Government Chatbots: How Automation Can Support Local Administrations and Help Alleviate Post-COVID Staffing Issues

As the dust settles from the pandemic, it seems likely that different types of chatbots will remain part of many municipalities’ digital infrastructure. Keep reading to learn more about chatbots, how they work, and how they can benefit your administration.

According to the Center for Digital Government’s 2021 Digital Cities Survey, the top priority of local governments in the U.S. is expanding and simplifying access to services for citizens and businesses. Moreover, citizen engagement and experience rank second on the list of I.T. programs that local administrations will focus on in 2022 and 2023. 

During the COVID pandemic, chatbots emerged as one of the I.T. solutions that helped local governments expand access and improve customer service while balancing more incoming questions with fewer employees to answer them. 

As the dust settles from the pandemic, it seems likely that different types of chatbots will remain part of many municipalities’ digital infrastructure. Keep reading to learn more about chatbots, how they work, and how they can benefit your administration.


Chatbots Offer Quick, Simple Customer Service 

Chatbots are computer programs that converse. Some can replicate human speech, but most communicate through text. The simplest chatbots respond to questions with simple answers, while more complex versions use A.I. to grow increasingly personalized and efficient. 

Most people have often interacted with chatbots, even if they are unaware – they are ubiquitous in customer service. Online, whenever a chat box pops up and asks if you need help, it's generally a chatbot. Likewise, many customer service call centers are staffed primarily by chatbots who ask and give simple questions and answers. 

The primary purpose of chatbots is to streamline service by performing simple tasks and answering easy questions in lieu of human staff, who can focus on more complex issues as they arise. Chatbots appear in many sectors, including retail, real estate, insurance, medicine, mental health, etc. Wherever there is a benefit to removing simple, repetitive tasks from human staff, chatbots help. Increasingly, they do so in local government. 


They Benefit Administrations and Residents

There are many benefits to employing a chatbot as part of your local government's website. The first and most apparent is that chatbots answer simple questions quickly, freeing up human resources to deal with more intricate problems. Moreover, chatbots are substantially cheaper to maintain than human employees.

However, there are many benefits to the citizen as well. These include –

24/7 accessibility – There is a growing expectation that customer service always be available, and large municipalities have a diverse array of people with varying availabilities. 24/7 access is a great way to smooth out the customer experience.

Easier accessibility – Some citizens have trouble with the sheer volume of information on a government website, even if it is well designed. Chatbots can direct visitors to what they need by asking a few simple questions.

Consistent User Experience - Chatbots respond with pre-programmed answers, so they will not misspeak or leave out crucial information. For simple, rules-based inquiries, consistency is key.


Most Chatbots Provide Basic Information

 The chatbot workflow guides every interaction. This workflow is a simple logical progression that passes from a greeting to a first question. For example, a basic software bot might provide the user with several possible responses (like a multiple-choice question) and log the user's answer. Finally, based on the answer, the chatbot would provide whatever information the user seeks and give a farewell statement. 

Chatbot workflows, no matter how sophisticated, generally follow the same model. Therefore, the local government I.T. department may spend time before launch developing fairly sophisticated trees of inquiry for an all-purpose chatbot. 

During the COVID pandemic, many government chatbots grew in capability, as I.T. staff added many questions, answers, and other data to accommodate a tremendous increase in call and web-traffic volume. Chatbots proved invaluable in answering FAQs instantaneously and freeing up already overworked staff. 


Complex Bots Leverage A.I. and Machine Learning

 There are many different types of chatbots. The simple text-based programs above can incorporate natural language processing (NLP) to understand and respond with natural-sounding language instead of predetermined “multiple-choice” options. More sophisticated chatbots will rely on NLP, natural language understanding (NLU), and machine learning (ML) to analyze data on the fly and adapt to changing contexts.

Conversational chatbots like these are familiar to most people in the forms of Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Based on user behavior, they make recommendations, anticipate needs, and begin conversations independently. 

Some local governments have begun integrating their chatbots with Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing residents to interact with them entirely via spoken interaction. In addition, larger, more diverse jurisdictions have added multiple language support to increase accessibility to all residents.


Chatbots Are Suitable for Many Tasks

 Chatbots are adaptable and appear wherever they can reduce the workload of human employees and improve efficiency. Although each community has different needs, several use cases occur frequently.

Some of the most common use cases that pertain to government chatbots are –

·  General info – Users ask the chatbot about basic operational info like government office hours, upcoming events, celebrations, and committee meeting schedules.

·  Tax info – Citizens can ask chatbots questions about tax deadlines, forms, local rates, and other important information.

·  Public health info – The COVID pandemic required local governments to be more visible in public health. Users can ask chatbots about vaccine clinics, testing locations, current masking regulations, and where to go if they have symptoms of COVID or other medical issues.

·  Public works status – Chatbots can provide updates on road closures and other infrastructure issues like water, sewer, and electricity. They can also discuss public transit schedules, procedures, and fees.

·  Permits – Residents looking to open a business, add to their residence, or alter their property may need to file relevant permits with the municipality. They can communicate with chatbots to determine the requirements and begin filing.


Governments Worldwide Have Employed Them Successfully

 Some governments and agencies worldwide have perfected the use of chatbots, using them to save millions of dollars worth of time, labor, and missed interactions. 

 Based on each program's original purpose, different bot names often pop up as acronyms and pass into the vernacular, becoming household names in the jurisdictions they serve. In other cases, a chatbot's name can derive from a relevant historical or influential figure. 

 Here are some examples of how governments and government agencies have used chatbots to serve their customers. Whether you work for a big city in New Jersey or a small town in Wyoming you can weave the functionality of any of these examples into your own government chatbot.



#1 – RAMMAS – Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA)

RAMMAS is one of the most sophisticated government chatbots in the world and the first to integrate the Google A.I. infrastructure. The chatbot supports cross-platform functions and comes on iOS, Alexa, Android, Facebook, and a physical robot. RAMMAS answers general questions and helps citizens pay their bills. It utilizes machine learning to analyze data and improve its answers over time.


#2 – EMMA – U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security 

The DHS chatbot fields questions about passports, green cards, visas, and other immigration services. EMMA is bilingual in English and Spanish, but her English interface supports voice input. She answers questions and acts as a guide through the website. DHS has announced that Emma successfully handles over 1 million interactions every month, freeing up human operators. She takes her name from Emma Lazarus, whose verses adorn the Statue of Liberty.


#3 – ALEX - Australian Taxation Office 

ALEX assists Australian businesses and individuals in navigating all the ATO's services. She can access accounts and give user-specific responses about deductions, rates, returns, and property valuations. Although the ATO website is well-designed, ALEX makes navigation much more manageable and saves users valuable time.    


#4 – MISSI – The State of Mississippi

MISSI is the full-service chatbot of She helps residents find information on tax regulations, public health, transportation, job searches, and family services. Visitors can talk to MISSI to find out about events, places of interest, and tourism opportunities around the state. For businesses, MISSI helps with licensing and tax considerations. MISSI interfaces with Amazon Alexa for voice input, making her easy to access for all residents and visitors.


#5 – OpenDataKC – Kansas City, MO 

Kansas City's online public database offers access to many statistics about the city. This data ranges from the budget, transportation, construction, public health, crime, and many other topics. The database is a masterclass in transparency. 

Unfortunately, the original interface of the website was difficult to navigate for many people. OpenDataKC is the city's response. It is a Facebook Messenger chatbot that answers questions about Kansas City’s official statistical reports quickly and accurately. OpenDataKC has saved the residents of Kansas City many hours of navigation through a crowded website. 


Consider A Chatbot to Boost Your Customer Service

If the primary purpose of a local government's digital presence is to serve the people, government chatbots make the interactions smoother. This help is essential for administrations suffering from staff and budgetary shortfalls as they emerge from the COVID pandemic.

Simple software bots are preprogrammed with basic questions. On the other hand, A.I.-powered chatbots can use machine learning and advanced language programming to adapt themselves to users, accessing records and helping citizens make payments and file permits. 

No matter the size of your local government, chatbots present an opportunity to improve your citizens’ access to essential services. Whether it's taxes, public health, or roads, they can help ensure that the administration communicates with residents quickly and accurately. So get in touch with us to discuss improving your website today.

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