HR Chatbots: 5 Inspiring Tips for Improving Employee Experience with Bots
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.
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 revolutionizing how employees communicate and obtain the data they require to boost their productivity and satisfaction. The employee experience will be improved if these interactions are easier to obtain, more smooth, and more tailored. 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 and 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 exactly is a chatbot?
A chatbot is artificial intelligence (AI) software that uses natural language processing to imitate a human conversation with a user using voice-activated interfaces, websites, mobile apps, and messaging services.
A good HR chatbot is more than just a simple question-and-answer bot. Based on its understanding of the employee’s intent, an HR chatbot can automate repetitive duties and procedures, which is its real value.
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 an HR bot, allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks.
Here’s the beauty of an Employee Engagement Bot:
- It can answer questions and give employees access to self-service around-the-clock.
- It allows for more effortless, natural conversational interactions with the option of human handover as necessary. This improves employee self-service rates and plays a crucial role in diverting straightforward requests from overworked HR employees.
- Wherever the employee is, HR bots can interact with them via a variety of channels, including voice assistants, websites, Slack, MS Teams, and other messaging apps.
- It can offer a single practical point of access for all HR self-help requirements so that an employee can get all the assistance they need, whether it be HR-related or even IT aid, from a single access point.
- It is capable of managing a variety of use cases across all functional categories and can be both proactive and reactive. For workers who get annoyed attempting to navigate various tools and portals to get what they need, this is a game-changer.
- It enables more personalized interactions by integrating securely with HCM and other systems.
- It streamlines HR processes, lowering labor costs and human participation.
What Chatbots Can Bring to HR
These characteristics translate into multiple benefits for the HR function of a business, as illustrated in the image.
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 bot 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 HR chatbot use cases 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 in HR 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 chatbots in HR 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.
Related: What is a conversational AI platform?
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.