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DMV's Chatbot Rollout Marks a Key Milestone

The time-saving tool is the first major step in the state's effort to overhaul the Department of Motor Vehicles, which has faced numerous challenges and drawn a lot of criticism in the past year and a half.

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The state Department of Motor Vehicles has gone live with its public-facing chatbot, a key first milestone in the beleaguered department’s planned road to recovery from a rough year.

“Miles” is the name DMV employees voted on for the chatbot, which is one element in a multi-pronged approach to reduce long waits at DMV offices, expedite customer transactions, and cut the frequency and duration of DMV visits by drivers seeking a federally mandated Real ID. So far, Miles is focused on Real ID.

The chatbot technology, which incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning, is “part of a broader strategy to increase and improve the delivery of services to DMV customers,” DMV spokesman Martin Greenstein told Techwire in an email. “The services will offer our customers new communication channels such as chatbot, live chat, email and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The chatbot was the first phase of this larger overall effort.”   

For that package of tech and services, Greenstein explained, the state allocated a one-time payment of $5.7 million and an estimated $2.9 million for ongoing costs. Two large vendors, Salesforce and Verizon, collaborated on Miles. The contract was approved by the California Department of Technology, said CDT spokesman Bob Andosca. Here is the granular breakdown, as outlined in a state Department of Finance Budget Change Proposal (BCP) from last spring:

“This (chatbot) service is estimated to have ongoing costs of approximately $500,000 per year. The payment process is a pre-paid account debited based on the amount of interaction between customers and the chatbot," the document says. "The estimates are calculated based on 2017-2018 Google Analytics, and various vendor feedback that assumes that 50 percent of customers use the chatbot for an average conversation of four interactions. Each interaction (one customer question and one chatbot response) debits an estimated $.0025 from the account. $500,000 allows for 200,000,000 interactions.”

Overall, according to Google Analytics, the DMV website gets about 529 million customer views per year. Even though Miles is — for now — dedicated only to Real ID, the chatbot is designed to reduce all that page-loading while providing the DMV with new sources of data, including:

  • Visits (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly)
  • Most frequently used word, concept and intent
  • Total users, new users and returning users
  • Frequent users
  • Busiest hours of the day and month
  • Sentiments of users and any discernible trends
  • Total number of messages per day
  • Average number of messages and conversations per day
  • Number of messages per conversation
  • Number of conversations per user
  • Languages used
As with any AI or machine learning technology, the chatbot will get better as its data sets grow.

“We will be continually working to improve and refine Miles,” Greenstein said. “Future enhancements will include expanding his knowledge to include customers’ frequently asked questions” about vehicle registration and other topics.

But for now, Miles will stay in his lane and only answer questions about Real ID.

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.