Take a look at how and why the Australian Bureau of Statistics deployed its latest innovation to the 2021 Census.

Every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts the Census. The Census provides a snapshot of who we are and tells the story of how we are changing as a nation. It’s used to inform many things, from planning schools, healthcare and roads, to local services for individuals, families and communities.

This time around, you’ll see a new innovation on the Census website: Claire, the chatbot. 

Built by us (South Australian technology chatbot leader Clevertar), Claire is the Census’ first specialist chatbot. With around ten million households expected to undertake the Census in 2021, Claire will be there to help answer questions and connect Australians with what they need through guided conversation.

We’d like to officially introduce you to Claire.

Why the ABS decided to enlist Claire’s help

The Census is a tremendous undertaking with a lot of moving parts. Naturally, Australians have questions throughout the process. Lots of them. 

“A key focus for the 2021 Census is to increase the variety of support options available to the public to make it easier for people to complete the Census online or in paper form. The addition of self-service features like Claire will help to ensure that people have timely and relevant responses to their Census questions,” said Andrew Henderson, ABS Census Executive Director and national spokesperson. 

“We are doing everything that we can to ensure a positive Census experience for the Australian community,” he added.

You can see Claire in action on the 2021 Census website, on the bottom right-hand side of the screen. Here’s a bit more about how she came to be.

How Claire was built

Hosted and delivered by Clevertar, Claire is the result of an extensive process to get the chatbot content and knowledge base built. 

“Claire is a specialised chatbot; she’s an expert in all-things Census, but she makes even the trickiest questions easy to answer”, said Tanya Newhouse from Clevertar. 

1. Conversational training

Because the Census happens every five years, all culminating on Tuesday 10 August, Claire needs to be prepared to handle whatever people ask her. 

To help train Claire for more accurate and productive conversations, Claire’s knowledge base was created after reviewing the main questions asked by the public in the 2016 Census and updating this with new information about the 2021 Census.

The team trained Claire to align with what the Census Contact Centre, the Census website and the social media responses would tell people, as well as the specific questions included in the 2021 Census. Finally, user testing was conducted to ensure Claire was useful for real-life users, with continual optimisation to create a better experience.

“By drawing on previous customer enquiries and through collaboration with the ABS, Claire is able to deliver information and answers like a member of the ABS Customer Service team”, said Matt Francis, Solutions Manager at Clevertar. 

Claire can help with a range of questions about the Census. Anything from who needs to complete the Census, to how to fill in the Census form—online or on paper. 

In the beginning, Claire answered general questions and as we get closer to the Census her knowledge has expanded to include more detailed information. For example, how to answer each question on the Census form, and what to do if you are having difficulties accessing the online form.

Claire is helping us to keep our customers in their channel of choice—if they are on the website looking for assistance, Claire can help them find information and online self-service options easily.

2. Personal and conversational design

Claire links to the ‘Typical Australia story’ as identified in the 2016 Census–a 38-year-old female, married with two children who has completed year 12 and lives in a three-bedroom house with two vehicles. 

“She’s supposed to look like an average census worker, to the extent that’s possible. She’s extremely knowledgeable.  She wants people to get their questions answered while having an enjoyable experience with a pleasant and helpful assistant. The aim is for Australians to successfully complete the Census”, said Matt.

3. Equipped for a massive traffic spike

Yet, Claire also needs to account for pure volume. 

“There is a spike of volume that will happen on Census night. So we had to accommodate all of the traffic in a very short time period”, said Martin Luerssen, Chief Technology Officer at Clevertar. 

The next evolution of the Census experience 

The team at the ABS are constantly looking to improve the customer service channels they make available to the ten million households that will undertake the Census. These changes, together with new options for customer self-service, have been designed to make the Census as simple and easy to complete as possible. 

The aim is for people to find it easy to give accurate responses, an outcome that ultimately results in an increase in the quality of Census data for all Australians. 

Our Census chatbot Claire will be a part of this new 2021 experience.

“You want to have the ability to feel that somebody is looking out for you”, said Martin Luerssen, “even if it’s a computer program. We try to reflect that in the conversation the chatbot has with you”. 

Claire will help you find your answer by guiding you through a series of questions. 

Clevertar is an award-winning Australian company that provides chatbots for customer engagement, specialising in virtual characters as a conversational interface. The company was born out of research showing that conversational virtual characters are influential and engaging, and Clevertar has developed a software platform for the creation and delivery of chatbots utilising this innovative technology.

Contact us to learn more