by Aakrit Vaish
Government agencies all over the world, spend billions of dollars to provide services to citizens and ensure easy accessibility of such services to everyone. Post the two World Wars, government social spending as a share of GDP has increased substantially, with early-industrialized and developed nations contributing a major share of their revenue to social initiatives, particularly in healthcare and education.
For instance, central government spending accounts for almost 50% of all national output, while in a lesser-developed state such as Nigeria, the figure is close to 6%. However, this disparity does not mean that government initiatives and services are easily accessible to the citizens of the developed nations. In fact, difficulty in accessing government programs, and the huge gap between their implementation and execution, remain two of the biggest problems faced by governments today.
However, the success of chatbots in offering better efficiency, cost benefits and higher engagement in the business world, has prompted various governments to utilize the concept to strengthen their own service delivery framework and manage internal operations better. Successful use-cases are available aplenty all over the world. For instance, USA’s Department of Homeland Security developed a chatbot EMMA, to help people negotiate the labyrinthine process of immigration to the country. EMMA helps users deal with requests and documentation pertaining to immigration services, green card, passports or any other service under the department’s domain. On an average, the bot assists more than 1 million monthly interactions, and supports both English and Spanish languages.
Closer to home, the Indian government is also working towards incorporating technology into its existing service framework. It has doubled the allocation for Digital India to INR 3703 crores, with a focus on AI, 5G technology and rural internet. Recently, the Indian Railways also announced the establishment of a committee to set up a chatbot that manages customer queries efficiently, while the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion with its Startup India Action Plan, plans to set up a Virtual Start-up Hub driven by a chatbot that will answer all startup and business-related queries of prospective entrepreneurs.
Come to think of it, a chatbot’s three main functions-processing service requests in huge numbers, 24X7 accessibility and real-time end user engagement, can help governments become substantially better service providers, that too at significantly lesser costs.
Different aspects of government service and chatbot utility
Essentially, a government’s service framework consists of 4 essential elements-Service discovery and information, Eligibility status check, Service delivery and Citizen feedback mechanism. In all these aspects, a chatbot can be of immense value, acting as the perfect technological bridge between the stakeholders-the government and the people. Let us see how-
Service delivery and information: Chatbots can help citizens navigate through a maze of government services
Negotiating a government site is an extremely difficult task, if at all a site exists that is. An initial search for options, identifying the relevant section, application, documentation, verification and then an endless wait described by the word ‘processing’, it is an extremely frustrating journey for the user. Chatbots can act as the perfect virtual assistants, making people aware of the amenities offered by the government and completing a majority of the initial tasks and then guiding the user through the maze of menus, departments, sub-departments and pages through easy conversations. For instance, the government of London introduced TravelBot, an AI-powered facebook Messenger application to help tourists with services like bus arrivals, route status, service updates (bus/rail), maps, etc.
Eligibility status checks made smoother
Chatbots can help facilitate and streamline the mad rush that follows every government announcement when users crowd the website to check the eligibility status or other specifications. Chatbots, in a conversational manner can help people understand the basic guidelines and check their eligibility status on the basis of certain qualifying questions. Further, they can help the people follow the steps in order to avail the benefits, saving the government as well as the public from the hassles caused by crashing websites due to heavy traffic, apart from the uncertainty.
The actual service delivery is simplified
After getting the knowledge of a service and verifying whether one is eligible for the same, users need to actually avail the service. For this, the government generally has many grass root level touch points such as municipal offices, post offices, community centres, etc. However, locating them is difficult, as some of them are not listed on the internet and any information about their working hours, holidays, contact number etc. is not easily available. Chatbots can help guide users to the nearest centre and connect them to the right department, easing the process significantly. For instance, Pune Municipal Corporation’s Chatbot helps citizens in registrations and also provides online services related to health, tax, finance, birth & marriage certificate, etc.
In-built feedback mechanism makes the system interactive
A chatbot-driven messenger app can help the government accumulate grievances and address them quickly. Imagine you are travelling when you come across a potholed road. With a chatbot-powered government redressal service, you can easily upload the picture of the road and receive an immediate response regarding the registration of the complaint. You will also get timely information regarding the maintenance work being carried out and its ultimate resolution.
Transparency, efficiency, engagement and cost optimization are the key features lacking in government services today. Chatbots can help governments holistically address these problem areas, and bring about a positive transformation in the relationship between citizens and the lawmakers. Apart from the fundamental services, chatbots can help in specific domains, such as security, healthcare, emotional support, counselling etc.
At Haptik, India’s leading virtual assistance platform, we recently developed a bot that helped victims of sexual harassment and abuse to file complaints and provided assistance regarding the legal formalities, while also providing them with psychological support. In many places, chatbots have been used to provide care for the elderly, order their medicines on time, keep them connected to their near and dear ones and inform the help services in case of any emergency. The possibilities of chatbots are endless, and we can safely assume that the best conversations are yet to be said.
Aakrit Vaish is co-founder and CEO of Haptik, a leading virtual assistance platform HQed in India.
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