Voice over IM and Constituent Service

I do a lot of commenting on this blog about recent developments in the Voice over IM space. You may occasionally wonder why such blathering is relevent for governments and their use of voice technologies to serve citizens and taxpayers. It’s time I clarified my thinking in this regard.

A growing number of citizens are using the Internet, and internet-based applications to interact with governments. There are many reports and studies available that document this trend – one of the most useful in my opinion is the annual survey of federal and state government web sites conducted by Darrell West of Brown University. This report details the changes governments have instituted in their e-government programs over the years to better serve citizens. One of the most interesting developments in recent years has been the increased use of instant messaging technologies by governments to provide real-time assistance to citizens through a primary web portal.

According to the latest e-government report from Brown, the number of states offering IM services through their primary web portal is up to eight – as recently as two years ago, there were no states offering this service. Although, the Brown report doesn’t clearly document it (at least by my reading), several other states also offering IM-like services for citizens to talk with a librarian or other customer service staff person.

It seems fairly clear that as IM clients become more robust, and are developed to support VoIP calls, that citizens will become inclined to expect this type of interaction with their government. There are a host of different services that can be enhanced by offering this type of functionality. While sensibly designed web portals and web-based services have made a profound improvement in the quality of service, governments that offer IM services for their citizens recognize that immediacy of response is something that not all web applications can provide. Sometimes citizens just want a quick answer to a quick question:

  • How do I file an extension on my taxes?
  • Who do I call to incorporate my business?
  • Where do I go to pick up my fishing license?
  • What is the proper address to send my water payment to?

IM services can often provide a more efficient response to inquires of this type because they take place in real time. These services can also be used to marshal staff in disparate locations to answer inquires through a single channel – citizens with questions about tax payments won’t care if the person providing the answer is sitting in the state capitol, or in a regional office in a far corner of the state. As long as the answer is helpful.

As more and more governments move to offer real-time assistance through IM services, its only a matter of time before Voice over IM is added to the equation. Governments that are starting to think about offering these services must pay attention to the latest developments in this area.