City of Independence

Customer Service for the Future

In their quest to provide "Progressive Customer Service," the City of Independence, Missouri (www.indepmo.org) looked no further than iMessaging Systems Inc. to install iVoice™ Interactive Voice Response (IVR). This would allow the City to offer utility customers the new option of checking their account information and paying their bills, over the telephone at any time of the day or night.

 

Although the use of IVR is not new to the general population, it is a relatively new feature on the local government level. Don Davenport, Director of Information Technology for the City of Independence, believes that "we have to be technologically progressive. In local government, we have to be able to offer to our citizens the services that private businesses are providing to their customers."

Prior to the installation, the 115,000+ residents of Independence could pay their utility bill in one of three ways— by mail, in person, or as a direct withdrawal from their bank account. The multi-functional iVoice IVR was installed not only to make payments easier for the customer, but also to take some of the burden off the customer service staff. "We wanted to balance the workload with the people available and keep from having to add staff," says Davenport.

 

When the City of Independence decided to move forward with their IVR installation, they weighed their options. According to Davenport, after seeing iMessaging Systems advertisements and speaking with their technical staff, the City of Independence decided that the ease of interaction with the AS/400 and its unique, Host-Controlled technology made iMessaging Systems' iVoice the ideal product to meet the City's needs.

The installation was completed in two phases. The first phase was to install the iVoice system, have it run smoothly, and let the customers know of this new way to access their account information. The second phase integrated the ability for customers to pay their bill at the same time. This capability would later be possible, courtesy of GO Software.

 

The iMessaging Systems technician responsible for this project felt it was a smooth installation. Training and implementation of the City's original system was uneventful: "They were very cooperative... they assigned the right people to the task to meet their goals." Likewise, Davenport feels that the installation went very smoothly, and the City staff encountered no problems. "Everything met and exceeded our expectations. We could have gone live after the training was complete."

With this new service, customers can not only check their account balance at the push of a button, but also find out when their balance is due, request a copy of their bill and find out when their next bill will be mailed. All this, while still having the option to talk to a live customer service representative.

 

The final step to full functionality was to integrate touch-tone bill payment into the IVR system. This was done with the help of GO Software’s native AS/400 credit card authorization solution. GO’s software works seamlessly with the iVoice system. The caller, after choosing the appropriate option, enters their credit card information through the touch-tone telephone. Within seconds, this information is transmitted through the IVR system into the AS/400, through the GO software to the credit card processing center, back to the AS/400, through the IVR and on to the caller. The caller, while on the phone, is notified if their transaction has been successful.

 

According to Davenport, this was achieved with virtually no problems. "We were very happy with the ease of integration of GO’s credit card capability into iMessaging Systems' IVR." All of the voice recording for the IVR was done by the City of Independence, and there were no problems incorporating additional options once the credit card processing capability was installed. iMessaging Systems' Host-Controlled design has made their introduction to IVR a pleasant experience.

iVoice IVR has also been a pleasant experience for Independence residents. The percentage of utility consumers that takes advantage of the touch-tone information/payment capability increases with every month. Customers have been notified of this service through public access commercials and inserts in their bills. Every month, Davenport sees a "continual increase in customer confidence" in the IVR capability. As evidence, the first month about 400 calls were received. After a year over 700 calls were made and at the three year point an average of 1400 calls were received each month. Almost as impressive, call volumes continue to increase steadily even after the city released a bill payment option via the web.

 

The ease of implementation and increasing consumer confidence have turned the City of Independence's eyes toward the future. Davenport feels that "a 24-hour City Hall is a big deal right now. Customers expect us to be progressive." He hopes to build on the Utility Department's experience and expand iVoice service to other City departments such as the Municipal Court. Here, citizens could pay for parking tickets over the phone, as well as ask for court date continuances. The Parks and Recreation Department is also an area they are reviewing.

iMessaging Systems has helped the City of Independence to reach their goal of "Progressive Customer Service."