One of the greatest benefits of AI is its ability to augment human decision-making — making it faster, easier, and more precise than when done alone. Chatbots bring these capabilities to everyday people, who might otherwise grow tired or confused with too much information or tedious processes.
Most consumers have become familiar with chatbots used as part of customer service in the private sector — to change account information or retrieve a password, for example, and other times when interacting with a human being isn’t necessary. But local, state, and federal government agencies have only scratched the surface in terms of what chatbots can do for their public service operations. In fact, there may be far more potential use cases in the public sector than in the private.
Chatbots can provide 24/7 conversational-AI communication to citizens by connecting them to public services via mobile devices, phones, and desktop computers. They can provide citizens with key information about regulations, laws, and policies, as well as critical personal information and processes, all of which might otherwise be difficult to find or execute.
AI-powered chatbots use machine learning to constantly improve their interactions with citizens — their key advantage in these public-facing roles. Government information and services are complex by nature, and governments need to serve the entire adult population, as opposed to a select group of customers, as with private companies.
Let’s assume a citizen comes to a local government website with a particularly complex challenge. A chatbot could easily walk a user through the challenge, helping the user navigate complex information in the process. The chatbot never becomes tired or pressed for time like staff members — it can even service hundreds of citizens simultaneously. And a good chatbot can work relentlessly on behalf of each of those citizens.
While the chatbot is helping someone with a request for information, a staff member, who is now available, can spend more time helping someone with a situation that requires the attention of a human.
State and local governments have already launched pilot projects for chatbots to engage citizens, making their services more accessible and easing the operational burdens of routine and labor-intensive activities. These agencies can now apply staff resources to more-valuable activities — something that had been very difficult to achieve previously.
Government entities typically serve more people than private companies. Most companies have only a handful of service offerings; they encounter limited volumes of user traffic at any given time because they cater to only a small segment of the overall population. Meanwhile, chatbots have already driven remarkable KPIs for private-sector industries and their customers.
Arguably, governments have an even greater imperative for chatbot adoption. Government services are more varied, and the details of those services are often much more complex and even intimidating for their users. Governments are notoriously short-staffed and face more rigorous and unpredictable regulatory and chatbot security requirements.
What’s more, governments are required to maintain certain service capabilities that might only be used once a year or even once every few years. They are asked to do what’s almost impossible—service every adult member of society with a limited budget. It’s no wonder government agencies tend to earn some of the lowest customer service ratings.
Chatbots could change all this. Once implemented, chatbots are an affordable and dependable customer service option for any number of services.
To take one example, the Technology Transformation and Services team at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) employed a chatbot to help citizens learn more about scams, helping them to avoid becoming victims in the first place, or to locate resources if they had already become one.
With countless scams in circulation today, managing this information and delivering insights and solutions to concerned citizens is an enormous task. The chatbot now serves as a supplement to the government call center and its staff, which is tasked with answering questions from the public. “This beta project holds great potential for the public to get the help they need with scams,” the GSA reports.
Now, state and local governments are designing Q&A chatbots of their own to help the public access information. Regular citizens can easily access dozens of public information repositories across departments and agencies, all through a single public-facing website.
If chatbots are done right, the impact on government staffing and budget limitations will be substantial — and local governments are starting to take these potential savings seriously. In Missouri, citizens “seeking information about their taxes or their welfare benefits soon could be contacting a virtual assistant rather than a real person,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in December 2019. The state’s chatbot program “could result in fewer state workers having to answer routine questions about state assistance programs or income tax refunds,” according to the paper.
In addition to organizational benefits for governments, chatbots will transform the experiences people have with their governments. The key advantages include:
The use of chatbots may in fact encourage the public to become more active and connected to government matters, which may increase civic participation if executed strategically by those agencies. As we’ve discussed recently, agencies can deploy chatbots to improve knowledge management among employees and as part of their internal processes as well.
At the end of 2019, the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers “found that about a third of states are engaged in pilot programs to increase the use of artificial intelligence to provide services,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Governments who have launched beta chatbot programs are already realizing measurable benefits as a result of those programs. In Missouri, where the agency call center had faced an 80% turnover rate due to low salaries and staff morale, the chatbot program is expected to ease longtime strains on budget and staff.
Ultimately, chatbots are a versatile and cost-effective digital solution for the volume, security, and service requirements governments must manage every day. A transformation is already underway. For government agencies that struggle with these problems but lack a comprehensive AI-driven chatbot program, it’s time to investigate further and find out just what chatbots can do for public service.
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