chatbots for government customer service

Is there a chatbot in your agency’s future?

As government services move online, chatbots may be able to help answer citizen questions. So far, actual government examples are still rare, but speakers at a recent event stressed that the potential use cases are real and widespread. 

At the DigitalGov University event,  "Automatic for the People: AI, Machine Learning and Chatbots for Digital Customer Service in Government" at the General Services Administration headquarters June 28, panelists discussed how advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, including bots, can expand and improve digital customer service.

As more people are using government services online -- and asking questions about those services via digital channels -- the number of daily online queries to some agencies have already hit hundreds per day. "What happens when it becomes thousands of questions a day?" Justin Herman, the lead for open government at GSA's Technology Transformation Service, asked. "[Customers] have every right to expect meaningful and timely information brought to them. It's information that we have."

Bots could also improve accessibility to services for people with disabilities or speakers of foreign languages. The idea is to get people the information they need, when and how they need it, Herman said, "without it necessarily being limited to the human being who's sitting behind the keyboard."

As an example from the private sector, Franco Amalfi, the director of Digital Engagement Strategy for Oracle Canada, demonstrated how automation is used in pizza delivery. The service remembers the last pizza ordered and asks if users if they want to order the same type. The bot also remembers payment information.

While the government doesn't deliver pizzas, there are potential uses for this type of application. Amalfi demonstrated how a person could send a message or text asking to "pay my property tax," the bot could respond with questions refining the request, followed by a security code to confirm the transaction.

IBM's AI interface Watson is being used to route calls in customer services platforms by analyzing the language and tone of a caller, IBM’s Neal Goffman said.

Additionally, machines are always on duty. "AI solutions don't forget. They don't have a bad night's rest," he said. "Watson doesn't get tired."

This article was first posted on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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