Have you updated your content strategy and customer channels to meet growing demand for customer service in messenger apps? 

Brace yourself local govvers, there’s a new ‘let’s build an app for that’ in town and it goes by the name of ‘get me a chatbot’. I hear your groans, your weary sighs. But wait – before you start reinforcing your defences with those unused QR code stickers ready to fight the inevitable onslaught of ‘ooh, shiny’ driven requests it’s worth noting user behaviour is already changing in favour of this emerging tech. This request may not be entirely wide of the mark…

For while we’re all heads down trying to survive another busy day of doing more with less, over the horizon is hoving artificial-intelligence powered chatbots and we’re already at a point where it’s a real possibility they could take over websites, and social media, as user preference in the not-too-distant future. That’s right – you’ve just got your head around your social media presence and the landscape is changing and you need to be prepared to adapt.

What is a chatbot?

Here comes the science…

It’s a service which works inside your text messaging app and uses rules and artificial intelligence to do your bidding. And when we talk about artificial intelligence we don’t just mean following a script, or dealing with a limited set of problems; we’re talking about chatbots which will ‘think’ dynamically and try to solve any problem presented to it.

They bring digital experiences closer to the real world as users don’t have to learn an interface, or search, or navigate, or click back and forth – they simply type what they want in the messenger app and the bot brings it to them, talking to them as if it were a real person.

Ok, the tech might still be in early phases and you probably haven’t noticed loads of these bots around but they are coming and they’re likely to impact on your digital and customer service plans.

Who’s using chatbots?

For the first time the amount of people using messenger apps has overtaken the number who are using social media. There’s 1 billion people using Facebook Messenger every month now, in fact it is faster growing that the main platform. People are choosing to use messenger apps – like Facebook Messenger, text messages and Slack – more than they are choosing other activities online. It might not be a wholesale shift yet, it may reverse, but right now it’s growing as fast as the tech behind it is developing.

In short – your current citizens may be moving toward it, your future citizens (and we’re talking maybe five years away) are almost certainly going to be using it. Don’t agree? How quickly did people pick up Siri and Alexa and make them not the stuff of sci-fi but the everyday tech of today?

Chatbots for local government

At the moment you probably have a number of customer channels – possibly face to face; maybe kiosks;  almost certainly a contact centre handling phone, email and text; a website; some social media. You have probably tried to migrate users toward the one which is most efficient for the business, and if you’re offering empathy as a side order to your cost savings you might be channelling users toward the most appropriate for a given service or need (because you know that being appropriate leads to efficiency rather than do-overs or abandoned customer journeys – also we’re all people and not the bottom line on an accounting spreadsheet).

Chatbots – not right now, but not too far in the future – offer you the most natural customer service channel and one which is both efficient and scalable. A single chatbot can handle multiple enquiries at a time, and it uses the most natural interface of all – language. No buttons or clicks – open the messenger app, send the message and get an instant reply.

No more number or text controlled trees to navigate through before speaking to someone on the phone, no more searching and finding your way through websites, or sending an email and hoping it reaches the right person. Chatbots are set to be faster than web or mobile apps, easier to use and – as technology develops fast – able to understand each enquiry totally. We’re heading into Matrix territory as chatbots are also set to be able to learn from each interaction so they can better ‘talk’ to the next person that comes along.

And what about beyond customer services? Perhaps there is a place for chatbots in your service delivery. Those initial social care enquiries limited on channel shift at the moment due to the complexity of needs and needing clarity from people, needing them to slot their needs into very narrow parameters. What if they didn’t – what if they could type / speak to a chatbot which would speak back to them naturally, and ask questions based on the unexpected condition or circumstance they just raised, what if it could start building a package across care, health, finance, and other support as its talking to them? What if you could be handling dozens of these conversations at the same time? It’s a panacea I’m painting, of course, but there are real possibilities around this technology – ones local government is probably mostly unaware of at the moment.

 

In an article last year Matt Schlicht described the future with chatbots: “In the future, talking to a bot will be like talking to a real person who has instant access to entire databases of information and can process your thoughts and desires instantly.”

That future isn’t too far away so if you’re planning a digital, customer access, or a communications strategy it might be time to become aware of this shifting user behaviour and emerging technology because at the speed things move it could easily be a future which is here before your strategy lands.

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I’m a freelance digital content strategist offering a range of services across transformation, leadership, digital delivery and training – take a look at the ways we could work together and get in touch.