Tarrant County Receives Prestigious National Award for Its Live Chat Program

Apr 27, 2021 | 0 comment

It’s not a secret that whenever people have to deal with the government, they usually expect slow, inefficient service. This scene from Disney’s Zootopia comes to mind: 

Well, that is absolutely not the case in the Tarrant County Clerk’s office. As it turns out, when it comes to communicating with their constituents, this high-volume customer focused organization got it all right. They are quick, efficient, and get their residents answers to their questions within minutes. But don’t take our word for it. These are some of the testimonials Tarrant County customers shared after their interactions with the Tarrant County Clerk team members. 

Testimonials

Tarrant County residents love the efficiency with which the government can help them. But they are not the only ones who noticed. Last June the National Association of Counties (NACo) awarded Tarrant County an achievement award. The honor recognized the innovative communication systems the County Clerk office had in place. 

So what is the secret? After all, serving over 40 communities, including Fort Worth and Arlington, Tarrant County is the third most populous county in Texas. With 165 team members the Clerk’s Office serves over 2.1 million county residents. How do they manage to perform so efficiently?

We connected with County Clerk Chief Deputy, Clint Ludwig and IT Senior Project Manager, Matthew Loughran to find out. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the tools they use and the customer service mindset the entire department has. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It all started with some forward thinking back in 2018. 

Technology to Fuel The Mission 

The world of communication evolved rapidly in the last decade. In busy residential areas, such as Tarrant County, traditional means of communication fell short, overwhelming the already busy government officials.   That is why three-time elected Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Nicholson wanted to offer the county residents some additional options. The County Clerk’s mission statement vows to provide “cost-effective services and a satisfying citizen experience.” Nicholson wanted to continuously live up to that statement. 

Mary Nicholson

“She is very forward thinking,” Ludwig said of Nicholson and her quest to improve communications. “She was willing to leverage technology to improve customer service.”

The goal was to find a way to more efficiently connect the county residents to the various divisions of the busy county clerk department. So the County IT department worked jointly with the County Clerk team to implement a new feature on the county’s website to accomplish that goal – live chat technology. 

The idea was to maintain the traditional communication channels through phones and face-to-face interactions, while offering the county residents another option to connect. With live chat easily accessible on the website, the Clerk’s office wanted to reach the goals of more effective communications. The County Clerk leadership team aimed to reduce the call volume, enhance customer experience, and find a way to monitor and measure customer satisfaction.

In late spring of 2018 the feature went live. After over three years in operation, it helped the office to achieve those initial goals. But it also offered additional features that landed the Clerk’s office the national award, multiplied the number of happy customers, and provided many satisfying experiences. 

Humans and Bots Working Together

The results didn’t take long. In the first 90 days after the live chat implementation, the number of calls to the County Clerk’s office in some areas reduced by nearly 80%. 

The Clerk’s office integrated the live chat feature in every division across the organization. The system directed every resident who contacted the office to the specific division he or she looked for. For example, the Civil division answered probate and guardianship questions and passport clerks received the passport questions. This meant that a knowledgeable team member was answering each citizen’s inquiry. No run-arounds, no lengthy phone menus – just people helping people quickly and efficiently.

This was made possible by creating a balance of live chat automation features and human customer service. The live chat bot greeted and asked initial questions upon a citizen’s inquiry on the website. This allowed residents with simple questions to get immediate answers. The self-service feature proved to successfully resolve a great portion of inquiries. In fact, 50% of inquiries now resolve immediately, with no further contact or follow-up needed. And, the live chat bot is available 24/7/365 days of the year.

“We saw great value in the bot,” Ludwig said. “Much of it is just low-hanging fruit. [The questions are] repetitive and we can get the bot to handle [them]. It can free up and create capacity for team members to handle more complex, more difficult tasks.”

All that resulted in maintaining the County Clerk’s office high customer satisfaction rating. 

More benefits to improve services

In addition to automation, other benefits of live chat communications didn’t take long to appear.

The ability to review each chat’s transcript allowed the leadership team to both, ensure quality and improve training strategies. Supervisors could now see all the conversations between team members and customers. Moreover, the department could now also receive feedback from customers after their interactions via live chat. 

Another feature that came handy was the LiveHelpNow translator. Built into the live chat system, it allowed clerks to communicate with customers in any language. Real-time translation broke language barriers, which became useful in Tarrant County, as more than a fifth of the county’s population in 2018 were native Spanish speakers. (Data USA)

One unexpected benefit of live chat appeared as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. With surrounding counties governments offices shut down, Tarrant County saw an increase in certain inquiries. Marriage licenses was one of these areas. While other county departments suspended in-person services, the County Clerk’s Office fulfilled its statutory duty and remained open at the centralized downtown location to continue providing Vitals records services.  The pandemic could not stop life’s most important events.

“People still got married during the pandemic,” Ludwig said. “While the process required in-person appointments, residents were able to schedule their appointments through live chat.”

Additionally, many of the department team members were required to work from home during the pandemic to ensure the safety of other team members. 

“[The technology] did give us the flexibility to work from home,” Ludwig said. With the voice over internet option and the chat we were able to still assist customers from all over the county while working from home.”

Expanding on successes

After the initial implementation and the subsequent positive results, the Clerk’s office fully expanded the live chat program throughout the department. 

“We’ve been able to go from initially 10 clerks trained to more than 100 clerks across 7 departments,” Ludwig said. Customer service is part of our culture and what we do. Live chat is there and we leveraged the capability to stay flexible and provide as many answers and services as we can via the live chat options.” 

Receiving the National Achievement Award only confirmed that the county’s efforts paid off. 

“County Clerk, Mary Louise Nicholson, is very honored to receive the prestigious award on behalf of the team,” Ludwig said. “We never let down on customer service. It is a huge part of our culture here at Tarrant County – it goes from the bottom up. Customer service is our top priority. People have a preconceived notion of what we are and how we’re going to act. We’re here to serve and provide service that they don’t expect to receive from government. We do everything we can to not be the inefficient entity people expect the government to be.” 

Award

“Customer service is everyone’s business, not just the customer service department business – that is what differentiates us from others, “ Loughran added. “It ties precisely to the mission statement and organizational philosophy.”

Having seen the benefits of live chat and its positive impacts on customer service,  other Tarrant County departments, are now looking to adopt live chat as well. The Clerk office team members are now sharing their knowledge, experiences, and best practices with other customer facing departments. Tarrant County Tax Office is now implementing live chat and the county is looking for other opportunities for expansion.