Redbridge Council will roll robots out to ‘other services’ after a chatbot has helped reduce customer bin calls by 25%

The bin bot has been working for Redbridge Council over Christmas. Photo:Nick Ansell

The bin bot has been working for Redbridge Council over Christmas. Photo:Nick Ansell - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

An online chatbot has helped reduce the number of telephone queries about bin collections by a quarter, freeing up busy Redbridge Council staff to focus on complex calls from residents.

The bin bot icon. Photo: Redbridge Council

The bin bot icon. Photo: Redbridge Council - Credit: Archant

The artificial intelligence (AI) bot was launched by the local authority in December 2018 to answer frequently asked questions about changes to Christmas and New Year waste and recycling collections.

Accessible from the council website homepage, it used a simple text-based interface to give users information.

New data released by the council shows the number of calls to its customer centre on refuse collections fell from 2,145 in 2017/18 to 1,595 in 2018/19 over a like-for-like three-week period – a reduction of 550 or over 25 per cent.

At its peak, on a single day the Christmas collections robot covered 1661 “conversations” through 185 unique customer sessions. Cabinet member for transformation and engagement, Councillor Helen Coomb said: “We’re really keen to find new ways to engage with our residents and improve the customer experience.

“It’s clear the chatbot has proved a real hit with our residents, who have benefited from a simple, quick and clear route to the information they need.

“Importantly, the reduction in the volume of calls to our contact centre following the launch of the bot has enabled customer service staff to concentrate on the more complex enquiries raised with us.

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“The project’s success has reinforced our belief that digital technology can improve the services we offer and we will now be looking to explore the potential of chatbots to help with our engagement.”

The bot website is part of Customer Voice – a major initiative from the council to ensure it is listening to and designing services around its customers.

The AI programme has proved so popular with residents that a similar bot was launched to answer questions about the council’s free roadside Christmas tree collections last month and the technology will be rolled out to cover other services in 2019.