In partnership with its website provider CivicPlus® and technology provider Frase, the City of Portland is launching a 45-day trial of a new chatbot feature for its municipal website. The chatbot will appear on the portlandmaine.gov site on September 9, 2020. In light of COVID-19, citizens have been more reliant on the city’s website than ever before to help facilitate citizen requests for information, documents, and resources. City staff hope that by adding the chatbot feature, citizens will be able to receive a near-immediate response and one-click resolution to their inquiries, thus avoiding phone calls, emails, and other service request channels that are inherently more time-consuming.
The chatbot will appear as an optional pop-up window on the bottom corner of www.portlandmaine.gov in which users can ask a question, such as, “How do I register my car?” The chatbot will then provide an automated response. By relying on Frase’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology to facilitate smart responses to questions, citizens receive immediate assistance, while municipal staff members can remain focused on processing in-person transactions and other strategic service initiatives.
“We’re very excited to enter into this chatbot trial as we realize government websites can sometimes be hard to navigate because of how much information they have to contain,” said Jessica Grondin, the City’s Director of Communications and Digital Services. “Now more than ever, people are coming to our website for critical information and to complete transactions, and we want them to be able to find answers fast. The chatbot will also allow us to prompt web visitors with key reminders, such as absentee voting information. In a time when our staff resources are stretched thin, we’re hoping this is another way in which we can improve our customer service experience. We hope visitors will find it useful and provide us with critical feedback throughout the trial.”
The functionality is part of a 45-day pilot program from CivicPlus and Frase. A select group of municipalities that includes Portland will be providing feedback, including citizen utilization data, to help improve and optimize the functionality. At the end of the pilot program, the City will have the option to continue offering the chatbot as a permanent website feature.
“Communicating with residents and providing easy access to vital information and services at any time anywhere is essential to local government,” said Ryan Strait, CivicPlus Product Director of the CivicPlus Platform. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for smart technology adoption, particularly in the public sector, to help facilitate digital service interactions while citizens remain safely socially distanced. At CivicPlus, we’re seeing interest in chatbots in local government to engage citizens, make services easily accessible, and enable administrative, operational activities to free up time for more critical needs. We are excited to bring our pilot program to Portland and look forward to using its feedback to help us enhance our technology solutions to help ensure that social distancing won’t create detrimental service gaps between government leaders and their citizens.”