With a population of nearly 500,000 the City of Mesa, Ariz., is always looking for ways to streamline delivering city services to residents. For its next project, the city is partnering with Aspect Software, a provider of integrated consumer engagement, workforce optimization, and self-service solutions, on an automated, text-based consumer engagement solution.
When the chatbot goes live in June, it will give residents who are customers of Mesa’s city services basic account management mobile bill payment, and faster answers to account and basic service questions. The chatbot is based on Aspect’s CXP platform and natural language Interactive Text Response.
Mesa residents will also be able to text the bot numerous questions, including when government offices are open, how much they owe for city services, and more. Mesa worked with Aspect to code into the chatbot’s system the answers to 30 to 40 frequently asked questions.
If the chatbot is unable to answer a resident’s question, it will send users a shortened URL that directs them to a disposable optimized website. The disposable website will then reroute them to the appropriate government website. By not having residents send personally identifiable information via SMS, the city has also avoided significant security concerns regarding citizen data.
“Providing our citizens with new and more efficient ways to interact with the city exemplifies our commitment to enhancing how we connect with the community,” said Mayor John Giles. “We’re excited to roll out this innovative and easy-to-use option for our utility customers.”
Mesa turned to the chatbot to address the community’s demand for more self-service and text-based options when it came to using city services. Using an SMS-based solution gives consumers what they want, while keeping the technology simple enough for less tech-savvy citizens. Mesa plans to introduce bill reminders and service notification capabilities to the chatbot in the future.
“An interactive, text-based solution can really change the way the city communicates and interacts with its citizens,” says Joe Gagnon, Aspect’s chief customer strategy officer. “Basic text interaction has the potential of becoming the simple and central entry point to the entire customer service organization for the city and we are thrilled to be able to provide the ability to deliver intelligent, automated, interactive text solutions that will help make this a reality.”
The chatbot also logs questions it is asked so the city and Aspect can monitor the types of questions coming in. Because the bot uses a natural language engine, the city can adjust the engine to better understand the questions residents are asking. Using a natural learning engine means that the bot learns which words go together and in what order so it can better understand the myriad ways someone might phrase a question.
The city expects the chatbot to take over some of the workload previously handled by its call center and expects calls to drop significantly as citizens become comfortable with the chatbot.