JUNE 15, 2021

A citizen-centric chatbot to drive small, problem solving actions for a BIG change

By Abhishek Sharma

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Several months ago Reap Benefit adopted Glific as their chatbot solution. They were one of the early adopters. However, it was not their first off with chatbot technology, they came from a background of vast experiments and explorations. Their nature of work involves creating a short, medium and long term engagement with the common citizens. Reap Benefit motivates them towards actions to solve common problems of the society. The goal is to snowball small steps into making huge progress.

In 3 months, onboarding 30K beneficiaries while getting survey responses from about 27K of them has made it a really significant achievement. Going from onboarding 17K citizens in 6 months to 30K citizens in 3 months. “Glific has provided a really simple, customizable tool to meet most of our use cases,” said Gauthamraj, who is leading the chatbot program at Reap Benefit. “This is a big achievement for us. We’re planning to onboard 50K more citizens” he said, sharing their near future plans.

We had a conversation with Gauthamraj, who’s been working with Reap Benefit for the last 3 years. He joined RB because he felt there’s a magical mix of tech youth, citizen engagement, and an opportunity to bring systemic and policy related changes. A WhatsApp based chatbot has turned out to be instrumental in his journey. Read on to know how:

Abhishek: Can you tell us about the programs you’re running on Glific?

Gauthamraj: We are running several programs on Glific. Three main ones are: 

a. Our flagship bootcamp with school and college students. Before the pandemic we used to visit them on location and spend about 10-15 hours over the year and help them go through the process of problem solving. Now due to covid, we need to do it online and hence we are carrying out the entire program on whatsapp chatbot.

b. Working in collaboration with partners such as Punjab govt. and running specific campaigns with them.

c. Other social campaigns like primary healthcare mapping at vaccination centers to collect citizens’ experiences.

One big advantage with Glific is how a keyword determines the conversation flow a person will be in. This allows us to cater to different programs, different types of people, and in multiple languages.

A: Why was the whatsapp chatbot a good way to run your programs? Did you try anything else?

G: The chatbot allows us to run multiple programs, provide access to information that is meaningful for them, nudge them into taking action instantly, and provides a platform to record the same. All of this for us, happens on the chatbot itself.

In 2018, we built our own app. It was native mobile app called the Solve Ninja app. But we felt that for our target citizens especially the youth of 12-25yrs, the app was a big friction. Motivating them to take problem solving action itself is a big friction. Getting them to download the app, register was a big challenge.

A: How did you initiate the program?

G: We did a couple of pilots to understand how comfortable people are in terms of using the bots. We did multiple rounds of iterations in terms of accessing data, how comfortable and effective a particular message is. Due to the nature of our work – the flagship program, we reach out to the youth. The reach was increased by our partners. 

At first the approach we took was to create posters and get people to save our number on their phone and send us a message. This didn’t work out. Over time we were able to figure out a customizable link which did wonders. People just had to click on the link and the conversation would start. 

We have created nice modules, the first module captures demographic details, the second one captures the problem solving intent, and the third one gets them to take an action then and there.

Operationally, we onboarded a few interns who drove the chatbot further for us. Since our direction and goal of the program was defined. On the budget front, since Glific is pay per use & messaging costs are upfront, we estimated & set a budget for that.

A: How are you creating engagement with your users?

G: We realised from our experiments that whatever we build should be in service of the target audience. This was one of the mistakes we made earlier. Ex. Our impact report needed certain x, y, z info. But for people those x, y, z, didn’t mean anything. We realised that our engagement had to be centered around the audience. We focused on the common citizen that doesn’t have any idea about Reap Benefit but wants to explore the bot. This increases engagement and adoption for us. I believe this is also the most important part of running the bot too.

A: Did you face any challenges along the way?

G: These days most people have access to WhatsApp. We are aware that some people still might not have it. But with volunteers we are able to help those who don’t. So not much challenge there.

I feel it was mostly to do with the literacy and use of the bot. As I mentioned earlier, we have set up keywords to trigger specific conversation with different segments of users. Now, while starting some people would change the keyword or simply delete it and enter their own message. This would cause the flow to not trigger. We later resolved it by sending instructions while sharing the number.

A: How did Glific benefit your programs?

G: The main thing was customizations. The ease of access to the data because the backend is so accessible and we’re able to build any type of analytics that we want. 

Using Glific is as simple as connecting blocks. I was able to switch from a fully operational role to a tech enabled role. The list of available features allowed us to meet most of the use cases from the ground. This makes Glific special. 

And it’s backed by an open source community!

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