A Volusia County Tax Collector's Office news release states that the office "has found a way to combat the staffing challenges in the post-pandemic world" by "hiring" a chatbot named Sunny rather than a person. The chatbot, the news release states, starts on Labor Day.
The website chatbot will answer questions and direct customers to online resources, and "will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for less than the cost of a traditional employee," the news release states.
The bot will also require "no annual increases for salary or benefits, no absences for illnesses or vacation, and no overhead costs for office space or equipment," the release states. "He also works all holidays."
The news release adds, "When he walks through the proverbial door Monday – Labor Day, the new bilingual team member will enter with the training needed to do his job, which saves time and money that would’ve been spent on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. counterpart."
The news release states that the chatbot will begin chats with the words, “Hi, I’m Sunny. How may I brighten your day?”
But as of Sept. 5, the bot was instead opening conversations with a longer, less punny message: "Hi there. I'm Sunny, your personal AI, and I'm glad you are here. Welcome to the Volusia County Tax Collector's website! And please don't post credit card or other sensitive data in this window. How can I help?"
“We are continually looking for ways to improve convenience for our customers while also being fiscally responsible,” Tax Collector Will Roberts said, according to the news release. “Adding Sunny to our team enables customers to ask property tax or motor vehicle-related questions any time of day without having to call or visit a location.”
The chatbot is in beta mode, according to the news release. If it doesn't know the answer to a customer's question, trainers will focus on that topic.
In the future, the chatbot may be trained to transfer customers to an agent, interact on social media and complete online vehicle and vessel registration renewals, according to the news release.
Online vehicle and vessel registration renewals have risen by nearly 40% since Roberts took office in January 2021, according to the news release.
“Employing a chatbot is our most recent step toward bringing government services into the current century,” Roberts said. “We are always looking for efficiencies that enhance our service.”