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In order to have a conversation, there needs to be people and a way to communicate. With conversational AI (artificial intelligence), we can directly communicate using technology through conversational applications, such as a virtual assistant.
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 tasks based on the instructions given. In today’s connected world, this can be anything from checking the weather, getting directions or 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, predetermined question-and-answer approach, it offers a more sophisticated way to understand and interpret a request using natural language processing (NLP), a base form of machine learning. The more conversations a virtual assistant has, the more the conversational AI learns. It gains the ability to derive context from the dialogue, getting smarter over time.
Virtual assistants significantly improve CX by helping customers get the information they need quickly. Customers don't need to pick up the phone, wait in line, or appear in person to get what they need.
According to Dean Lacheca, research director at Gartner, 60 per cent of government organisations have identified virtual assistants as a must-have. This is driven by the increased expectations from the community to access local government services in new and more effective ways. For instance, getting information about dog registrations, querying a rates bill, or applying for resource consent could all be organised through virtual assistants.
Customers can access information outside council hours — 24/7. Virtual assistants can also help internally delivered services, such as IT help desks, legal, and human resources (HR).
It's essential 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 and website and customer relationship management (CRM) data.
Educating the community and its stakeholders on how conversational AI works and the key benefits will ensure a streamlined deployment and produce effective results. Conversations can also be pulled into CRM platforms and give a more defined picture of the community that the council serves.
Conversational AI 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 indicate how councils can leverage other emerging digital tools, such as augmented reality. These tools may continue to improve CX and bring an improved delivery of services to the community. With this increased interaction, we could soon see councils mirror the way the community interacts with technology in their everyday lives.