Employee engagement is one of the top priorities of HR departments across the US. Not only has the tight labor market made it more important than ever to engage staff members in hopes of retaining them longer, but countless papers have pointed to the benefits of upping engagement in terms of productivity, job satisfaction, and many other things.
At the same time, chatbots have been making waves in many different areas of business. Sure, there are marketing bots that we've all seen on numerous sites across the internet. However, that's just one very small use case for chatbots.
In fact, forward-thinking HR departments can use them in a myriad of ways, including to help with employee engagement.
Putting the Spotlight on Employee Engagement
First, let's take a high-level look at employee engagement to catch everyone up to speed.
Today’s digital workplace has evolved and is redefining the relationship between workers and employers. The following drivers are putting a new spotlight on employee experience:
- Remote working, enabled by mobile and cloud technologies, has fundamentally changed how we work, where we work, who we work with, and how we communicate and collaborate across different teams and functions.
- In an era of low unemployment, a skills shortage has emerged causing employee attrition rates to rise and the competition for talent to intensify.
- The entry of the tech-savvy millennial generation to the workforce means that organizations have to cater to different professional values and attitudes towards work.
- Technological innovation, the changing nature of work, and digital transformations are shifting the skills requirements of many employees, requiring them to retrain and learn an ever-increasing set of new skills, knowledge, and approaches.
These modern workplace dynamics are forcing HR professionals to rethink their approach to how they engage with employees across the complete lifecycle, from recruitment to onboarding, enablement, remuneration, training, development, performance management, and even offboarding. At each point in an employee’s interaction with the organization, there is an opportunity to shape their experience in new and beneficial ways.
While there are several aspects to how an organization can impact employee experience, for the purposes of this blog, we'll focus on one new and cutting-edge system than many may still be overlooking: chatbots.
Conversational Workplace Bots: A Brief History Lesson
Conversational interfaces represent one of the biggest shifts in user interfaces. They enable interactions in the form of natural language conversations rather than clicking through menus or typing information into structured forms. And although they are often cited in the context of customer engagement and customer experience (those marketing bots we mentioned before), there is nothing to stop them from being equally transformative in today’s digital workplace.
According to Gartner, the use of virtual assistants (VAs) in the workplace is growing fast – by 2021, it predicts that one in four digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) on a daily basis, up from less than two per cent in 2019. So what’s so different about these conversational employee assistants that's making them take off?
In short, the power of chatbots that engage either via voice-activated devices (Alexa, Google Assistant, etc.), via the message-based interfaces of popular collaboration tools (Slack, Teams, Chime, etc.) or traditional channels (SMS or email), is increasingly shaping how businesses engage with their employees and create meaningful and personalized experiences. And because chatbots are enabled by AI technologies that focus on Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies, this wave of technological innovation is often referred to as Conversational AI.
In other words, chatbots have become more and more accessible across the board. We can combine them with the tools we're already using. Couple this with the fact that NLP has come along way in the past couple of years and you have a workplace primed for chatbots and VAs.
So What Are the Use Cases Here?
The range of use cases for employee-centric chatbots is large and growing. While many organizations often start with a simple use case, such as implementing a bot to answer employee FAQs, more sophisticated implementations soon follow. Bots can quickly multiply across different departments and with different missions.
Here is a list of some common use cases, but this is by no means exhaustive.
Onboarding processes are a critical part of bringing new hires into the fold and getting them up and running in their role as fast as possible.
As one of the first things an employee experiences after being officially hired, onboarding is what creates the first impression of their new employer. A clunky, inefficient, or frustrating onboarding process not only forms a bad brand experience but it also can inhibit an employee’s ability to commence their role in the most efficient and productive way.
Enter: an onboarding bot.
An onboarding bot can guide new hires through the journey, providing consistent responses to their queries about company benefits, salary, IT systems and learning management systems, as well as gathering any information needed to get them properly enrolled and operational. Time is money, and the longer it takes to onboard new hires, the higher the cost.
Rather than navigating unwieldy intranets, menus, or documents to find relevant information, chatbots can give employees access to information when and where they need it.
They power higher degrees of employee self-service, responding at any time of the day or night, and across multiple channels, such as on the company website, in-app, or on a messaging channel like Slack.
Whether it’s an IT helpdesk issue, an HR-related request, or accessing work-enablement knowledge, bots help accelerate resolution and response times. Workers can access multiple services through single, seamless conversations, avoiding the frustration of navigating different portals, depending on their needs. This provides consistent and frictionless experiences to the employee, while lowering the cost and increasing the responsiveness of service delivery.
IT systems and internal applications are fundamental to today’s employee workflows. Problems, outages, lost or stolen devices, or insufficient user knowledge hamper productivity and can even expose a company to a security breach.
Keeping staff and systems operational while maintaining control of the costs of service delivery is key. Chatbots can take over many of the routine tasks typically handled by support staff and do so around the clock.
From password resets or remote wipes to alerts on system maintenance or outages, chatbots can reach out and respond to users across the organization in more convenient and frictionless ways.This releases costly technical support staff to focus on solving more complex technical issues.
Benefits, PTO, Performance Management, and More
There is a whole range of possibilities for implementing bots that can handle repetitive HR workflows. Take the examples of PTO and absence management, benefits enrollment, HR-related FAQs, and updates on performance reviews, training requirements, policy changes, events, and more.
A clever bot strategy can ensure that the bots integrate with different HR systems to respond to staff requests, but bots can also reach out proactively to employees in ways that really boost their experience. For example, by recognizing the attainment of a performance goal a bot can trigger the appropriate reward and alert the employee.
A bot could also proactively offer a valued employee access to a vacancy in a career development workshop or a bot can simply notify staff of remaining PTO and time limits so they can plan accordingly.
As you can see, the uses for bots inside just the HR function alone can be substantial.
Implementing Bots: What You Need to Consider
But just building and deploying chatbots isn’t as easy as it seems. Like any good enterprise application solution, a strategic approach to implementing chatbots as part of the employee engagement model is imperative to success. Merely using chatbots to automate repetitive tasks will not lead to the transformative potential of conversational AI.
Businesses benefit best when they rethink processes and workflows in terms of how conversational bots can enable smooth and efficient engagement with their employees at multiple interaction points across the complete employee lifecycle.
This requires a more centralized and less siloed view of employee interactions and journeys. And while multiple bots may need to be deployed to handle many different missions and tasks, a central Virtual Employee Assistant will be needed to manage the conversations to and from the user, routing to the bot best suited to carry out the intended task.
Additionally, effective chatbot solutions often need to access internal business data, personnel records, etc. from HCM, ERP and other systems.
This requires a robust integration and security approach that protects employee conversations, especially when they contain private and sensitive data. How chatbots are deployed, where conversations are stored, and what security and control measures are put in place are critical to building and managing enterprise-grade bot deployments for employee engagement.
Conversational AI platforms have emerged to help organizations build chatbot solutions faster, integrate them securely with back-end systems, and centralize common services that all bots can access in order to create a consistent brand experience and single point of access.
ServisBOT provides a perfect example of an enterprise chatbot platform that supports the development of bots that engage across many digital channels and handle multiple use cases, both internal and external, inbound and proactive.
The Impact of Chatbots on Employees and Employers
Conversational AI or chatbot solutions bring greater convenience and lower friction to staff interactions but they also allow a more precise understanding of employee needs. This signals a whole new world of possibilities for the digital workplace that can benefit both employer and employee. Some of these benefits include:
- Higher Degree of Employee Self-service: Employees can access different services through single seamless conversations, avoiding the frustration of navigating different portals. Whether it’s during business hours or after hours, chatbots provide access to the information needed in frictionless and convenient ways. And with a greater degree of self-service, the costs of responding to employee requests are lowered.
- Better and Faster Employee Enablement: Today’s knowledge worker relies on fast and easy access to information and data. But, as knowledge bases grow and continuously change, finding the right information at the right time is imperative to getting the job done. Wading through web pages or logging into different content systems to access information is time-consuming and frustrating. Chatbots let employees skip straight to the information they need, when and where they need it. Faster enablement of knowledge workers who are often remote or on-the-go not only enhances their experience but also elevates individual productivity.
- Lower Costs through Increased Automation: Chatbots excel in handling routine helpdesk or HR requests but they can also manage more complex multi-step interactions or journeys in efficient and automated ways, such as employee onboarding or benefits management. This frees costly HR or service desk resources to focus on other tasks or to step in when the bot escalates an issue. The costs associated with internal service desks, HR, or IT management can be significantly reduced.
- Centralized Access and Consistent Experiences: Well-designed chatbot solutions enable a single centralized point of access to all bots so that employees can engage in their preferred channel, across different use cases, geographic regions, languages, and departments. This creates greater consistency for the brand, less friction for employees, and greater control and security for the business.
- Reduced Employee Attrition and Higher Satisfaction: Reduced friction, increased convenience, easier access to information, and faster response to requests all go a long way to improve the overall employee experience. However, while chatbots are often associated with handling inbound service or HR requests, they can also be used in more proactive ways, reaching out to employees to gather their feedback, alert them to upcoming enrollment or other events, and get early indications on their satisfaction levels and suggestions for improvement.
Chatbots and HR: The Final Say
Chatbots are on the rise. Gone are the days that they simply handle customer questions or live inside the marketing sphere. In today's world, with so many systems already connected (think: Slack to Google Drive, etc), chatbots are empowered to help internal issues and make the employee experience better.
With the proper plan, departments, specifically ones like HR, can use chatbots to handle a plethora of different tasks that allow the living people in the department to spend their time doing more meaningful, strategic work.
ServisBOT provides a Conversational AI Platform that enables businesses to transform employee engagement via conversational bot solutions. Our platform provides the tools for business to quickly build mission-specific bots that engage with employees across multiple channels, automating the underlying workflows and tasks. The platform supports centralized integration to business data, ensuring secure and consistent bot experiences across a wide range of use cases.