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Federal Agencies Must Start Chatbot Development Now to Reap Future Benefits

Chatbots, which use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to understand a visitors question or “intent, can greatly improve customer service for federal agenciesBut agencies lag in the adoption of chatbot technologies. 

Chatbots are already providing more nuanced responses, 24/7, to customer/citizen inquiries than FAQs and simple keyword searches. But while private-sector adoption has moved swiftly, the public sectoadoption rate is slower,” according to Chatbots Magazine. 

“All organizations face challenges in adopting new technologies. However, public entities tend to be less agile than their private sector counterparts, owing in part to their established practices and processes,” writes Julián Torres Santeli, a government AI expert at Deloitte, and Sabine Gerdon, an AI fellow at the World Economic Forum. 

Santeli and Gerdon, writing for the World Economic Forum, identify five barriers: 

  • A rudimentary understanding of data assets. 
  • Short supply of data and AI skills. 
  • A fragmented AI environment. 
  • Lack of agility to move from legacy cultures. 
  • The need for customization 

Government faces significant challenges for widespread AI adoption. Contrary to the popular belief that technology is the main roadblock, technical challenges form just part of the task at hand, and this is the most straightforward part to address. Culture and processes, both ingrained in organizations, also need adjustment before AI can be fully exploited. 

Agencies also have ethical and liability concerns, according to a recent TechTank article from Brookings. “Building chatbots that are ethical will become an important issue, and public agencies should think creatively about the rules and regulations governing their use.” 

Chatbots Pave the Way for Future AI Development 

Despite the challenges, chatbots can pave the way for the public sector to adopt artificial intelligence, according to Brookings. In Highlight’s work with federal agencies, chatbots are providing several advantages. Chatbots can: 

  • Free up limited government employees to manage more complex questions and requests. 
  • Provide citizens with more personalized services. 
  • Provide ease of 24/7 access that citizens now demand. 
  • Reduce the complexity of government policies and documents. 
  • Obtain more public feedback on policy issuesevents, government services, legal and regulatory questions, and much more. 

While the private sector remains ahead in the development of chatbot technology, its worth noting Forrester study commissioned by Ada. It finds that only 21 percent of firms say that customer experiences are highly personalized today. However, two-thirds say they have plans in place to have more highly personalized interactions within two years. 

On the horizon are more advanced tools that have the functional capabilities to understand customers, their histories, and other contextual inputs – all useful to clarify intents. 

“AI-powered chatbot technologies that can be customized and operated by CX teams must be embraced,” the study notesThese technologies will integrate into the larger business tooling infrastructure and more efficiently offer a high degree of personalization, leading to more satisfied, engaged, and loyal customers.” 

The key is to start chatbot development now rather than wait for the perfect chatbot tools to arriveHighlight’s experience is that it takes time to get stakeholder buy-in, to agree on nomenclaturetopic categories, and the appropriate level of detail, to set up alpha and beta tests to analyze customer intents and to integrate the chatbot with website pages. 

The bottom line: Citizen customers expect to have highly personal and contextual interactions available 24/7. 

“AI-powered chatbot technologies that can be customized and operated by CX teams must be embraced,” Forrester concludes. “These technologies will integrate into the larger business tooling infrastructure and more efficiently offer a high degree of personalization, leading to more satisfied, engaged, and loyal customers.” 

As stated by a forward-looking agency-client working with Highlight to develop a chatbot, it is critical to get started now so that the agency chatbot can organically grow in sophistication as more tools become available and the UX operation becomes more sophisticated. Otherwise, your agency will be left behind. 


Author: Barry Lawrence | Senior Communications Consultant