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How the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland is providing better, faster support with PolyAI


Public sector

Use Cases

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Call routing
  • Accent understanding

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is Scotland’s largest independent advice network. Their 59 member bureaux offer free, independent advice on a range of topics — including benefits, finance, housing, law, immigration and health — to the citizens of Scotland.


Citizen’s Advice Scotland needed to route callers to local advisors when locations closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.


A voice assistant that could route callers to local advisors through natural language conversations


100% calls answered with an average resolution time of just 30s.


Connecting Vulnerable Citizens with Local Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In 2020, Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland were forced to close their doors when the country went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to keep supporting the citizens of Scotland, the network offered a new national helpline, enabling people to access Citizen’s Advice Bureaux (CAB) advisors over the phone.

While the helpline enabled people to access free, impartial advice during national lockdowns, it was impossible to match callers with advisors from their local areas. If the advisor was unable to answer a particular hyper-local query (about local food banks, charities or faith organisations for example) or needed further specialist advice, they would take down the caller’s details and a local advisor would call back within five days.

Citizens Advice Scotland members wanted to make it easier and quicker for people to access local advice from local advisors. As a part of the CivTech challenge, they appealed to organisations who could help them to solve this problem.

In conjunction with SIDE Labs, a social impact agency, PolyAI won the deal to deliver a voice assistant that connected callers to advisors from their local Citizens Advice Bureau.

“It’s a great opportunity to provide the best service for our clients and allow us to put our resources where they’re most needed — in the conversations we have with clients to provide them with the highest quality advice!”

Creating a local experience

Understanding accents

In order to route callers to their local Bureau, the voice assistant needed to ask where the caller was.

People with Scottish accents are often misunderstood by speech recognition tools. As a result, many businesses end up using Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that IVRs.

PolyAI voice assistants are designed to understand every caller equally well. We leveraged Spoken Language Understanding (SLU) to develop a voice assistant that could understand what callers were saying, regardless of their accent.

Creating an empathetic experience

People calling into the network may be facing crisis situations, so it was important that they were greeted with a warm and empathetic voice. It was also important to provide a local experience so that callers felt they were not being deflected.

PolyAI’s dialogue design team worked with a Scottish voice actor to create friendly, natural prompts. Using a voice actor instead of synthesised text-to-speech also allowed us to ensure that Scottish place names were accurately pronounced.

Custom-built Scottish postcode extractor

To reach their local Bureaux, callers need to give their postcode. The PolyAI voice assistant uses spoken language understanding to apply context to spoken inputs. In this case, the voice assistant checks if the postcode it has ‘heard’ is a real Scottish postcode, and if not, it can ascertain what the caller is more likely to have said. For example, if the voice assistant hears J34 is able to understand that G34 is more likely, as this is a real Scottish postcode.

Before redirecting the call, the PolyAI voice assistant confirms the name of the closest Bureau and if the customer wishes to speak to a different Bureau, they can request to do so.

Where two or more Bureaux are available in range of the caller’s given postcode, the voice assistant lists all options and gives the caller a choice. The caller confirms by repeating the name of their chosen Bureaux or saying something like, “the latter,” “the first one,” “the middle one,” etc. Because PolyAI voice assistants are trained on millions of real-life conversations, our voice assistants are able to understand slang and turns–of-phrase without any additional training.

This allows the caller to get through to the relevant advisor quickly, without needing to say specific keywords.


Reducing call wait time By 5 days

Before deployment, callers requiring local advice could end up waiting days for a local advisor to call them back given the massive demand at the start of the pandemic. After deployment, callers can reach an expert adviser in their local area in under 30 seconds. This enables Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland to deliver the same service over the phone as they can face-to-face

"This has been transformative in terms of ensuring our clients get high quality, impartial, free and confidential advice that the CAB network is justifiably proud of from local advisors within their communities"

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