In 2018, there was an estimate of what the impact of chatbots would be in our year. One of the curious facts was:

The projection that by 2021 80% of companies would integrate some form of chatbot system.

We don’t have complete data for this year, but we can say that since 2019, the use of chatbots has increased by 92%.

Many of us have had contact with chatbots in the private sector. But, the question is whether the public sector, specifically city councils, can benefit. A sector responsible for dealing with massive daily queries.

Right from the start, we say yes. We are going to tell you in detail the advantages of chatbots for city councils.

And we will also answer the following questions:

  • What are the possibilities of chatbots in a city council?
  • What are the benefits of implementing a chatbot in a city council?
  • What is the impact of chatbots in these organizations?
  • How to get started with chatbots in the public sector?
  • What are the lessons from the first city councils to launch a chatbot?

The free tool for governments to communicate with citizens via WhatsApp about COVID-19

A world of new possibilities

The spread of chatbots knows no boundaries, and public organizations are no exception.

Let’s review the history to put us in context of the situation of city councils and communications:

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2000s

Websites began to be used to search for information and make different types of transactions. City councils began to create their own websites to adapt to the new form of communication.

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2010s

These years saw the rise of social networks to contact individuals, and between individuals and organizations. Hand in hand with the boom in applications, city councils made the leap to these new platforms.

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2020s

We are still in the early days, but as predictions indicate, users are looking for fast and constant attention. This need has a quick solution for public organizations: chatbots.

One thing this timeline shows us is that city councils know how to adapt and meet their citizens where they are.

It is not necessary to abandon channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook or the web itself, but to enhance them with the incorporation of a chatbot that can assist citizens. This is the next step that more and more city councils are starting to take.

The chatbot does not replace a human, it is a tool that helps staff who must manage numerous incidents and queries on a daily basis to work more efficiently and provide better support to citizens.

chatbots for city councils

It is also a tool that can assist in inclusivity efforts.

In the case of using voice technology, as currently implemented by companies such as Amazon or Google, public services can be more accessible.

This would also be the case for people with visual impairments, literacy problems or immigrants who do not speak the language.

With a chatbot adapted to these needs, city councils could more efficiently assist a much wider public.

The benefits of a chatbot in a city council

The overall positive impact of chatbots is not limited to citizens. It also means a major change in the way public staff communicate, so they can save on time spent on complicated queries.

Let’s mention 5 advantages of implementing a chatbot for city councils:

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Answer queries immediately

One of the most common uses of chatbots is to answer frequently asked questions. With an effort to collect the most frequently asked queries from each city council, workers can save time answering the same questions every time.

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Sense of closeness

With a chatbot configured in a language close to the citizenry, it is possible to increase satisfaction when it comes to bureaucratic issues.

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Get to know your people

Although city councils already have information about their inhabitants, collecting information about certain queries can be a tedious process, especially if it’ s done physically. With a chatbot you can replace web forms and guide citizens in a conversation where they can easily provide their data.

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Around-the-clock service

Unlike a human agent, a chatbot works regardless of day or time. In this way, citizens can feel closer and have the help of their city councils at any time.

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A better image

In more abstract concepts (but no less important), the fact that citizens have a good image of city councils and their representatives reinforces the sense of community.

The possibilities of chatbots for city councils are as limitless as all the benefits they can bring, to both private and public organizations.

A virtual companion

We do not hesitate to talk about the advantages of using a chatbot. But we must admit the reality that sometimes there are errors or the user doesn’t know how to navigate.

We are in a period of adaptation on the part of individuals and the development of chatbot technology. And, when the technology fails, that’s when a human has to step in.

The process of a human agent takeover is already a protocol in companies that use chatbots for the first communications with their customers. Either because of a bug or because they simply prefer to talk to a person.

The mix of availability and automation through chatbots, and care through human support will make a difference in worker and citizen satisfaction.

That is why when a city council implements a chatbot, it has to be as a support to its human agents, or at most, to assist in simple and repetitive processes.

Actions qualifying for subsidy

On November 3, 2021, the bases of the subsidies for the digital transformation and modernization of the Administrations of Local Entities were approved. All framed within the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan.

This plan is a strategy promoted by the Government of Spain that seeks to repair the damage caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The subsidies are destined for reforms that will contribute to a more sustainable future.

The website itself describes the core foundation of this plan as:

  • Ecological transition.
  • Digital transformation.
  • Territorial and social cohesion.
  • Gender equality.

Article 5 of the BOE describes as eligible for subsidies those actions that involve:

Active use of emerging technologies in the deployment of new digital services (chatbots, automation and robotization, platforms, etc.).

Thus, the reality of chatbots for city councils is becoming more and more real and is driven by government bodies.

The first prototypes of chatbots for city councils

Some European cities have started to develop the first chatbot prototypes for city councils. Thanks to them, we can draw conclusions and lessons learned.

Bertje Project

The city of Roeselare started with this innovative project to answer general questions about their city and to help in the navigation of their website.

600 unique questions have been developed using artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

The beginnings of the chatbot were done using Excel, where the questions and answers to be included were compiled.

Later on, it was created a portal to store the knowledge and to be able to adjust it at any time.

If you speak Dutch and want to try the chatbot on your own, you can find it here.

proyecto bertje

The citizens of Aalborg

The city of Aalborg undertook the challenge of discovering what the needs and opinions of citizens were about chatbots. They focused on the younger demographic, and came to such curious conclusions as:

Chatbots as a support to other channels, not as a substitute

The idea of citizens is to use a chatbot for quick questions, while for more complicated queries they would call the city council directly.

High expectations

Although youth advocated for the hybrid model, they did have expectations about the quality and quantity of questions they could ask the chatbot.

Be aware that it is a bot

They stressed the need to make it obvious that you are talking to a chatbot, so that you can adjust your expectations about the answers it will give.

Go the extra mile

They also stressed that it would be considered a great service if they got better care than expected.

This real case serves to illustrate the citizen’s perspective of chatbots. They are ready to have this new communication channel with their city councils as long as they do not replace human presence.

Chatbots for city councils in Spain

In the case of Spain, we are going to talk about two chatbots that are currently operational.

Rosi, the chatbot of Murcia’s city council

First let’s meet Rosi.

Rosi is the chatbot developed by the city council of Murcia to deal with social and cultural issues and record relevant information.

In addition to being an ideal assistant for the management of procedures.

rosi ayuntamiento murcia
carina ayuntamiento córdoba

H4 – Carina, the chatbot of Córdoba’s city council

The COVID-19 pandemic came hand in hand with a demand for information and a lot of confusion from citizens.

For this reason, the city council of Cordoba developed Carina.

Through targeted questions, she helps citizens with any queries they may have about the pandemic.

The impact on organizations

After the first chatbots projects for city councils, we compile the impact they have had in different fields.

Public service

Within this sector of public organizations, the following points should be highlighted:

  • The addition of a new interaction and service channel to all those previously used.
  • Need to implement content management processes.
  • Development and maintenance of dialog flows.
  • Need of an extra budget for the financing and maintenance of the chatbot.

Communication

The main purpose of a chatbot is to be the public face of the organization. Therefore it will affect the communication process in the following way:

  • A new channel is created to exploit corporate identity.
  • New opportunities for inclusion.
  • The need for a new strategy and resources for the communication strategy.

Security

Any new technology runs the risk of security flaws. The following points should be taken into account in city councils from the beginning:

  • Maintain security standards in new communication channels.
  • Functionalities and channels should be tested before being implemented.
  • Information collected in dialogs will have to be classified and must adhere to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Maintenance

A useful and functional chatbot is not just built and forgotten. It requires maintenance that aims for constant improvement, and this impacts the following areas:

  • Optimization of chatbot dialog flows based on the information obtained.
  • Improvement of chatbot functionality and performance.
  • Study and maintenance of communication channels.

Conclusion

The need to adapt to new forms of communication is something that no one can escape. New generations are increasingly accustomed to obtaining immediate information. This is why they demand the same efficiency from the public entities that represent them.

Few city councils do not have a web portal today. The first step has already been taken, the next step is to explore how the world of chatbots can boost their communications.

Having a 24/7 agent who can answer questions is the ideal employee for any type of city council. Public agencies owe it to their citizens to adapt and meet them where they are.

References

Gobierno de España. Orden TER/1204/2021. November 3rd 2021,

https://www.boe.es/diario_boe/txt.php?id=BOE-A-2021-18176.

Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resilencia. 2020,

https://planderecuperacion.gob.es/.

Interreg North Sea Region. European Cities’ Frist Steps with Cahtbots. 2019.

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