Chatbots are having a positive impact on public services, from answering residents’ questions to helping organisations monitor feedback and deal with larger and more complex queries. They’re also good for us as citizens, providing the ability to engage quickly and conveniently, while also providing a safe environment and anonymity to discuss more sensitive matters.
How can we get the best value from this fast-growing technology? To help you on your bot journey, Civica has identified four key principles:
1. Identify where bots can be most helpful and cost-effective
Focus on what you want to achieve. For example, is it cost savings, offering 24/7 support, freeing up teams – or perhaps it’s something else? In a traditional sense, answering customer emails can be an expensive start of a dialogue for humans. So, deploying bots to reduce the flood of email enquiries to a trickle makes it possible for us to do more, without adding more resources. People’s freed-up time can then be diverted to higher-value tasks.
2. Start small but think big
There are many types of bots available, but the good news is that they are very different to other technology projects. They are cloud-based, technically ‘light’ and, in many cases, ready to use and adapt. This means your teams can get going quickly with a small investment and iterate as feedback comes in.
It’s an agile, low-risk way to work, with no need for an expensive implementation. Once you’ve demonstrated a quick win, both your teams and your wider organisation will be more confident to look at bigger tasks to automate with bots.
3. Break down the barriers to adoption
Not everyone welcomes new technology when it first arrives. However, once people find it convenient and helpful, they worry less about how it works. And when users are happy with the service they’re getting, there’s no need to ‘sell’ the technology to them or to internal teams.
4. Learn from the analytics bots provide
With bots, every interaction can be recorded, quantified and analysed. This can show, for example, how closely answers match the questions that residents are asking, so the chatbot can be fine-tuned.
The data can also provide a valuable sense of what’s on people’s minds. The Department of Health in Northern Ireland used this feature during the pandemic, analysing questions answered by its chatbot to develop a triaging script that reduced demand on its ‘111’ helpline service by 83 per cent.
Getting the best out of bots doesn’t require a bottomless budget or limitless technological capability. They can provide real value, quickly and cost effectively – a value which is more than just time and cost savings. It’s also about the insights they can provide, and how these can be used to continuously improve services.
And don’t forget, like their human team members, bots need to be onboarded, supervised and given training to improve. So, make yours feel part of the team and keep feeding it with more data to get the best outcomes.
We’ve seen bots already making life easier for many public-sector organisations and their residents. They could soon be doing the same for yours.
Paul Berry is head of product management at Civica.