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Bratton Riley of Citibot: “Hire to your weaknesses”

Citibot is a leading provider of interactive chat solutions for local governments to use for efficient and effective communication and civic change. Using smart text messaging and web chat technology, Citibot helps residents get answers to questions, make service requests, send personalized messages and receive notifications. By making it easier for citizens to have more […]

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Citibot is a leading provider of interactive chat solutions for local governments to use for efficient and effective communication and civic change. Using smart text messaging and web chat technology, Citibot helps residents get answers to questions, make service requests, send personalized messages and receive notifications.

By making it easier for citizens to have more more meaningful connections with government, they will become more participatory and build those relationships of trust. The beauty of technology is to make it simpler to have those conversations via automation so they can happen at scale.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bratton Riley, founder/CEO of Citibot, a writer, speaker and champion for equitable government engagement. His mission is to create innovative technology powered by artificial intelligence and educate and inspire government leaders to transform the way they engage residents and connect with their communities.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was fortunate to be brought up in a family committed to public service. My father, Joseph Riley, was the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina for 40 years, so I had a front-row seat to the issues facing local government, and the barriers that exist for resident communication.

Much like my father, I hold a firm belief that local government should be accessible to all residents and in order to best serve the public, it is essential to give a voice to all and encourage diverse perspectives. It was through this principle that Citibot was formed in 2016.

I saw an opportunity to help local government better serve residents by breaking down the barriers of inclusion and leveraging communications technology to modernize the customer service experience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As I’m sure a lot of business leaders can attest, the COVID pandemic has reinvented the way we engage with our customers, and in many cases, even the products we offer.

One of the most meaningful moments of my career was just recently, when we helped a government leader use Citibot technology as a force for good. Brownsville, Texas was launching a vaccine clinic and needed to quickly get 1700 text messages out to people who had signed up for the vaccine to alert them that it would be available the next day. We jumped in, got it done, and the clinic was successful — with 2,000 vaccinations in one day! Seeing the immediate results and the power of technology in such an important way was an amazing experience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Cities and governments have one of the greatest privileges possible, and that’s their relationship with the people.”

There are no shortcuts to building relationships of trust with all aspects of a community. You have to do the work and show you care. That’s part of what we’re trying to do with Citibot — to make it easier to build those relationships and help them grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m eternally grateful for my father’s leadership and for paving the path that ultimately led me to create Citibot. My father, Joseph Riley, was a civil rights leader at a time when you didn’t have many white male deep Southerners fighting for the cause of equal rights. He didn’t cut corners and he never settled for anything that wasn’t excellent. He put his heart and soul into the job and into every citizen. His work in the public space has inspired me to address a similar mission through a technology lens.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Citibot is a mission-driven company, and our mission is to build trust between governments and residents through accessible chat communications. There’s a lot of talk with the digital divide, especially around broadband access. There isn’t a lot of talk about the digital divide in terms of access to our American institutions. We believe that government should be accessible to all, regardless of age or socio-economic status.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people? How do you think this might change the world?

Citibot is a leading provider of interactive chat solutions for local governments to use for efficient and effective communication and civic change. Using smart text messaging and web chat technology, Citibot helps residents get answers to questions, make service requests, send personalized messages and receive notifications.

By making it easier for citizens to have more more meaningful connections with government, they will become more participatory and build those relationships of trust. The beauty of technology is to make it simpler to have those conversations via automation so they can happen at scale.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

At the end of the day, a bot is a bot, it’s not a human. So while you might not have that 1:1 human connection with chatbot technology, that lack of interpersonal connection is overcome by the ability of the citizen to get what they need fast, get that instant gratification that government cares about them and have a good communication experience.

There is a misconception that bots are replacing humans. In most cases, bots are increasing job satisfaction in the customer service space as people are doing less menial work and are able to focus on more meaningful work as a result. And, customers are spending less time on hold, are able to access information 24/7 and more easily get what they need.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

The emergence of chatbot technology was the lightbulb moment for me. It was the key to scaling and leveraging accessible communication channels like text messaging, messenger apps and the web and applying it to the customer service space that very much needed an upgrade.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

In the government space in particular, what is needed is more openness for faster acceptance of new technology. It is going to take governments overcoming their fear of failure and evolving to celebrate risk-taking internally. The innovative government leaders are encouraging their teams to fail as an opportunity to learn and improve. The business sector has evolved in this regard and the government sector hasn’t. Another important factor in adoption is streamlining procurement processes. The CARES Act helped expedite procurement processes. Government leaders need to take those lessons learned and reinvent the way they acquire new technology in the future.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Customer service is a 24/7 need. Chatbot technology helps local governments scale their customer service and be able to absorb the surges in call volumes that have emerged as a result of the pandemic. In addition, proactive outreach is going to be critical in supporting residents who want to get the COVID vaccine. Another way we’ve helped governments adapt to this new virtual world is by creating a line queue application to control access to public buildings amid occupancy restrictions.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. It’s harder than you think. As much as people told me that the government sector moves slowly, I didn’t fully realize it until we started having those direct conversations.
  2. Hockey stick revenue growth is a myth. Those projections are always wrong. Your investors are sophisticated enough to know that, so you should be too.
  3. Optimism needs to be tempered by realism, particularly as it relates to goal setting.
  4. Hire to your weaknesses. Figure out where your gaps lie and fill those gaps with amazing people and support them.
  5. When something good happens, make sure you celebrate it! Entrepreneurship is such a roller coaster ride, enjoy the small and large wins.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m on a mission to inspire a movement to help government leaders eradicate their fear of failure. That is the biggest impediment to growth and opportunity for all people from all walks of life, regardless of the government institution.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I welcome them to connect on LinkedIn and follow Citibot at https://www.citibot.io/. Let’s create a movement!

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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