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Council’s bot is helping thousands of people just when they need it most

Thousands of people in Cheshire can now speak to a bot on their council’s website to get information that can help them during the pandemic.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s bot has seen a 500% rise in queries from the public about topics ranging from Coronavirus symptoms and social care, to changes to Council Tax and bin collection.

While the bot helped citizens with these queries, contact centre employees were able to spend their time contacting the 5,000 people in the area that were shielding from the virus to offer support.

The bot, called AIDA, was built by Microsoft partner ICS and uses Azure Cognitive Services to understand questions and produce answers from trusted sources of information it links to. For example, when asked about Coronavirus symptoms, AIDA will draw on eight different sources to offer the latest guidance, and link to the NHS website. It can also provide a list of pharmacies in the local area for anyone requesting medication.

Ben Cummins, Managing Director of Qwest, which runs the Cheshire West and Chester Council contact centre, said: “When we looked at the detailed logs from the bot, we saw more than 300 different questions related to Coronavirus. So, it’s important that we are able to provide accurate and reliable information to the public at this difficult time.”

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Around 5,000 vulnerable people in Cheshire & Cheshire West were told by the Government to self-isolate for three months. The council was asked to provide support for these people, so contact centre staff contacted them to organise assistance and check if they had everything they required.

However, council bosses knew they had to help every resident in the area, and so launched the bot within days to help with the increased demand from the public. Call service employees worked in tandem with the bot to ensure that the needs of all residents were met.

Michael Wignall, Director of Azure at Microsoft UK, said: “Many public sector organisations are facing significant pressure to care for the UK’s most vulnerable residents while employees are also tackling the implications of the crisis in their personal lives.

“It’s great to see Cheshire West and Chester Council use technology to alleviate some of that pressure from contact centre employees, who can spend more time supporting those who need the most help.”

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