 1.2 million queries. The chatbot is doing a good service in periods of providing information on income, land or real estate, when the VMI receives a higher number of inquiries from customers. This not only helps residents get answers quicker, but also ensures more effective VMI counselling for those taxpayers who are addressing us on more complex tax issues
A chatbot is only as smart as you make it
Renata Špukienė, head of the language technology company Tilde IT that developed the VMI chatbot, said that the VMI is one of those examples of how artificial intelligence-based language technologies can tackle the challenges of every organisation: “Taxation is a relevant topic for many, and taxpayers use the services provided by the VMI on a daily basis. Therefore, it is important to constantly update and expand customer service processes. As regards the VMI, SIMAS is addressed by a bigger number of residents each year. It shows that taxpayers are willing to use the opportunity to receive answers to their tax-related questions faster and easier.
Our smart chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence, and so they are more than just a tool to answer frequently asked questions. The VMI’s chatbot SIMAS is able to predict the intention of the enquirer, to understand a text written in a colloquial style, and to provide an answer even if there are grammatical or punctuation errors.
According to her, the VMI team was actively involved in the chatbot implementation process, which is a key component of the formula for success: “A chatbot is as smart as people make it. The VMI spends time on training the chatbot to make it do its job properly and ensure the high quality of the provided services.”
Implementation without IT resources
According to Špukienė, artificial intelligence as a technology still seems daunting to many people, which is an obstacle when implementing chatbots, even if it is apparent that they would provide significant added value to an organisation. “Some might think that it is necessary to have enormous internal IT resources and a good understanding of how language technologies work, and that it is impossible to implement them otherwise. It is a wrong assumption, because a chatbot is a well-established technology that poses virtually no risk.
Furthermore, our team’s main aim is to ensure that the bot helps tackle the organisation’s challenges and its installation is as smoothly as possible. So there might not even be any IT specialists within an organisation at all, because the entire process is supervised by our team”, the head of Tilde IT commented.
According to VMI representative Kurlenskaitė, the VMI continues to improve the chatbot and cooperates with the Tilde IT team in this process: “While implementing artificial intelligence technology, we gained a lot of knowledge. At the beginning it was very important to understand the principles of operation of the bot so that we could improve the quality of its service in the future. We monitor the submitted requests, oversee the “journey” of customers’ inquiries and the bot’s answers and evaluate their accuracy.”
Since November 2022, the VMI has expanded the functionality of the chatbot by introducing the ability to answer general inquiries in English, e.g., questions relating to self-employment, business licences or the payment of administrative fines. SIMAS has already answered 3 thousand inquiries in English.
“Lithuania is becoming a centre of attraction for investment, and the number of English-speaking people is increasing here. In order to establish themselves in our country, they also face a need for public services. Therefore we “taught” the VMI chatbot SIMAS to speak English on the most important topics.
This is a very special moment when talking about the state’s automation in general: the more digital solutions we have, the more attractive we are to foreign investors. Thus, we might enjoy greater competitive advantages than other countries in Europe”, stated Špukienė.
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