Chatbots

HR Chatbots: 5 Inspiring Tips for Improving Employee Experience with Bots

By 6 Minute Read

Employee chatbots and natural language processing technology are changing the face of today’s human resources management and providing new opportunities to enhance employee engagement and automate key HR processes. Let’s explore.

The Changing Face of Today’s Workplace

From office blocks to coffee shops, desktop PCs to mobile devices, phones and faxes to messaging and collaboration apps, local colleagues to global teams; where we work, how we communicate, and who we work with have fundamentally shifted over the past few decades.

Compare today’s typical workspace with that of the popular sitcom, The Office, and it’s easy to see that the traditional office has given way to modern workspaces that can be home, mobile, or shared.

Employee self-service bots

In-person employee engagement and interactions that blossomed in the physical environment of an office are being replaced by dispersed team members communicating via a myriad of digital channels and collaboration tools. Now, more than ever, remote and hybrid working models are reinventing how organizations meet the needs of their workforce and strive to create employee satisfaction.

With employment rates at historically low levels, a skills shortage has intensified market competition for new hires, making employee acquisition and retention critical business objectives. 

Add to this is the complexity that the pandemic has created as some workers return to their offices in the aftermath of Covid-related lockdowns and office closures. HR and senior management are now tasked with managing a hybrid model of in-person and remote working. Employee engagement under these circumstances can be challenging 

Parallel to this is the increasingly rapid pace of digital innovation that demands ever-changing skill sets and continuous learning that are essential to competitiveness. And then there’s the entry of millennials to the workforce, bringing different work values and attitudes with them, and creating a workforce that is increasingly multi-generational.

A combination of these forces has put employee experience more firmly in the spotlight, placing demands on organizations to better understand and meet the needs of a more diverse, distributed, and tech-savvy workforce? How can employee chatbots help meet the needs of today’s workers and HR teams?

Evolving Digital Interfaces Bring New Opportunities

For many employees, their connection to the workplace is now increasingly influenced by digital interactions and the interfaces that enable them. Over the past two decades interfaces have moved from websites and email in the 90s, to mobile and collaboration apps in the 2000s, and now to messaging and conversational interfaces. This has had a resulting impact on company policies and HR workflows. 

Each interface evolution brings with it new employee engagement models and business opportunities. However, the adoption of conversational interfaces is probably one of the greatest shifts, allowing a business to interact with employees via natural language and not just portals, command lines, and mouse clicks. 

Conversational AI is transforming how employees interact and access the information needed to help increase their productivity and satisfaction. The more accessible, seamless, and personalized these interactions are, the better the employee experience. HR professionals need to rethink how they engage with employees across the complete lifecycle, from the initial recruiting process to the employee onboarding process, benefits and payroll management, training and skills development, performance management, and more. This is why the HR team is getting serious about HR chatbots or virtual assistants and how they can automate HR operations and support company culture and employee satisfaction.

How HR Chatbots Assist Internal Employees and the HR Department

So, what is a chatbot?

Loyalty BotA chatbot is artificial intelligence (AI) software powered by natural language processing technology, that can simulate a human conversation with a user in natural language through messaging applications, websites, mobile apps, voice-activated interfaces, or through the telephone.

A good HR chatbot is more than just a simple question-and-answer bot. The real value of an HR chatbot is that it can automate repetitive tasks and workflows based on its understanding of the employee’s intent.

So if a worker types a request into the Slack or MS Teams channel to request their PTO balance or time off, the chatbot can trigger the workflow to perform that task and reach out to the appropriate line manager for PTO approval. This removes considerable friction for the employee who previously may have logged into one of the many application portals available to them or just sent an email to HR. It also takes the pressure off HR professionals responding to routine requests that can be more easily handled by a digital assistant, allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks.

Here’s the beauty of an HR chatbot:

  • It can respond to queries and provide self-service to employees 24/7.
  • It enables more natural, frictionless interactions via conversations, with an option for human handover when needed. This is critical in deflecting simple requests to busy HR staff and increases employee self-service rates.
  • It can engage across multiple channels, wherever the employee is, whether it’s on Slack, MS Teams, other messaging apps, a website, a mobile app, or a voice assistant. 
  • It can provide a single convenient point of access for all HR self-help needs so that an employee can get all the help they need whether it’s HR-related or even IT help, all from a single access point. 
  • It can handle multiple different use cases across all types of functions and can be proactive as well as reactive. This is game-changing for employees that get frustrated trying to manage multiple portals and tools to get what they need.
  • It enables more personalized interactions by integrating securely with HCM and other systems.
  • It automates HR tasks and workflows, reducing human involvement and costs.

What Chatbots Can Bring to HR

These characteristics translate into multiple benefits for the HR function of a business, as illustrated in the image.

HR chatbots

But how can HR go about their chatbot projects in a planned way that leads to success? Here are some things to consider.

An Employee Chatbot Journey: 5 Tips

New technologies can be daunting. Between some famous and well-reported chatbot flops to the hype around them replacing large chunks of the workforce, it’s no wonder that businesses are cautious about implementing them. However, no one wants to miss out on the great opportunities that can be achieved through conversational AI software solutions. So here are some tips on how to approach your chatbot journey.

1. Start Small and Expand

In any unchartered technology territory, start small. It can be tempting to yield to pressure from business leadership and try to bring multiple bots to market as quickly as possible. However, it’s better to pick a manageable HR use case and roll it out to a small set of employees or a single region or department. This allows kinks to be ironed out and poor experiences avoided. The learnings gained in starting small usually open up new ideas for subsequent use cases, for broader reach, or for additional features.

2. Prioritize the Low Hanging Fruit

Look at the use cases for chatbots that will be relatively easy to implement but that will be bound to yield immediate and attractive results. Identify your HR use cases and prioritize them in terms of the business value and complexity of development. Think outside the box too. Chatbots can transform how you engage with employees and not purely act as a replacement for human interactions or a means of adding more automation.

3. Prototype and Train

Prototyping or a Proof of Concept (PoC) is often the preferred route to test a bot idea and use case before investing in a full-blown project. Experiment and agree on features. Gather feedback from early users so you can iterate to improve the bot experience. Remember that chatbots need to be primed and trained to make them smart and successful, so think about different aspects of conversation and workflow design and test this in controlled rollouts. 

4. Communicate Early and Involve Employees

With AI and automation technology, the fear factor around human employees being replaced by robots, albeit exaggerated, cannot be underestimated. Communicate clearly to gain buy-in and understanding for chatbot projects from your employees, especially those that will be directly affected. Involve employees in the decision-making and design phases. Not only does this help diffuse suspicion, but it also enables valuable input at the earliest stage of bot development.

5. Consider Data Access and Security

Chatbots that respond to a user and immediately hand off to a human are pretty dumb bots. HR chatbots need to do more than this. They should properly identify and authenticate an employee, then automate workflows and tasks to fulfill the employee’s intent. This usually requires rules and data, necessitating APIs, security, governance, and synchronization. Security is critical once chatbots need to access HR systems to retrieve sensitive or personal data. Employee authentication, data isolation, governance, and control are a must. 

Reinforcing Company Culture using Chatbots.

HR managers face many challenges in today’s competitive employment market, as they balance the need to keep the right talent working to their maximum potential, while still keeping employees fulfilled and satisfied. There are multiple initiatives that help organizations create a positive culture besides technology solutions. However, chatbots can play an important role in reinforcing organizational culture through more frequent, meaningful, and personalized interactions that would be cost-prohibitive for HR staff to manage themselves.

Think of how a chatbot could be used to test employee sentiment in more integrated and automated ways and as part of other routine employee interactions such as technical support, during the onboarding process, or as they access knowledge bases. A chatbot can introduce short satisfaction surveys or ratings into different interaction points or conversations. They also can reach out more frequently and proactively to employees, eliciting feedback on performance, policies, skills training, and reminding them of meetings, events, appraisals etc.

Chatbots alone cannot be responsible for employee experience and organizational culture, nor should they exist in isolation or be viewed solely as human replacements. They need to integrate into the business culture and processes, access relevant data to make them more meaningful, and enable human interaction via handover when needed.  

Conversational interfaces are here to stay and virtual assistants are on the rise. Whether your employees are on Slack, Microsoft Teams, Email, Web, Messaging apps, Alexa, or other channels, chatbots can be accessible to them on their time and in their channel. They can be reactive and proactive and can engage across the whole employee lifecycle, from the recruitment process for new employees to onboarding, skill development, internal communication, knowledge management, performance appraisal, payroll and benefits management, and more.

Ready to get started with HR Chatbots? Download our eBook for 10 use cases for employee experience or contact us to learn more about how you can quickly and securely deploy employee chatbots for your business.

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