A Chatbot that Supports Bay Area Community of Formerly Homeless Youth & Families
The Alameda Point Collaborative’s new text message system provides streamlined support for 500+ formerly homeless youth, families, and individuals by shortening the filing process for reporting issues, increasing accessibility, and allowing for greater transparency as problems are addressed.
Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) is a Bay Area nonprofit providing the largest supportive housing community in Alameda County. Utilizing former military housing, APC is a vibrant community of 500 residents, all of who have previously experienced homelessness. On-site educators, counselors, and case managers provide hands-on support for residents to remove barriers to stability. APC residents actively work to create a flourishing community through collective action such as community meetings and autonomously managing their affairs. By providing unwavering support and resources to their residents, APC works to break the vicious cycle of poverty and housing insecurity.
With residents actively participating in the continued development of the community, Alameda Point Collaborative developed a complaint system for residents to bring up issues to leadership staff. The previous system was outdated and lacked key functionality. Residents used paper to write their complaints and dropped them off in a box at the office. From there, staff would file the papers in a binder to be processed later. Under this system, the complaint process lacked transparency and responsiveness. It was also impossible for the community to gain insights into the complaints, such as repeat offenders, systemic issues, or commonly reported housing orders.
In a partnership with Exygy, APC sought to modernize and simplify the complaint system. By digitizing the complaint process, they would be able to respond to resident requests promptly, create trackable tickets for each complaint, answer concerns automatically, and collect large-scale data for decision-making within the community. A digital process would also make the submission process more accessible for members of the community to participate in, and for administrators to track and manage.
If you aren’t familiar with Exygy’s approach, we always begin our projects with research that centers on users’ needs, goals, and experiences. APC was no different — we conducted extensive stakeholder research with community members and staff. By inviting stakeholders to articulate the problems they intimately know, we produced our best work because it accounted for the multifaceted needs of a community.
A team of our Bay Area designers and project managers met with APC community members to conduct user research. Working in-person allowed our team the extra capacity for responding to sensitive information and subject matters so that participants were listened to, understood, and honored in the process.
Through our extensive technology audit and user research process, we learned that a complaint system that used text messaging would provide the most accessibility for the tech limitations of most residents. Due to the price point and the needs of APC, our product team began looking for a third-party system that could provide all the necessary functionality. Kustomer was able to provide exactly what we were looking for at discounted rate for non-profit work.
Our design team then began the agile development of the product by mapping our research into design requirements. Through this iterative approach, we built out necessary functionality in Kustomer while incorporating feedback from user testing along the way. We created an automatic chatbot system that would categorize and respond to complaints; allowing staff to follow up quickly and effectively. Finally, we piloted the robust application to receive critical feedback and identify any glitches before it was released to the wider APC community.
The new complaint system is text message-based, allowing residents the ease of convenience and consistent transparency and communication. To use, residents text “Complaint” to a specific number and are immediately walked through a series of questions that identify the type of complaint and how it should be processed. Certain complaints, such as pet policing, aren’t dealt with by APC, so the chatbot directs a resident to the proper resources to deal with the issue.
Complaints that are addressed by APC staff are converted into a ticket that can be accessed and resolved by staff members in a browser. This allows for a faster response time, more visibility, and an increased number of complaints being addressed. With all of the information categorized and stored digitally, APC staff can also easily aggregate reports from complaint data to inform decision-making.
“The residents felt really good that their voice had been heard and that we were being responsive to what they wanted to see.”
- Doug Biggs, Executive Director at Alameda Point Collaborative
Released in the fall of 2022, the APC Community Chatbot now brings more clarity to the community and causes less frustration in how concerns are addressed. New avenues of communication foster better relationships with staff and residents and create transparency during the entire complaint lifecycle. New insights can now be gathered which will contribute to the continual development and success of the Alameda Point Collective.