In early 2018, the Irish Revenue Commissioners began investigating the potential of Artificial Intelligence to provide a more efficient, effective experience for customers using their telephony services. A pilot project was initiated to examine if AI based Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies could be used to deliver an improved customer service, reduce costs and increase efficiencies.

This resulted in the implementation of a Virtual Digital Agent (VDA) or voicebot which was designed to focus on a subset of calls from the Irish taxpayer relating to tax clearance. On a daily basis, taxpayers contact Irish Revenue tax clearance customer support asking how to apply for tax clearance; enquiring what their current tax clearance status is; requesting more information on expired, refused & rescinded tax clearance applications as well as just looking for information on tax clearance itself. A high proportion of these calls are reasonably repetitive and the knowledge required to provide suitable responses and positive experiences for customers is well understood. This suggested that the tax clearance taxation area could be suitable for the introduction of some level of AI automation.

A suite of integrated technologies were used to convert customer speech to text, understand the text using NLP so that a response could be formulated, and then conversion of this response back to speech so the customer could hear the answer. In addition the user experience was guided through using direct question techniques and this helped reduce the complexity of the problem state space.

The Irish Revenue demonstrated that voicebot technology can offer a fully automated service, providing an efficient, effective experience for customers. Below is a summary of some of the results:

  • Up to 50% of calls were handled from start to finish by the voicebot.
  • 70% of first-time applicants engaged with the voicebot when submitting their application.
  • 75% of tax clearance holders were able to retrieve their tax clearance access number (TCAN).
  • Only 10% of calls were transferred due to failure to understand.

The voicebot even helped an 86-year-old gentleman complete a clearance application, when under normal circumstances he would have been issued with a paper form.

The success of the project encourages the Irish Revenue Commissioners to deploy this technology in other services it offers.

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