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Evolving Impact: How Chatbots Can Drive Real Change 

| By Perla Tannous |

When one mentions Nefaa, Lebanon’s Vehicle Registration Office, the perception is a negative one. During a recent survey, citizens were asked to describe Nefaa in one word – many responded mesh nefaa, meaning “useless” (a play on Arabic, as nefaa means useful). This revealed a wide gap between the word’s meaning and department’s image.   

In addition, the survey revealed a landscape of unanswered queries and concerns. Respondents asked numerous questions, such as “When does Nefaa open?” or “Do you think I can I complete my service today?”, demonstrating a lack of access to basic information and unclear administrative processes. At times, citizens found themselves standing in front of Nefaa, uncertain if it would even be open on that specific day. Others expressed, “I hope I’ve brought all the required documents.” This shed light on the need for clear and accessible information.  

Large clusters of exasperated citizens often waited in the heat around the Nefaa building. People told us they needed to return for two to three days to complete their car registration or other needed services. Ideally, all transactions should be completed within an hour or less. Everyone was stressed – employees, managers and customers – and it was clear that no one really wanted to be there. To get things done, money often exchanged hands on the sly, which led to even more disfunction and inefficiency for those trying to follow the rules.  

Unfortunately for many, a visit to Nefaa is the first official interaction with the Lebanese public sector. At 18 years of age, individuals can obtain a driver’s license after passing a test and submitting the proper forms. It is a poor introduction to the system, which can shape their perception for life. We realized there had to be a better way to simplify the procedures and so created the Nefaa online portal, as well as a chatbot program.   

Chatbot – one solution to improve efficiency 

A chatbot is a computer program created to mimic conversations with individuals, and it has emerged as a valuable tool for people seeking information. Like an intelligent assistant, it can answer inquiries and automatically deliver quick and accurate information so that Nefaa employees can focus on their tasks. It can manage several requests at the same time and have interactive conversations. Through the bot, people can find out about the necessary papers, availability of services, fees, and operating hours. Plus, it works around the clock.     

Our goal was to create a user-friendly chatbot that would provide clear and comprehensive assistance to the public. Gathering Nefaa’s information was not an easy task. To begin, we collected data relating to the required documents, steps to be followed, and the location for carrying out these transactions. Obtaining the information proved challenging due to the lack of official documents or guides as a reference. Consequently, we adopted an alternative approach that involved meeting with experts and employees to ensure the accuracy of our data collection process. This activity was time-consuming and required substantial effort to ensure the accuracy of the data that was gathered. 

As the collected information from employees and experts did not always align, it led to a back-and-forth process that took even more time. Nonetheless, after thorough verification by all relevant parties, we managed to compile a document containing accurate information regarding everything that was needed to complete each transaction. 

The initial mapping of currently available services was documented and completed, but there are still many others to do including the shipping of automobiles and public and private buses. Presently, the chatbot is in the development and testing phase and has the capability to understand Arabic, English, and Arabizi. Our ongoing efforts are focused on enhancing its accuracy and speed and expanding its coverage to include more services in the future.   

Final thoughts on the experience 

Looking back, the internship at Nefaa was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be a part of such an important project was incredibly eye-opening and educational. Though the challenges were many, we learned that starting at the beginning and following a structured plan can lead to a strong foundation and endless possibilities. At the end of the day, the chatbot will be used to improve the lives of thousands of customers and improve the overall experience of the citizens it serves. 

Try out the TMO Chatbot here, by clicking the icon on the lower right corner of your screen!