Automated messaging programmes or chatbots that engage users in conversations, may very soon answer citizens’ questions regarding various government services. In July 2016, it was announced that the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) wants to explore use of chatbots to help users easily access the government’s e-services. Well, this is not Singapore’s first approach towards chatbots. IDA was once called ‘Ask Jamie’; though it had considerably lesser efficiency as it was at an early stage. Singapore Government has always been keen on trying newer technologies in order to connect better with citizens and now the IDA is going to partner with Microsoft to develop a chatbot that will be highly responsive and engage users in personalised interactions.
Singapore is not the only one to adapt to chatbot technology. The White House has already developed one that makes it easier for citizens to send messages to the President via Facebook’s Messenger platform. In a blog post, the White House said that the bot can help them to achieve their goal of “meeting people where they are.” Then the White House went ahead and released the bot’s source code on the internet, “with the hope that other governments and developers can build similar services…with significantly less upfront investment”
But why is it that these governments are turning to chatbots to connect with their citizens? Can chatbots really enhance government customer service?
How can a chatbot benefit a government to citizen initiative?
On June 28, 2016, in USA, the DigitalGov University hosted “Automatic for the People: AI, Machine Learning and Chatbots for Digital Customer Service in Government” to discuss how advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, especially bots, can improve digital customer service. There is no denying that government organisations are already eyeing chatbots as a way to improve citizen-centric services and also as a way to automate considerably simple repetitive employee tasks.
According to Justin Herman from US, the lead for open government and “SocialGov” efforts at GSA’s Technology Transformation Service, more and more people are accessing government services online. They are also making queries through digital channels. The number of these queries received by some of the agencies have already become overwhelming. “What happens when it becomes thousands of questions a day?” Herman asked. “[Customers] have every right to expect meaningful and timely information brought to them. It’s information that we have.”
Chatbots are not only a text-based platform; they can be talked to also. Thus, besides making services easily accessible to people with disabilities, bots can make them easily available to speakers of foreign languages too. The main goal of a government chatbot will be to provide people with information, when and how they need it, Herman said, “without it necessarily being limited to the human being who’s sitting behind the keyboard.”
What are the sectors that can get benefitted by deploying chatbots?
Here is an overview of how chatbot development can enable the government to cater to citizens, as far as offering information and services in various departments are concerned:
Laws: Often, citizens are not quite aware of the laws that govern them. As a result, they either end up unknowingly violating it or miss out on some benefit that they are actually entitled to. From how labour laws to personal legal issues, and from election laws to education laws, there is much to know about. A chatbot can make it easier for individuals to access relevant information on specific laws as and when required.
Education: An individual may need to get information on primary, secondary and higher education respectively at different stages of his life. Besides, he may want to know more about public, state and federal institutes of education and financial aid for students. Collecting the information and making an informed decision thereafter can become much easier and faster with the help of a chatbot.
Health: A government is always quite particular about the health benefits that it extends to its citizens. While there are laws in place to help them with various types of health related matters, very few people are well-informed about them. A chatbot can help them gather information on health benefits from government, insurances, hospitals and doctors, child care, emergencies, medications, blood and organ donations and much more. This way the citizens will be better equipped to deal with health-related emergencies.
Employment: From looking for a job or setting up a business to knowing more about the benefits offered by the government to retired individuals, from unemployment benefits to government jobs, public service, volunteer opportunities – one can never know all about the rules. Rather than going to a government office to gather every bit of information, it is much more convenient to turn to a chatbot.
Money: It is of utmost importance that citizens are well aware of money-related matters. From currency to benefits, grants and loans, from non-profit to shopping, customer issues and taxes, a chatbot can answer a citizen’s questions regarding any of these topics in a jiffy. As a result, one can make more careful decisions about his money.
Travel: A chatbot may answer queries about immigration, citizenship, recreation and business travel both domestically and abroad and visas, tourists, etc. Therefore, it can be beneficial for both citizens of and foreigners interested in travelling or migrating to a country.
Defense: Often citizens are interested in knowing more about the defense forces that protect them. They can use the chatbots to inquire about the rules to join these forces, locate defense units and facilities and find more information about veterans and their families. The chatbot can also assist the families of serving members to collect information pay and pensions, records and identification as well as programmes and benefits for active military.
Election: Elections are particularly important periods of time for both the government and citizens. The task of ensuring that the masses are up-to-date with electoral rules, regulations and proceedings, and that they are acquainted with electoral candidates can become much easier when conducted through chatbot. The bot can also connect the user directly with voter registration page on the government’s website.
Environment: The chatbot can also help citizens become more environmentally responsible by providing relevant information on energy savings, going green, fuel and energy efficiency, related benefits and pollution issues. It can also help with better disaster management by making them aware of the ways in which they can prepare and recover from disasters and emergencies as well as with weather predictions.
Governments and brands across the globe consider personalisation to be a top priority. People value their time and look for the best return when they are investing the said time in something. Yet, they still look for customised and personalised experiences. Automated services perfected by chatbot developers can not only ensure efficiency but also add a human touch to the entire process. Interacting with a chatbot is much like connecting to an agent or a representative who is there to assist the public, an individual at a time.
Chatbots can provide the best of both personalization and automation at the same time. As more and more, G2C organisations are warming up to this new tech revolution, interaction between government and public is expected to increase. Governments can engage with each citizen in real-time, resulting in constant connectivity, better governance, reduced discontent and improved government-public relations.