The first incarnation of Shelter’s bot scheme was initially conceived at a hackathon. The concept behind Sheldon, Ailsa’s predecessor, was to create a bot that would theoretically be able to answer people’s queries about private tenants’ rights in Scotland. After Sheldon, the charity went on to create ‘Ask Ailsa’. Since its launch last October, the chatbot has been used 4,380 times, which has significantly reduced the strain on the charity’s helplines.
Developed on Shelter’s standalone website, this new bot is rooted in problem-solving rather than fundraising or general awareness. It was implemented as a result of the new rules introduced around length and tenancy in regards to private tenancy e.g. how much notice a tenant had to provide and how a landlord could terminate a tenancy. The charity correctly predicted that these new rules would result in confusion for both landlords and tenants: the bot was rolled out to deal with the influx of enquiries.
Chatbot Reducing Volume of Calls
Ailsa is designed to work from a set decision tree of questions, but the charity is keen to develop the bot further. Keith Bartholomew, Senior Digital Officer at Shelter Scotland said that Ailsa was currently in stage two of development, which will introduce natural language programming and allow for a greater number of queries.
Bartholomew said of the project: “The chatbot allows people to self-serve and find out the information online, rather than phone our helpline. It has helped a significant number of people get to grips with the legislation changes, without us getting a large volume of calls to our helpline. Advisers are available to respond to more urgent queries.”
Spurred on by the success of Ask Ailsa, Shelter Scotland is running a hackathon in Edinburgh at the end of March to develop additional solutions to the current private renting situation in Scotland.