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Building a Crisis FAQ bot using Power Virtual Agents

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There are a wide range of circumstances organizations experience that require communication tools to be created and deployed efficiently. We have heard from several customers who’ve successfully used Power Virtual Agents for this purpose, so we’ve put together this blog post to highlight some best practices and tips for building a crisis response bot (“Crisis FAQ bot”) for your organization.

A Crisis FAQ bot can help you address some common questions of employees, for example, in the face of crisis. You can sign up for the Power Virtual Agents trial version to create a bot (trial is free for 30 days and currently extendable after 30 days) and use the pointers outlined in this blog to create and customize topics as needed for your audience. This blog also walks you through an example with step by step guidance that you can expand for other scenarios. The key goal of this blog is to help you get a Crisis FAQ bot deployed quickly.

Images of the chat bot conversing

Identify the topics to design

Taking some time to plan your topic coverage for your Crisis FAQ bot will help you make most efficient use of your authoring time and give your bot the best chance to successfully answer the questions from your users.

When first thinking about what topics your Crisis FAQ bot will need, it can be helpful to think about all the interaction points customers/employees/students have with your organization. It’s essential to consider this from the point of view of the people who will be using the bot.

Below is an example of some key suggested topic groups for a bot built to handle a crisis response. This example is based on similar crisis efforts like the CDC site FAQ.

  1. Emergency contact information for your organization
  2. Advisories specific to your organization
  3. General public health information (for example, based on CDC site FAQ)
  4. Preventive measures and tips (based on CDC site FAQ)
  5. Exposure assessment (based on CDC site FAQ)
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (based on CDC site FAQ and on actual questions that have been asked of your organization from all sources, including your bot in production)


These topics can be created and configured in the Power Virtual Agents authoring canvas as shown below.
Image of Power Virtual Agents authoring canvas showing the chat bot

You can also automatically generate a set of topics from the CDC site FAQ or another online content source, using the Suggested topics feature in Power Virtual Agents. This will generate a list of topics and trigger phrases using the content from the FAQ website. You can then review and add the applicable topics from this auto-generated list to your bot.

Getting the user to the information they need

Write down the questions the user might ask the bot that should start a topic. These are your topic “triggers.”

Then, write down the questions the bot should ask to narrow down the scope of the problem. (Asking as few questions as possible in the bot conversation keeps your user engaged and keeps your bot authoring efforts efficient.) What are the possible responses to your questions?

Use these questions to create a logical conversation tree for the steps needed to determine which answer your user needs (in other words, so that you know exactly what the issue is).

In this content design example, a user saying “hi” or asking a vague question (“I need help”) will see the Greeting topic, which redirects to a topic that asks which general topic the user is interested in. Each topic group will ask clarifying questions to branch out to individual topics, and the user will be guided to the answer they are looking for. If the user starts by asking a specific question, it will trigger the specific topic directly, based on the trigger phrase associated with it.

Some guidelines to keep in mind as you build out the trigger phrases and topics:

  1. You can think of each topic as having a unique verb, noun, or verb + noun combination (e.g.: travel, meetings, working remotely). If you find that it is hard to differentiate the triggers for two topics, consider combining those two topics and guiding your users with questions within the combined topic.
  2. Within the trigger phrases for a topic, use a variety of words that your users will likely use to mean the same thing. (eg, “travel” “trip” “visit a customer” “go to an event”)
  3. For words that are common across multiple topics (such as your company name)  there is no value in adding them to trigger phrases because it does not help the AI to differentiate the topics.

Let’s take an example use case and walk it through.

Example topic: travel policy

User wants to know company specific information regarding travel policy during crisis.

Triggers

  • Need info on business travel policy
  • What is the company guidance on travel to APAC?
  • Can I still go to a customer event?
  • I just got back from a trip
  • Recently visited an affected country

Conversation tree

This conversation tree takes the user through a guided path from the high level topic groups to specific advice for employees regarding business travel. Your topics can branch based on variations of policy or different situations. For example, the topic below branches based on the user’s response to a question about their travel status.

Other things to keep in mind

You can use Power Automate to take action during the virtual agent conversation. Consider what actions can be built for your topic. You can use Power Automate to look up and provide information, take action on behalf of the user, and keep the user in the virtual agent experience instead of sending them to other sites. For example, in the context of crisis response, you can build actions for “Reporting your work status,” so the employee can update their work status through the bot. This can be done through a combination of Power Virtual Agents Authentication and a Power Automate action.

You can efficiently gather information about the user by asking them to log in to their account from the bot using the Authentication node and collecting the user context (such as office location) as variables to use within the topic. You can also use entities and slot filling to skip questions you already have the answer to.

Finally, the easiest way to deploy the Crisis FAQ bot is using the out of box options for publishing the bot and deploying to your website (“Custom website”) using the code snippet generated.

After deploying the Crisis FAQ Bot, you can track what your users are asking about and how the topics are performing, using the in-built Analytics capabilities in Power Virtual Agents. This will help you adapt your topics to address what your users are asking your bot.

DISCLAIMER
The bot topics and related guidance in this blogpost are samples and may be used with Microsoft Power Virtual Agents for dissemination of reference information only. The samples are not designed or intended to be substitutes for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or judgment and should not be used as such. The samples should not be used for emergencies and they do not support emergency communications. Microsoft does not warrant that the samples, or any materials provided in connection with the samples, will be sufficient for any medical purposes or meet the health or medical requirements of any person. The samples are not intended or made available for use as medical devices, clinical support, diagnostic tools, or other technology intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or other conditions, and no license or right is granted by Microsoft to use the samples for such purposes. You bear the sole responsibility for any use of the samples, including incorporation into any product or service intended for medical or clinical use, and for providing end users with appropriate warnings about using your crisis response bot.