conversational AI

October 9, 2018 | By Phil Corser


Conversations require two specific aspects, people and a way to communicate. With Conversational AI (Artificial Intelligence), we now have the ability to communicate directly using technology through conversational applications, such as a Virtual Assistant.

Virtual Assistants can range from purely Transactional, to Question and Answer, and finally Companion and Social. To avoid any confusion around Conversational AI, it’s good to break down what these industry terms mean.

A Virtual Assistant is an application that understands natural language and performs tasks for the user. Think of it as a personal assistant who can perform a level of tasks based on the instructions given. In today’s connected world, this can be anything from checking the weather, getting directions, the latest news or booking an event in a calendar. This is what Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana do, for example.

Conversational AI is the term for the brains behind Virtual Assistants. Instead of a linear pre-determined question and answer approach, it offers a more sophisticated way to understand and interpret a request no matter how it’s worded using Natural Language Processing (NLP), a base form of Machine Learning. The more conversations a Virtual Assistant has, the more the Conversational AI learns, gaining the ability to derive context from the dialogue. So it gets smarter over time.

Virtual Assistants significantly improve customer experience, by helping customers obtain the information they are after more quickly, and without having to pick up the phone, wait in line, or appear in person at a council office.


Improving customer experience through Conversational AI

According to Dean Lacheca, Research Director at Gartner, 60 percent of government organisations have identified Virtual Assistants as a must-have. This fits alongside the increased expectations from the community to access local government services in new and more effective ways. For instance, obtaining information around dog registrations, querying a rates bill or applying for resource consent via virtual assistants.

As well as increasing customer satisfaction, Virtual Assistants help Local Government redistribute the resources required to respond to basic inquiries. Customers can also access a broad array of information 24/7, outside council hours. It can also have the same effect on internally delivered services, such as IT help desks, Legal and HR. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 25 percent of all customer service and support operations will use Virtual Assistants.


How can councils implement Conversational AI?

It is essential that councils get community input for any proposed conversational applications, as this will help form how it can best serve the community. Examples of feedback, include pre-existing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) documents, and website and CRM data.

Once implemented, educating the community and its stakeholders to understand how it works and the key benefits to the community, will ensure a streamlined deployment and produce effective results. An additional benefit is that these conversations can also be pulled into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, and give a more defined picture of the community that the council serves.

Conversational AI is one tool of many that has the potential to impact how councils operate in the future, and better serve their communities.  The use of conversational applications in community services may also become an indicator of how councils can leverage other emerging digital tools, such as Augmented Reality. These tools may further continue to improve the customer experience and bring an improved delivery of services to people in the community. With this increased interaction of services, we could soon see councils mirror the way the community interacts with technology in their everyday lives.

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