Tax Collector’s Office touts chatbot ‘hiring’, starting Labor Day

A press release from the Volusia County Tax Collector’s Office says the office “has found a way to address staffing issues in the post-pandemic world” by “hiring” a chatbot named Sunny rather than a person. The chatbot, the press release says, starts on Labor Day.

The website’s chatbot will answer questions and direct customers to online resources, and “will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week for less than the cost of a traditional employee,” the press release said.

The bot will also require “no annual salary or benefit increases, no sick or vacation absences, and no overhead for office space or equipment,” the statement said. “He also works on all holidays.”

The press release adds, “When they walk through the proverbial door on Labor Day Monday, the new bilingual team member will walk in with the necessary training to do their job, saving time and money that would have been spent on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. counterpart.”

The press release states that the chatbot will start chatting with the words “Hi, I’m Sunny. How can I brighten your day?”

But starting September 5, the bot instead opened conversations with a longer, less boring message: “Hi. I’m Sunny, your personal AI, and I’m glad you’re here. Volusia County Taxes site! And please don’t post credit card or other sensitive data in this window. How can I help you?”

“We are continually looking for ways to improve convenience for our customers while being fiscally responsible,” tax collector Will Roberts said, according to the press release. “Adding Sunny to our team allows customers to ask property tax or motor vehicle questions any time of the day without having to call or drop in.”

The chatbot is in beta mode, according to the press release. If they don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, trainers will focus on that.

In the future, the chatbot could be trained to transfer customers to an agent, interact on social media and perform vehicle and vessel registration renewals online, according to the press release.

Online vehicle and vessel registration renewals have increased nearly 40% since Roberts took office in January 2021, according to the news release.

“Using a chatbot is our most recent step toward bringing government services into the present century,” Roberts said. “We are always looking for efficiencies that improve our service.”

Esther L. Steinbach