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Popular NeRo chat of maternity and child health clinics is back – city chats provide 24/7 service

Helsinki is increasing the use of virtual customer service agents, or chatbots. Increasing the use of chatbots is based on a strategic goal, according to which Helsinki is the world’s best city providing personalised services. City residents receive the services they need at the right time and in the right place, without wasting resources. Residents are offered self-service channels that are available around the clock. Another strategic goal is for Helsinki to automate tasks with outcomes that can be anticipated. This gives employees more time to meet people

Since March, Helsinki residents have once again been served by the popular clinic chatbot NeRo. A chatbot is an AI-based program that talks with the user. The city’s Social Services and Health Care Division is planning to introduce more chatbots.

“A chatbot provides service around the clock and is often able to either answer the question right away or direct the customer to the right help and digital service. The goal is to get the widest possible content to serve the entire customer base,” says Marja-Liisa Lommi, Chief Physician in charge of digital services development.

Since last spring, residents have had access to a Helsinki-Info chatbot that answers questions about sports, exercise and outdoor recreation, and a housing search chatbot was introduced last summer to help people searching for rental housing.

Advanced and wider AI behind chatbots

The City of Helsinki is developing chatbots in cooperation with the technology company IBM Consulting. The chatbots try to answer the most frequently asked questions. The chatbots developed with IBM are based on a more sophisticated and extensive AI, so they can better understand the questions asked. Transactions with chatbots are anonymous, personal data is not requested and privacy is not compromised.

“With IBM’s Watson Assistant technology, the City of Helsinki can expand its bot network as needed. In the development of services, we also want to pay particular attention to usability and user experience,” says Mikko Salminen, Public Sector Leader at IBM.

Chatbots are taught using sample questions about the different ways things may be asked and how to answer the questions. Based on this information, the AI strives to identify the actual issue behind the customer’s question and provide the best possible response. The training of the AI, or ‘bot whispering’, is continuous, meaning that the training of the bot continues even after its introduction based on what customers ask the bot.

For now, Helsinki’s chatbots are only available in Finnish. The range of languages is to be expanded to include other languages, such as Swedish and English.

Photo: Jussi Hellstén