The 5 Most Popular Use Cases for Government Agencies Using Conversational AI
The 2020 Digital Counties Survey found that around 25% of government officials said their website was already using chatbots, and a whopping 39% said they were ready to start in the next 18 months. These findings represent a massive shift in the sentiment towards conversational AI in the public sector, but in many ways, this shift isn't a surprise.
Why are Government Agencies Adopting Conversational AI?
In a broader sense, the primary reason why government agencies are increasingly interested in adopting conversational AI technologies lies in the nature of government websites. Government websites are unlike other websites in many ways:
- Abundance and diversity of information: Government websites have to host a vast range of information - everything from the opening times of your local library to how to contact the authorities for a serious crime.
- Plain English: Most countries require government agencies to convey information in plain English. This means doing away with jargon and legalese in an effort to ensure almost everyone who reads the information can understand it. If you need a dictionary to understand what you're reading, then the website is failing.
- High accuracy standard: If an E-commerce site accidentally cites incorrect information, people might joke about it on Twitter, but ultimately, the damage isn't enormous. For a government agency website, inaccurate information can cause considerable amounts of confusion and stress to readers.
- Vulnerable to public criticism: Leading on from the last point, small mistakes are incredibly costly in the public sector.
Okay, so what does the nature of public sector websites tell us about the adoption rate of conversational AI? Let's break it down.
Traditionally, government agencies have been slow to adopt new technologies, and they often face criticism for this. However, looking at the points above, it starts to make sense. Because government agencies need to achieve a near-perfect (or perfect) level of accuracy, they have to ensure complete control over all information on the website. Information needs to be carefully vetted by multiple people before it's uploaded onto the site. When you factor in the extreme cost of public criticism if they get it wrong, it's easy to see why government agencies are cautious when it comes to adopting new technologies.
It's also important to remember the function of government agencies in conveying the information on their websites. Their goal isn't to simply info-dump but instead to arm citizens with the information they need to take action. A critical element of taking action is having trust in the information you view. If government websites have inaccuracies, this erodes public trust.
On the point of plain English, government agencies need to ensure that the information on their website is easily understandable to the majority of the public. This includes people of different education levels, demographics, and cultural experiences. The National Health Service (NHS) website in the UK is an excellent example of the power of plain English. Members of the public can look at their symptoms or find fact sheets on almost any medical ailment or condition. For example, if you look up the page on the Common Cold, it lists "runny nose" as a symptom, rather than "excess nasal mucus". These terms mean the same thing, but a higher proportion of people are likely to understand the former over the latter.
When it comes to conversational AI in the public sector, plain English is a vital requirement. Conversational AI bots not only have to understand what the user means but have to find the relevant information and then present it in a way that can be understood.
So, Why Now?
So far, we've looked at the hurdles of conversational AI in the public sector. Still, we also know that sentiment has shifted in recent years - more government websites than ever before are deploying conversational AI. So, what gives? Why now?
Put simply, conversational AI has come a long way from the clunky chatbots people remember from ten or even five years ago. With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning (ML), conversational AI software can now expertly handle vast amounts of data and provide meaningful results every time.
In many ways, advanced conversational AI is a perfect fit for government websites. A significant challenge citizens face when trying to navigate government websites is finding the correct information. We're sure most people can think back to a time where they had to click through endless government web pages to find the relevant information. There could be 10+ pages on one topic alone, and each of those pages branches off to a related subject. Even for tech-savvy people, finding what you need can be a challenge. Conversational AI eliminates this problem by finding the relevant information for citizens through natural and intelligent conversation.
Now we're all caught on how the adoption of conversational AI is skyrocketing in the public sector; it's time to look at the five top use cases.
- Taxation and Fines
Tax is one of the primary reasons citizens find themselves on a government website, and it's fair to say the process can be stressful and confusing. A few years ago, a rumor went viral - That the US federal tax code was an eye watering 70,000 pages long! A little research will tell you that this is false, and the actual page count stands at around 2,600. Although 2,600 is considerably smaller than 70,000, it's still not a small number. Furthermore, according to the Tax Foundation, the rate of tax complexity has skyrocketed since the 1986 tax simplification reforms.
Of course, most people don't have to read the whole tax code to file their tax returns and pay their tax, but they may have to read parts of it. Finding which parts to read based on their financial situation can be confusing.
Conversational AI excels in this area because it can search and return information relevant to the conversation while eliminating unnecessary information. The bots also excel at speeding up the tax process. For example, here are some of the most common questions citizens have around tax:
- Do I have any dependants?
- When will my tax refund arrive?
- What happens if I can't make the tax filing deadline?
- Can I take the home office deduction if I work from home?
- Are my unemployment benefits taxable?
Finding the most up-to-date answers to these questions by trawling the government website can be taxing (excuse the pun!). By contrast, a conversational AI bot can provide this information instantly. Perhaps their greatest benefit is eliminating the friction in the taxation and fining process. Many people are hit with fines for failing to file their taxes on time, and the current friction of the process is a significant reason for this. When systems have substantial friction built-in, people often feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or anxious about the process and put it off.
- Local Services
Often people access government websites to find more information about local services in their area. This can include things like:
- Postal services.
- Local libraries (opening times, membership).
- Solid waste management (trash or garbage collection and recycling).
- Police services.
- Weather information.
Since this information is specific to counties and often falls under local regulations, finding the information through search can be challenging. If you live in a small community, you might have to travel for some of these services, and it may not be obvious where your closest services are.
Engaging with the current system may seem needlessly complex and fruitless for people in smaller towns and counties. After all, if users have to click through multiple pages for bigger cities and more comprehensive services, they may give up. With conversational AI, users from all areas can experience the same level of speed, accuracy, and efficiency in getting the information they need. Connecting people with local services can significantly improve quality of life and community engagement.
Additionally, conversational AI can learn what information is most important to people in certain areas through machine learning. For example, if a specific area is experiencing frequent droughts and water shortages, the AI can offer additional information on this topic to users. This not only ensures that people get the answers they need but also ensures they stay up to date with the critical information in their local area.
- Social Services and Healthcare
Much like taxation, social services and healthcare are some of the highest traffic areas of government websites. Citizens might want to find information about where they can locate doctors, hospitals, and care facilities. They might want to learn about health insurance, medications, mental health, vaccines, and more. Or they might want to find information about disability services or housing.
In this area, the need for conversational AI, or even just basic chatbots, has been known for some time. However, in the US, the way services like Medicare, child welfare, and unemployment are structured means there's little communication between teams. And this is true for many countries around the world. When it comes to engaging with many social and health services, there's no one-stop shopping. This presented a significant problem - these teams need to communicate, but how?
Well, COVID-19 came along and solved the "how". In a world where people were in critical need of social and health information, three-fourths of state governments deployed chatbots to answer questions on unemployment insurance, COVID, and other spikes in inquiries. The pandemic became the push these agencies needed to ensure critical information could be collated and communicated. As we move to a post-pandemic world, we now have a blueprint for how government agencies can do this.
Furthermore, we also have increasingly advanced conversational AI. Breaking down the silos of information was the roadblock. Now that it has been overcome, it's time to feed this information into advanced conversational AI that can serve the public at an even higher level.
Reducing friction in the access of healthcare and social services is paramount. Conversational AI has the potential to deliver life-saving information quickly and accurately.
Education is one of the most essential services the state provides its citizens. Knowing what schools your child has access to, what requirements need to be met, or what vocational courses are available to adults is essential. What school you choose or what course you attend can change the course of your life forever, so having access to all the necessary information has never been more critical.
With conversational AI, the public can find instant answers to questions like:
- What financial aid can I get to help pay for school?
- What do I need to provide for my local college application?
- Where can I learn English?
- How can I attend college?
- Where can I get help repaying student loans?
- Where can I find national archives?
Through specific questions, the AI can find the information relevant to the user's specific situation. For example, the help you can get for student loan repayment might vary from area to area, or the college admittance requirements might also vary. When users are tasked with searching this information themselves, they might accidentally stumble on a page with information for a different area, not realizing that information doesn't apply to their situation.
- Scams and Consumer Issues
It's a sad reality that scammers are out there trying to deceive honest people into parting with their money or personal information. Some scams are so sophisticated that even tech-savvy people are fooled, and others are specifically targeted towards vulnerable people. Many people don't know what to do after being scammed, but most governments have websites to provide advice and help for these situations. These government websites are extremely valuable because they include the most up-to-date information from security authorities but are presented in an easy-to-understand way.
Beyond scams, the public can also find critical information on consumer issues like recalled products, how to file complaints, state consumer protection laws, and unwanted mail or telemarketing calls.
There are several benefits to conversational AI in government websites specializing in scams and consumer issues:
- Due to the nature of scams, people often don't know what to search for. Scams are designed to deceive and confuse. Conversational AI has a much tighter understanding of scams and can connect the user with the right solution.
- Consumer law is complex, and people often don't know where to begin.
- Unfortunately, some consumer websites intentionally obscure the complaints process, making it difficult to file a complaint. Governments provide critical information on how to get through to companies behaving nefariously. Often there's a time limit on filing a complaint, so connecting people with the correct information quickly is essential.