Snohomish County, WA Taps Voice Tech to Aid Economic Recovery

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AI “plays huge role” in delivering government service

Two of Washington’s most populated counties reach constituents through Zammo voice AI Washington’s King and Snohomish counties not only border each other and offer panoramic views of Puget Sound to the west and the Cascades to the east, the respective governments share a commitment to delivering trusted and secure information and services. As a result, they’re also known for using innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to support public needs.

 “AI plays a huge role on how we deliver services and think about how we leverage technology for services and solutions that are delivered on behalf of the communities we serve,” says Tanya Hannah, King County CIO. “It’s not about technology, it’s about helping people.” Snohomish County’s executive director Kendee Yamaguchi concurs, offering context for the depth and breadth of opportunity for AI solutions in government: “AI can be used in so many different ways, that I just think it’s the beginning of a lot of our work in this area. We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg.”

Rapid pandemic response
Jan. 21, 2020, marked the date of the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the U.S. by a patient who had recently returned to Snohomish County from Wuhan, China. “Snohomish County was literally ground zero for COVID,” notes Yamaguchi. That milestone marked the beginning of a rapid response by Washington state and local governments to address constituent concerns over what would become a global pandemic as well as a health and economic crisis. Leading the way were two Evergreen State governments with large populations: King County, home to 2.2 million people, and Snohomish County, with over 830,000 residents.

For King County, the most immediate requirement was addressing the outpouring of public questions and concerns about the virus resulting in the life-threatening COVID-19 illness. “Our community was in crisis,” recalls Hannah. “Public Health - Seattle King County was the trusted source for information.” However, the scale of inquiries and the requirement to provide accurate, up-to-date information were initial obstacles. “Early on, this was really challenging, just with the volume of questions that were coming in and just recognizing how much information we are really needing to get out to the public,” explains Annie Kirk, King County Call Center communications liaison.

Low-cost, fast solution
A low-cost solution came fast with the implementation of a COVID-19 chatbot built on Microsoft and Zammo technology, allowing Public Health – Seattle & King County to provide around-the-clock answers and the latest factual information. The team established two-way integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Zammo’s integration module to enable higher-value bot conversations and allow the staff to make daily updates easily and quickly with the most timely information. “I think it really shows how easy it is to, not only deploy tech solutions, but address a business need and do so in a quick manner,” says Hannah.

Kirk credits the partnership of King County IT, Microsoft and Zammo for the chatbot’s success in answering approximately 10,000 queries per month and making it “really easy” for her to develop the chatbot quickly and “with no technical background.” For Hannah, the chatbot provides another example of helping and better serving the people of King County: “The communities that we serve benefit from a responsive local government. Technology plays a critical role in the delivery of these services.”

Economic response
While addressing COVID-19 health impacts, Snohomish County also recognized the economy was at the forefront of many constituent concerns, especially small-business owners and those facing layoff. Again, the solution was partnering with Microsoft and Zammo to deploy a chatbot focused on delivering economic development and recovery information, 24/7. “We knew we needed a way to get critical information out, and the chatbot offered us an innovative and effective way to do this,” says Yamaguchi, acknowledging “the largest barrier for us, really, comes down to money” – or lack thereof.

In 24 hours, the chatbot was live, helping local businesses and the workforce obtain aggregated information about new government programs and resources – a process Yamaguchi describes as “much easier” than expected and requiring no IT skills or additional funding. “The AI chatbot was a quick, easy and cost-effective solution to the very complex problem that COVID-19 represented,” she says. “It has the ability to implement across platforms, whether via text, online or using voice on home-assisted devices. The chatbot also allows for increased accessibility to information for our residents by providing both voice and text solutions, and some language translation.”

The importance of voice interactions
After launching the chatbot, Yamaguchi and her team learned an important lesson underscoring the importance of reaching the community through multiple channels, especially voice assistants, which are playing an ever-increasing role in daily life. “We found that simply providing a web-based chatbot wasn’t enough, because we’ve discovered that over 44 percent of the public queries we receive are done with voice interactions from Alexa or Google,” she says, noting additional conversational AI benefits include:

  • Continuing and furthering the County’s efforts to serve as a trusted, reliable resource.
  • Delivering facts and data “in a world of constantly evolving information.”
  • Automating large numbers of inquiries, freeing County employees to focus on pressing issues requiring their knowledge.

“The [Snohomish County] chatbot has really revolutionized how we, as a local government, approach technology,” Yamaguchi adds. “We hope to continue to implement innovative ways to streamline our work to best serve our residents.”

A Zammo differentiator
Both Snohomish and King counties took advantage of Zammo’s unique data analytics feature to gain key user insights. For Yamaguchi’s team, this industry-differentiating capability allowed them to recognize the power of voice based on the significantly higher-than-expected percentage of inquiries through voice assistants. Zammo’s analytics dashboard helped King County improve its chatbot content by reducing the number of “I don’t know responses” by 85 percent while creating new content to address emerging COVID-19 concerns.

Embracing AI
Hannah and Yamaguchi close by reinforcing the importance of government embracing new capabilities, such as Zammo’s voice app solution, to deliver news and better meet the needs of people, especially in urgent situations. “Seamless government is so important because the public doesn’t care about which government entity is providing information,” Hannah says. “They want information now.”

AI “plays huge role” in delivering government service
Yamaguchi highlights how Zammo AI enables government to create value for people. “Something like the chatbot allows us to service the public better, quicker, more effectively, more efficiently,” she explains. “Somebody can go in, in the middle of the night, and get the answers and information they need ... So, this type of tool is such a benefit for the public, for the government services that we offer ... the chatbot is really a lifeline.”

Please learn more at:

• Empowering AI Documentary

• Empowering AI-Gov

• Snohomish County Uses Conversational AI

• Microsoft Digital Transformation Showcase:

• Automating emergency response: King County

• Keeping the community informed: Snohomish County.

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