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Citibot Announces Chatbot for Local Government Websites

The South Carolina-based chatbot company has incorporated AI and machine learning into a new website assistant for city governments, with a focus on integrating with many CRMs and handling any kind of request.

virtual robot
Shutterstock/Golden Sikorka
While government workers across the United States are still relying on telework, trying to maintain digital services and answer citizen questions remotely, South Carolina-based chatbot company Citibot has prepared a new tool to help city websites handle questions and service requests.

CEO Bratton Riley said next week the company will launch Citibot Web Chat, a built-in Web assistant that’s virtually open-ended in what kinds of questions in can answer. He said it’s the only chatbot he’s aware of that integrates with a wide range of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and addresses any type of customer service request, as opposed to being constrained to certain topics like if/then scenarios or COVID-19.

“You can send any service request you have, any comments, any feedback, any type of communication that a resident’s going to have with local government … and if we don’t answer your question, you can send it in and government will respond to it,” Riley said. “To a certain degree it mirrors our text chat product that we officially launched three years ago, but it’s designed for the website … because as we all know, local government websites can be difficult to navigate, because they have so much content on them.”

As with the company’s other automated communication tools such as Text Chat and Interactive Text Alerts, Riley said, Web Chat’s value proposition is to improve customer service by not putting people on hold or asking them to wait for an email back, and save government staff time in answering questions.

Chatbots have become increasingly familiar staples of digital government over the past decade, not only in giant agencies in New York or Los Angeles but for niche functions like IT questions in North Carolina, tax assistance in Kansas and procurement questions in El Paso.

Riley said Citibot has 23 government clients in various states, ranging in size from Fort Worth, Texas, with almost 900,000 people to South Bay, Fla., with roughly 5,000. He attributed the new Web Chat tool’s versatility to artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing built up over years of working with government.

“[AI] helps us figure out what type of communication the resident wants to have — are they asking a question, are they sending a service request, do they just need to communicate a message or feedback?” he said. “And then with AI, we pre-built in conversational language that’s continuously training itself to get better with all the different types of communications that would come in from a resident to a local government.”

Hoping to democratize the use of smart assistants like chatbots for local government, Riley said cities don’t need much to make Web Chat work: Citibot can integrate it with whatever CRM or workflow management platform a city already has, or connect them with a free platform by Trello.

“[Web Chat] is designed for a government of any size, because with AI, we’re not volume-restricted,” he said. “The larger the city, the more technology they’ll have for us to integrate into. For smaller cities, we integrate into Trello for them, which they then use as a CRM system, which is free. For smaller cities, we help them get in the game with possibly their first system they’re using to holistically manage communications and service requests.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.