For anyone interested in customer service technology and the innovative ways in which businesses are interacting with customers, the concept of chatbots will be familiar. Having become a much-hyped piece of digital tech in recent years, we wanted to take a look at the ways in which chatbots may revolutionise a very particular relationship: that of local governments and students.
Chatbots – a definition
A chatbot is a type of digital application that simulates speech and conversation in order to streamline processes, improve access to services, and free up human labour. They respond to questions in a manner that’s meant to imitate conversation, providing answers to queries quickly and efficiently. In many cases, they’re designed to learn as they’re used – so their repertoire of answers grows and their ability to handle ever-more complex tasks improves with time.
Digital technology and local authorities
Local authorities employ a wide range of digital technologies in order to provide high-quality services at lower cost. One of the key ways they utilise such technologies is by finding ways to delegate simple, high volume queries to free up frontline employees to deal with more complex, nuanced queries.
Chatbots are one of a number of tools being employed to do just that. At their most basic, they are a way of quickly, cheaply, and efficiently providing accurate responses to users with simple queries. However, the technology is capable of much more than this and could be used to revolutionise local government’s relationships with certain sections of society – particularly students.
The relationship between students, their educational institution and the local authority is prone to inefficiencies. In many cases, these arise from poor access to information or due to processes that either are, or are perceived to be, time-consuming, labour-intensive and over-complicated.
For instance, when students fail to complete their ‘certificate of student status,’ they’re no longer exempt from paying council tax. When they then refuse to pay it, debt begins to accrue. In order to rectify this problem, they have to contact their local council and talk with a human advisor, who is then obliged to expend their time and resources on an issue that could easily be prevented or resolved in other, more efficient, ways.
Chatbots and students
In this particular context, chatbots may prove the perfect response. First and foremost, they employ a mode of communication that students (or people of that age group, ie. 18-25 years old) are already familiar and comfortable with. Text based communication is an incredibly common and popular form of conveying information, and is already utilised by apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. This means that there are no barriers to entry and that the vast majority of users will be capable of using the technology immediately.
Chatbots also satisfy students’ desire to access information or complete certain processes without having to communicate with a ‘real person.’ Having grown up in a society in which many aspects of their lives are automated, young people are much more comfortable with digital processes and, much of the time, would rather use a streamlined, efficient digital service, than try and work something out over the phone. In fact, recent studies show that 72% of Millennials believe a phone call is not the best way of tackling a service issue.
How will chatbots make a difference?
On a superficial level, chatbots will revolutionise services in a number of simple, but important ways. For instance, they’ll provide 24/7 customer assistance, rather than time dependant services. This is particularly useful in the context of students, who may not keep the same hours as council workers. They’ll also minimise training costs for local authorities, limit wait times and eliminate the need for queues. However, this is just scratching the surface – chatbots are capable of much, much more.
One of the key ways in which chatbots may revolutionise relationships between students and local authorities is through their flexibility. They can be tailored to meet the specific needs of different groups of people in ways that it’s very difficult to do with human employees. For instance, educational establishments with a large number of students from other countries may need to utilise chatbots that provide information in other languages. Chatbots can be adapted to particular cultural and linguistic contexts quickly and easily, making them a flexible tool for maintaining relationships with every part of the student population. This ensures no one is left behind or falls through the cracks.
To simplify complex processes
Chatbots are already being used to assist those that do not have the time, knowledge or experience to complete certain processes, and could be used to help those students who are in the same position. A key example of this type of application is the case of a chatbot designed to help people evicted from their homes, apply for a new place to live. Users respond to the chatbot’s questions with the relevant personal information and, in the end, receive a legal housing application that gives them the best possible chance of being approved. Employed in a student context, this could save an incredible amount of time, money and labour, whilst ensuring students are able to easily access those services they require. For instance, chatbots could be created to appeal or pay parking fines in student areas.
Increase civic engagement
Chatbots may also revolutionise the nature of the relationship between students, local authorities, and the local community. Student populations often occupy a strange grey area where they’re considered an important part of a town or city, but not necessarily a part of the local community. They exist in the infamous ‘student bubble.’ If local authorities can encourage greater participation and interaction with local institutions, this may become less of a problem, and may lead to greater civic engagement. For example, chatbots could be used to help students register as voters in the area.
Chatbots are in the position to revolutionise local government’s relationships with students for a number of reasons. Primarily, the structure of the technology and the way users interact with it appeals to this particular age group. Not only are they comfortable with text based communication, they often prefer to use automated self-help systems. They’re also well-suited to solving the kind of problems that commonly exist between students, their schools, and local authorities. These often aren’t complex issues requiring a great deal of thought on behalf of a human advisor, but the kind of simple problems that recur time and time again. This is where chatbots excel and why they’ll be able to revolutionise interactions between students and local authorities – they can streamline services, deliver more at lower cost and increase participation. Essentially, they’re a powerful customer tool, perfectly suited to use with student populations.