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Rome is the capital of Italy and its largest city. It traffic is famously chaotic, so public and private mobility services in Rome require strategic planning, careful coordination, supervision and control, all services provided by a company named ‘Roma Servizi per la Mobilità’, which is 100% owned by the municipality of Rome.

Interactive Media and Roma Servizi per la Mobilità started collaborating several years ago. In 2011 Roma Servizi per la Mobilità was looking for a solution to perform taxi reservations over the phone. At the time there were a few private companies in Rome handling the booking of Taxis over the phone, but at a relatively high cost. So, about 50% of the taxi drivers (about 8000 in total) did not subscribe to their services and these additional costs were affecting the cost of the Taxi service as a whole. Roma Servizi per la Mobilità wanted to improve the reservation service accessibility and reduce the costs of taxi rides to a minimum.

Interactive Media proposed an automated service using Conversational Virtual Agents instead of human operators. The Virtual Agents had to recognize the address indicated by the caller in natural language, out of about 16K different names of roads/streets/squares. In those years this still was a challenge. But Interactive Media demonstrated the capability of creating a specific language model for this service, so it was awarded the contract. The results were remarkably successful.

Today, the users tend to use apps to reserve a taxi, more than phone calls, but the service ‘Chiama TAXI 060609’ is still operational and continues to be used after about 10 years. “The fact that this service has been successful in operation with very few changes for about 10 years demonstrates that Interactive Media project was very well conceived from the start” said Luca Avarello, Head of Intelligent Transport System at Roma Servizi per la Mobilità.

The user experience provided by the Conversational Virtual Agents was highly appreciated at Roma Servizi per la Mobilità, so Interactive Media continued to assist in the automation of other relevant services over the years.

The experience with the info line services

Roma Servizi per la Mobilità has a main telephone number to access all its service through the phone – 06.57003. Calls reaching this number can be routed to any of its services.

In 2016 this line was receiving about 35K calls on average per month, and this number was still growing. All calls were handled by human operators and they struggled to cope with the volume of incoming requests. About 1/3 of the requests were about local transportations timetable and routes. In fact, even in this day and age of the Internet, many people prefer to call the information line to receive a quick response instead of downloading apps and browsing web sites. It makes perfect sense, especially when one is in a rush.

However, most of the calls related with local public transport were not served because of the high workload of the operators, busy in other calls. Roma Servizi per la Mobilità decided to tackle the problem and provide a better level of service. The most cost-effective solution was again an automated service, capable of servicing most requests reducing the workload of human operators. So, they tapped Interactive Media for the project.

Interactive Media rolled out the first version of the service in 2017. These Virtual Agents are capable of providing information about the buses that are about to arrive at a bus stop. The Virtual Agents identifies the relevant bus stop using natural language, allowing the user to select a specific bus number as an option. After interrogating the information systems of Roma Servizi per la Mobilità, the Virtual Agents inform the users about the buses that are scheduled to arrive at that stop in the next few minutes, or the expected time of arrival of a specifically requested bus line.

In 2018 Interactive Media improved the service with the ability for the Virtual Agents to calculate the best route to reach one place indicated by the user using public transport, potentially with several buses and subway lines. The interaction is, of course, in natural language, and accuracy in understanding the location of origin and destination of a route is paramount. The routes are computed using the web services provided by Roma Servizi per la Mobilità.

At the end of 2019 about 13.5 thousand calls were automatically served by Virtual Agents every month, and the human operators were able to focus on the other services, where their knowledge and skills were most needed. This improved morale for them, while the public satisfaction with the service skyrocketed.

Lesson learned

Shortly after the deployment of Interactive Media’s technology, two major advantages became apparent: the first was the immediate reduction of operational costs for ACI Infomobility, that was able to pare down the number of employees on Contact Center duty, and allocates them to more strategic positions. The second was the significant gain in the quality of the user experience. “OMNIA Conversational Virtual Agent ensures that individuals self-service, solving issues without having to face long waits on the line and, of course, eliminating the need to dial keys during the call. The public can now get the information they need even while driving, avoiding distraction”, suggests the Director General at ACI Infomobility. “Besides that, it reduces costs for the company, and we provide a better interaction experience”.

The Director also notes that the coronavirus pandemic has modified the way and the frequency with which users have accessed the information the company provides. In this scenario, Interactive Media’s technology has helped address the demand and, more than that, effectively respond to it. Mr.Mazzone points out that “In the last months, the Contact Center has been adapted to provide additional information related to the closure of ACI Points, logging around 50 thousand managed calls in the period from March to June”.

ACI Infomobility was the first subsidiary of Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI) to include virtual agents in the service strategy. With widely positive results, the plan is to extend the potential offered by the OMNIA Voice-Enabled Conversational AI to a wider number of services within the ACI Group, adding administrative tasks related to vehicle registration and taxation, in addition to some services offered to the Automobile Club members.

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