John Wybrant 07 August 2017

Council chatbots?

Council chatbots?

Chatbots - text-based computer programmes capable of conversing with a human - are being tipped as the next big leap in customer services. Private sector organisations are exploring their application, with Microsoft and Facebook among those leading the charge. Public sector organisations are likely to follow suit.

Driven by the need to transform services to deliver more for less, more and more local authorities are now turning to innovative technologies to provide better experiences for their citizens. In the back office, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is set to drive efficiencies, and tools like webchat and social media are being implemented to deliver an improved engagement in the front office.

A recent survey conducted by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) highlights this momentum. It found 64% of councillors in England believe digital transformation will positively impact the wellbeing of people in their areas over the next ten years, showing that we can expect the adoption of new technology by councils to accelerate at a pace.

Decision makers in local government should view chatbot technology as one viable, cost effective way to reduce pressure on frontline staff and improve the quality of the service they provide for citizens. But what would the implementation of chatbots for a council actually look like?

Support for frontline staff

Councils today are facing an increase in complicated, resource demanding enquiries from citizens, driven by welfare reforms. Chatbots hold the potential to help with this, by handling simple, high volume queries, enabling frontline employees to deal with complex enquiries that require human judgement and empathy.

The technology uses a predetermined set of rules to mimic human communication. So, by incorporating chatbots into their existing, text based digital messaging services, government organisations can instantly provide fixed answers to simple questions and common problems.

For example, if a citizen gets in touch with their local authority to pay for an outstanding council tax bill, a chatbot will direct them to the relevant area of the council’s website, with a stepby-step guide to progressing the payment – avoiding the involvement of staff altogether.

Chatbots can also help public sector organisations be more proactive. If the technology is integrated into self-service platforms and given access to internal Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases, it can be geared to reach out to citizens via text, or through an instant messaging platform like WhatsApp.

The potential uses of this sort of system are myriad, from issuing street parking permit renewal reminders, to providing information on bin collection day changes. The contacted party would then be able to reply directly to the chatbot if action is required, reducing time pressures on the council’s customer service team, while simultaneously providing quality, seamless service to the citizen.

Next generation of chatbots

As the technology develops, chatbot applications for the public sector will only become broader and more sophisticated. Advances in artificial technology will also increase the capacity of chatbots, allowing them to comprehend human speech and to learn from every interaction they have. This means they’ll be able to offer an even more significant support function alongside frontline employees, taking care of simple, high volume tasks, so that councils can focus their resources on complex enquiries and improving the services they provide citizens.

John Wybrant is key account director, CRM solutions at Arvato UK & Ireland

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Click here to sign up to your free copy.

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