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

City of Williamsburg

Williamsburg, VA

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.

Topics Covered

Civic Technology
Customer Service
Process Improvement

Cost

Initial: 9 Thousand USD

Funding

General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Project Status

Operational since 2018

Gov Champion

Information Technology

Problem Addressed

The City of Williamsburg hoped to improve its customer service by using technology to immediately answer questions from residents. 

As is the case in many cities, the City of Williamsburg staff spends 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 FAQs and deliver answers to residents immediately, thereby freeing up staff time to concentrate on answering less frequent and more complicated questions from residents.

Solutions Used

Williamsburg began using an artificial intelligence chatbot to make accessing information and asking questions more convenient for residents.

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.

City staff worked to assign one number that residents would be directed 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. The 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 the 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. The 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, the system 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, the 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

Who Should Consider

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

Last Updated

May 9th, 2022
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