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AI-powered chatbot answers 79% of residents' questions without assistance from city staff

Williamsburg, VA, USA
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Citibot
Contact Partner

Goverment Champion

Information Technology

Cost

Initial:
9 Thousand USD

Project Status

Operational since 2018

Keywords

accessibility
mobile app
website
chatbot
Automation

Challenges Addressed

Citizen Engagement
Civic Technology
Customer Service
Process Improvement

Motivation

Smart city
Equitable city

Funding / Financing

General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Project Type

Service

At a Glance

The City of Williamsburg is using an AI-powered chatbot to provide better customer service and more communication options (including text messaging) for its residents and visitors to engage with the city.

Problem Addressed

As is the case of many cities, City of Williamsburg staff spend a tremendous amount of time answering resident questions. Many, many times the questions could be described as FAQ - very similar questions about the same topics, over and over. The City of Williamsburg hoped to use technology to automatically answer these FAQ and deliver answers to residents immediately, thereby freeing staff time up to concentrate on answering residents’ less frequent and more complicated questions.

City of Williamsburg used/is using Citibot text chat to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Williamsburg started using text chat (text messaging) and artificial intelligence (AI) in March 2018 as a way for people to search for city information, ask questions and report issues regarding common city services including trash pickup, potholes and street light outages.

Citibot worked with city staff to assign one number that their residents would be directed to to text to use the new service. Text chat is done entirely through the existing text message app on residents phones, so there is no need for them to download anything from the app store. To get started, all a resident has to do is text the word "Hello" and they receive an immediate response with a greeting from the city of Williamsburg with further instructions (as seen in the attached image).

The chatbot is meant to interact with residents in a conversational manner and can be used to search for city information or submit a work order request that is directed to public works. Citibot's system has been integrated into the city's existing workflow so staff can seamlessly address these issues from one central system.

If a resident conducts a search through Citibot's platform and the chatbot does not provide a response that addresses their question, they then have the option to submit a custom message via text message and it is then dropped into the staff workflow for someone from the corresponding department to address. Citibot's technology will collect the resident's contact information to give staff the option to follow up via live text chat, call or email.

Once any issues or messages received have been completed by city staff, Citibot automatically sends that resident a text message to let them know their request has been closed by the City of Williamsburg.

Outcomes

  1. Since launching, Citibot's text chat has answered 79% of residents' questions instantaneously without requiring assistance from the city's staff.

Lessons Learned

  1. AI technology allows the city to answer citizen's questions automatically, allowing employees to spend time on other beneficial projects.
  2. 38% of residents who texted in were looking for city or staff information
  3. 24% of requests made were related to recycling
  4. 10% of interactions were about parking issues

Something Unique

The City of Williamsburg also plans to embed Citibot's new web chat feature on their website in spring 2020 to help residents navigate content and have a better web experience. They will be in Citibot's group of beta customers.

Who Should Consider?

Cities and counties who are looking for tools to help reduce staff workload, automate responses to questions and issue reporting.

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