Expectations of citizens for all service providers have changed, including governments. As governments worldwide seek ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs, chatbots have emerged as a promising solution. These artificial intelligence-powered software programs can handle various tasks, from answering basic questions to processing transactions and providing information on governmental services. 

In this blog, we'll look at the current state of chatbots in governmental organisations, predict what we can expect in 2023 and beyond, and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of chatbot implementation for government agencies. Whether you're a government employee looking to learn more about chatbots or a decision-maker considering their use, this blog is for you!

The usage of chatbots within governments has come a long way in recent years, with many agencies worldwide successfully implementing these intelligent software programs. As Gartner’s 2021 hype cycle predicted, chatbot applications will find a stable place in the digital landscape in the coming years.

Chatbots have been used for various purposes, including answering frequently asked questions, providing information on governmental services, and even processing transactions. While there have been some challenges in implementing chatbots, such as the need for human oversight and the potential for errors, many government agencies have found that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. As chatbot technology advances, we can expect even more widespread adoption in the coming years.

So, what can we expect to see in the future of chatbots in government? Here are a few predictions for 2023 and beyond:

1. Widespread adoption and specific usage: As more and more government agencies see the benefits of chatbots, we can expect to see even greater adoption of these programs in the coming years. This could include using chatbots for a wider range of tasks, such as handling appointments and processing requests. Furthermore, governments are expected to deploy highly-specific chatbots for specific purposes. For example, a chatbot that will gather citizens' opinions about a road construction project or a bot for internal usage.

2. Improved technology: As chatbot technology continues to advance, we can expect to see improvements in the capabilities and reliability of these programs. This could include the development of more sophisticated natural language processing algorithms and the ability to handle more complex tasks and interact more naturally with users. Take ChatGPT as an example: it helps users with answering complex questions in a human-like manner.

3. Greater integration with other technologies: Chatbots will become increasingly integrated with other technologies, such as appointment scheduling software and order systems. In this way, bots don’t only inform their users but also handle governmental processes such as the application for a new passport.

4. Increased focus on customer experience: As chatbots become more prevalent in government, agencies will likely place a greater emphasis on ensuring a positive customer experience. This could include efforts to improve the usability and effectiveness of chatbot programs and educate users on how to interact with chatbots effectively.

While predictions and trends help understand the future of chatbots in government, it's also valuable to look at real-world examples of how these programs have been implemented and their results. Let’s look at a few case studies of government agencies that have successfully implemented chatbots and the benefits they've seen. These examples provide a glimpse into the potential of chatbots to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and better serve constituents.

1. Dutch municipality assistant “Gem” (The Netherlands)

In the Netherlands, many municipalities have similar processes for handling services and products for their citizens. To address this, a project team developed a governmental assistant stack that includes bot software, a CMS platform, and infrastructure. This solution allows municipalities to easily implement a virtual assistant that can handle various tasks for their citizens without requiring each municipality to build and maintain its chatbot. This is a huge benefit as it doesn't cost extra time and work for the governmental organisations themselves. They only need to provide variables, such as product prices; the project team takes care of the rest.

As a result, over 20 Dutch municipalities with a population of over 1.5 million, including Utrecht, Rotterdam, and Tilburg, have integrated the assistant on their website. The adoption of this chatbot solution is steadily growing as more and more municipalities see the benefits of implementing a bot to streamline their operations and better serve their citizens. Moreover, implementing the assistant significantly reduced pressure on the livechat channel.

You can try “Gem” on the website of the participating municipalities, such as www.utrecht.nl.

2. Chatbot “Bertje” of the city of Roeselare (Belgium)

The Bertje project aims to create a chatbot that can answer a wide range of general questions about the City of Roeselare and provide relevant links to the website. Bertje is designed to handle a variety of questions through the use of artificial intelligence and natural language processing. At the end of March 2021, the bot was added as an additional, structural customer contact channel.

Bertje was initiated with funding of the European Interreg project Like!. Also, Microsoft gave the IT partner funding for this. Because of that support (e.g. funding) it gave the city time to experiment with a chatbot. With IT partner "Arinti", the bot was eventually developed, with Microsoft software functioning as a base CMS. Next to helping citizens with their FAQs, the chatbot implementation also resulted in a check-up of the Roeselare website. During the content making, the employees needed to provide links to the website, which sometimes revealed outdated information or web pages that couldn’t be found. Currently, the content and bot logic is adjusted or added by employees of Roeselare, which is beneficial because they can add content quickly and flexibly. However, it is also time-consuming to do this, which needs commitment. Every year there is a review moment to decide whether and how to proceed with the chatbot project.

You can try “Bertje” on the website of the city of Roeselare.

3. Virtual assistant of the municipality of Kortrijk (Belgium)

The municipality of Kortrijk recently started the development of a virtual assistant for their website. The main goals of the presence of the assistant are 1) decreasing pressure on traditional customer contact channels and 2) allowing citizens to 24/7 ask questions to their municipality. Contact Center 1777, the central point of contact for Kortrijk's 75,000 residents, has the slogan "1000 questions, 1 address".

The project consists of two stages. Stage one, which is already realised, replaces the current search functionality with semantic search. This allows visitors to search the website using full sentences, such as “How much do garbage bags cost?”. Subsequently, users will find the exact spot with the correct answer on the website.
The second stage compromises the integration of this semantic search functionality within a conversational interface. Instead of the traditional search bar, the bot will now provide the correct information to the users in a conversational way.

A vital subject of the project is to prevent the creation of duplicated content, which is the reason for using semantic search technology. Besides providing answers to low-complex questions, the goal is to implement more complex logic, such as enabling people to log in with their “citizen e-profile” and providing personalised information, such as the status of an ongoing request.

Furthermore, there most likely won’t be integration with Whatsapp or Messenger due to privacy concerns. Citizens don’t like to talk about personal information with their government over Whatsapp. Because of this, another project extension would develop its mobile application in which the assistant is available.

4. Chatbot of the municipality of Aalter (Belgium)

Between 2019 and 2020, the Belgian municipality of Aalter used a chatbot. The website's chatbot was designed for citizens to connect with their municipality easily.

About 80% of all citizen questions covered a limited number of topics, such as opening hours, contact information, road works, event info, making appointments, building regulations, travel documents, address changes, sitting days, premiums and subsidies. The chatbot could automatically and 24/7 answer these questions via a choice menu and through open questioning. There was also a link to a road work database and a mobility database to request information about this.

On average, the chatbot was used around 350 times per month. Although the chatbot worked well initially, it eventually became too time-intensive to add questions and answers to the database, especially because it needed to be linked to the website's database. This was mainly a problem during rapidly changing communication due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The chatbot did have some advantages, such as the fact that citizens could contact the municipality 24/7, simple questions could be channelled through the chatbot (instead of through traditional channels), and it ensured transparency. However, the disadvantage was that it required staff input, that it was an accessible channel which meant more questions came in, and that it was less suitable for open, specific questions.

In conclusion, the future of chatbots in government looks bright (and slightly robotic). From handling transactions to answering frequently asked questions, these artificial intelligence-powered programs have the potential to revolutionise the way government agencies serve their constituents. 

So if you're a government employee or decision-maker, don't be afraid to embrace your inner robot and consider the potential benefits of chatbots for your organisation. And if you do, just remember to oil your gears from time to time and resist the urge to short-circuit when things get tough. Happy chatbotting!