A whole new level of public service

This article was written by Eskil Thygesen at Schultz, our collaborator in Denmark. It was translated from Danish to English by Anette Berge and Øyvind Sund.

A higher quality of user experience is coming to all areas of public service. A new means towards this end is the use of chatbots that autonomously answer questions from citizens.

Kommunenes Landsforening (National Assembly of Municipalities), announced plans for digital self-services in 2012, with following success. All municipalities have been able to narrow down the opening hours of their service centers. Meanwhile, the traditional model of getting in line while waiting for your turn, is becoming extinct, with many municipalities now requiring citizens to order counseling before using the service center.

Chatbots allow for an entire new avenue of digital self-help in the public sector, as chatbots are able to answer questions and direct citizens to other self-service solutions without involving service center agents.

New times — new possibilities

In brief, a chatbot is a software that speaks, meaning that chatbots can answer questions normally handled by service center agents.

The use of a chatbot allows for around-the-clock access to a municipality’s service center, and a more efficient handling of its most frequently asked questions.

– Citizens who previously struggled to navigate the municipal websites, can now receive accurate information from the chatbot instead. They can also more easily locate the correct application form, contact information and various other information, says Stig Andre Dignæs Rundhaug, product officer at Kommuneforlaget.

The technology is intelligent; the more questions the chatbot receives, the better it becomes at interpreting questions and providing the correct answer.

Noticeable reduction of phone calls

In Norway, forty municipalities have already employed public service chatbots in a testing phase throughout the first half of 2018.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

– We have seen that municipalities who actively inform citizens of their chatbot, experience a substantial increase in user activity. Employees at service centers have also felt a significant drop in phone inquiries, says Rundhaug.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) are currently seeing heavy investments, and the technology is ready to assist in the development of municipal welfare.

An example is Google Assistant, which has the ability to book a hair appointment and table at a restaurant — without being outed as a robot. A demonstration can be seen in this video.