Digital Communications Through Chatbots


What is the digital maturity model?

The Chatbot is a method of artificial intelligence that is used in messaging application. The software simulates conversation and interact with users like a human would through text messages on a chat. The main task of the chatbot is to provide users with answers to their questions. The software can be integrated into different channels, such as websites or social medial platforms, depending on the need of the implementing organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the use of chatbots for humanitarian services across the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC). The incoming load of questions about COVID-19 and about the types of support offered increased drastically making it unmanageable for the staff to respond to incoming inquiries manually. NS therefore began to explore opportunities offered by chatbots and initiated their integration into communication platforms.

The Case of Georgia Red Cross

The Georgia Red Cross (GRCS), worked with an external web developer to scope ways to integrate a chatbot into their website and Facebook page to reduce the traffic of incoming messages. Nino Paatashvili, the Community Engagement and Accountability Manager at GRCS, explained that the NS wanted to materialize inquiries sent on Facebook GRCS page as a guide to develop themes and answers on a chatbot Messages received through Facebook acted as a data archive that helped the team prepare answers to frequently asked questions. This allowed the NS to make their response more effective, timely responded, and specific to the need of people affected. During the research process on how to integrate the chatbot system into the Facebook page, Mrs. Paatashvili soon discovered the limitations of the Facebook system. Amending new information for the chatbot on the platform was not felxible, that would make it difficult to teach the bot to learn from incoming data and respond to ad-hoc questions and themes. As the information sharing and receiving is changing rapidly in NS' working process, especially in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, GRCS decided to integrate the developed chatbot technology on their website. This gave them the opportunity to make the chatbot more efficient to regularly update and easier to access.

The chatbot is currently being tested by volunteers, who are providing feedback before making the chatbot public. According to Paatashvili,

in order to meet the needs of our beneficiaries and have a good product, we opted to test the chatbot on our volunteers first before making it accessible to the public.

As a result of the testing, the chatbot will be able to host answers to questions related to COVID-19, vaccination, receiving information on GRCS' different services, and ways to become a volunteer. Both the communication department and the health department were actively involved in preparing responses, making sure that all aspects of services are being covered and all potential questions can be answered. Mrs. Paatashvili believes the Chatbot will pave way for a more transparent and effective community engagement with beneficiaries in the future. She emphasized

Communicating with our beneficiaries will become more flexible and focused on their immediate need.

Mrs. Paatashvili then mentioned the adaptability of the service, making it an effective tool to address fixed inquiries as well as those particular to specific emergencies.

The Case of Armenian Red Cross

Across the border, the Armenian Red Cross Society (ARCS), have also adopted a Chatbot, mainly to manage the load of COVID-19 inquiries that the NS call center was receiving. ARCS’ preferred channel for deploying the chatbot was Facebook, as it is the most commonly used social media platform in Armenia. The Armenian Red Cross’ Facebook page has over 30,000 members. At the onset of the pandemic and similar to other NS, ARCS was manually replying to all COVID-19 inquiries that were sent through Facebook chat, which required double the efforts and resources. Nune Grigoryan, the Head of Information and Dissemination Department at ARCS, stated that the NS needed to be efficient in addressing inquiries, making the decision to integrate a chatbot on their social media platform easy. ARCS gathered data from beneficiary messages sent on Facebook to develop automatic replies and flows to those frequently asked questions. The majority of questions were related to COVID-19 support, thus the main themes categorized were on the types of support available and methods to apply for support.

Grigoryan explained how the chatbot is considered a tool that is work in progress. Most of the questions received are related to COVID-19 support, but the chatbot allows users to request other inquiries as well. She stated that ARCS is working towards advancing the chatbot tool to reach a level where all incoming questions can be answered automatically. This would be done by tracking various inquiries and integrating the questions and relative answers in the tool. Currently, the NS is still monitoring incoming questions to address new ones when they arise. Grigoryan also elaborated on how the chatbot can be used as a community engagement tool. She stated,

as users apply for support, it is important to understand their reaction and openness to receive other forms of communication, such as messages related to risk reduction.

According to Grigoryan, for the chatbot to be efficient, the development of short automatic messages is key. She added, “the beneficiary should feel as if the messages are being sent from a human rather than receiving indifferent robotic replies”. Moreover, the chatbot’s adaptability played a large role when ARCS was addressing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that took place on September 2020. Grigoryan stated that

The chatbot made it possible to react quickly. The ARCS added an additional button specifically to provide guided support to those displaced due to the conflict

Till present ARCS are evaluating and testing their automatic messages to understand the recipient’s perception and improve their service to provide a professional chatbot. To see the work in progress, find their chatbot here.

The Case of Kazakh Red Crescent

Integrating chatbots to social media platforms or websites is not the only option available. Other alternatives include instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp or Telegram. The Red Crescent of Kazakhstan (RCSK) decided to roll out a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices (KAP) durvey at the end of 2020 to understand people’s most trusted sources of information about COVID-19. The KAP survey identified the following: there was a need for accurate and trusted information on COVID-19, the trusted sources of information about COVID-19 were social media, and the widely used platform for communication was Telegram. Based on the results, RCSK launched a chatbot via Telegram that included the following sections: About us, Branches, COVID-19, Feedback and Donations. Alisher Assylbelkov, the Public Relations Specialist at RCSK described that each section contained additional sub-sections that describe the NS’s activities in more detail, e.g., myths, COVID-19 prevention measures, registration of First Aid courses and applying for support.

Currently, theRCSK chatbot has over 1,500 unique users including over 60 regular users. Assylbelkov mentioned,

making the chatbot available during the COVID-19 pandemic saved 20% of our time

He explained that because of how user friendly the chatbot is, people were using the bot to get information rather than calling into the NS centers. However, since the main audience attracted are those aged less than 40, RCSK still receive some phone calls from the older population who do not own smartphones. Additionally, Assylbelkov mentioned there is always room for improvements. RCSK is exploring the possibility to include additional information in the chatbot as well as efficiently collect and analyze data on user experiences. As this was the first digital experience for RCSK, Assylbelkov explained,

"the step we took was new but forward, with the support of our Headquarters. We are part of a new digital world that is giving us an opportunity to effectively improve our work"

Bridging the Gap Between Capacity and Need

Chatbots are becoming more relevant form of digital tool within organization and NS. They have the capacity to increase response rate while making sure the information provided is addressing a knowledge gap. Ivar Schram, the Program Coordinator for South Caucasus at the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent, stated

this new modality of communication can reach a large number of people but not all. This can bridge the gap between NS capacities and the needs of the communities

Other than improving response rates, utilizing chatbots can act as a tool to expand outreach of NS activities and services within communities by providing proactive communication messages. The tool allows NS to incorporate new digital means of communication and engagement, making it a popular among the three NS. At the moment, the chatbots are being used to alleviate NS pressure of COVID-19 inquiries, however the NS are aspiring to start using it digitally to enhance their community engagement activities. The chatbot is a perfect tool to apply in various communication projects due to its adaptability and ease of use. This is why when developing digital tools, it is important that they are versatile, ensuring their sustainability and continuous use among NS.