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Human Resources meets the chatbot

By Marcus Lambert

Intelligent virtual assistants often called chatbots, are becoming essential when it comes to employee or customer experience. Although they have been around for nearly a decade, recent advances in Machine learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing and the abundance of cheap computing in the cloud have brought this technology to the fore.

When it comes to chatbots in HR, one of the biggest challenges is over coming initial acceptance. Employees would rather call someone in HR or walk into an office. However, these bots offer many advantages that a customer service representative simply cannot. For example, chatbots can offer far more versatility than all but the most linguistically skilled human; by selecting the most appropriate language for you, bots can automatically render answers and communicate with ease. They are also available 24/7, so, if an employee has a 3AM question about benefits following the birth of their baby, a chatbot can be there to help.

Ultimately of course, it’s all about the experience and getting you answers when and where you need them. As organisations embark on digital transformation an essential part of the journey is delivering a multichannel experience—allowing consistent customer experiences from multiple touch points, and enabling customers to make contact via the medium or mediums of their choice. Employees today expect an always-on personal digital experience. Meeting that expectation is no longer optional.

A new note from Citigroup Inc. highlights just how much faster the bot economy is growing than the app economy did in its early days, consumer experiences are expected in the work place nowadays.

Human Resources meets the chatbot

Chatbots are not without their technical challenges. One of which is ensuring they comprehend the meaning behind the things we say – Natural Language Understanding (NLU). There has been dramatic progress in many areas of AI of late, but language understanding remains a huge challenge (see “A Tougher Turing Test Exposes Chatbots’ Stupidity”) but tools like from Microsoft cognitive service are helping lower the bar for companies willing to experiment.

In addition, many HR departments face the twin challenges of scale and efficiency. If you have a question and need an answer quickly, there could be a number of people ahead of you – either in line or in a call queue. And, with their ability to instantly and accurately locate information within knowledge bases, bots are able to respond to complex questions, for 1000s of people, simultaneously, across multiple channels e.g. web, SMS and messaging apps such as Slack.

Need to know the difference between flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts? Not sure which benefits are best for your family?

A bot is ready to find the best answer, and where it can’t, it can easily hand you over to a human, with a full transcript to add context for the advisor.

In a way this is when the clever stuff starts. Modern chatbot frameworks can monitor the human interaction, and using Natural Language Processing, learn, so the next time they can provide the same level of advice.

Being available whenever they are needed, and for as many people as need them, chatbots also have the ability to dramatically reduce expense. For international companies, HR departments can be very costly. In fact, employees spend many hours answering questions that have simple answers; or that can be easily found within a database. Replacing these hours of searching with minutes of database queries’ would save organisations hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As machines like Watson proved on Jeopardy, machine learning and AI can find answers to questions faster than most humans can. If employees are willing to give chatbots a chance, they could dramatically reshape the way human resource departments are constructed and help employees get answers to questions with incredible efficiency.

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