Chatbots – helping to re-humanise HR?

Chatbots can help you do just about anything nowadays, be it booking cinema tickets, ordering pizza, checking your credit score, finding love or even contesting parking tickets – the list goes on.

Any everyday situation or scenario which involves human interaction that can be automated to mimic a two-way conversation, chances are there is a chatbot out there to do it for you to make your life easier.

Whilst most chatbots on the market are consumer facing products, advances in artificial intelligence and messaging platforms means ‘bots’ are slowly but surely being turned into business applications, ready to revolutionise the workplace and take over routine, mundane tasks from humans.

 A report published by PwC last month revealed that around 10 million workers are at risk of seeing their jobs taken over by robots over the next 15 years, with around 30 per cent of existing UK jobs vulnerable to automation by the 2030s.

People are naturally worried about advances in new artificial intelligence (AI) related technologies and robotics in the workplace, with many fearful that the growth of technology will almost certainly put jobs at risk in the future.

But should we be worried about the perceived threat of AI and chatbots in the workplace? Or, can they support humans to do their jobs better?

Unlocking the strategic value of HR

Although it’s still early days, in the world of HR chatbots are proving to be more of a help than hindrance, liberating workers from daily drudgery so they can focus on more strategic tasks at hand, free from interruption.

Chatbots are perfectly suited to the HR industry due to the simple fact that the industry is administration heavy and littered with cumbersome and disruptive processes.

Whether hiring, managing or disciplining staff, nearly every HR process involves filling out forms, questionnaires or surveys.

Not surprisingly, it is all too common for workers to spend much of their time chasing workers for relevant forms and paperwork or answering simple questions.

Waiting for employees to provide necessary data and forms creates its own problems too. It is not uncommon for employees to forget answers to important questions or misplace documents that they have been asked to complete.

This is where chatbots are really adding value to the HR function. Rather than replacing the work of humans, chatbots are being developed as an augmentation, acting as a virtual assistant to automate, standardise and simplify repetitive transactional tasks, such as expense claims, holiday admin and absence requests.

Typical conversations with HR team members can be simulated as voice and text exchanges while forms, which would typically take hours to complete, can be broken down into bitesize questions, to facilitate real-time data collection from employees.

By handing much of the daily grind to a chatbot, HR teams are free focus on the wider strategy of attracting, developing and retaining their people.

In short, chatbots are putting the human touch back into HR.

Making HR more approachable

But the benefits are not solely restricted to HR staff.

For employees too, the conversational interface and user-friendly design of chatbots makes the HR experience more engaging, personal, transparent and, dare I say it, fun!

Rather than having to personally visit the HR department or wait for an email response, employees have the convenience to talk directly to the HR system anytime, anywhere from their smartphone.

No more delays, just instant answers to any queries when and where they need them.

“How many days leave do I have remaining for the year?”, “When is my next pay day?”, “How many hours overtime have I worked this month?” – these are all common questions that can be answered immediately by talking to a chatbot rather than disturbing the HR team.

Laborious tasks such as submitting expenses can be streamlined and carried out on the go, saving employees considerable time. Receipts can be photographed and immediately sent to the chatbot as goods and services are paid for rather than waiting until the end of the month and risking losing them.

While some people may argue that the introduction of chatbots makes the HR process faceless and impersonal, the reality is that for many employees, by enhancing self-service, it actually makes HR more approachable.

All too often employees are put off from initiating personally sensitive or awkward conversations for fear of embarrassment or that the issue won’t be resolved in their favour.

By raising the issue with the chatbot first, employees can receive practical guidance based on the company policy on how best to approach difficult and sensitive issues so they know how best to approach the situation and gain the confidence they need bring it up with management.

Creating efficient processes and policies

Aside from bridging the communication gap and streamlining processes, chatbots also provide an opportunity for HR teams to gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of their processes and company policies. 

If employees are repeatedly raising the same questions about a particular subject that the chatbot is unable to answer it may indicate that there is something wrong with a specific policy. By detecting patterns of conversations at the earliest opportunity it allows HR to take prompt remedial action before it damages employee relations.

Keeping a chatbot updated with new answers and aligned with company policies allows the system to evolve with the company, so over time the HR team has to respond to fewer and fewer queries.

A match made in heaven

The thought of robots in the workplace naturally conjures up images more suited to sci-fi movies, but HR is a perfect example of how humans and technology can work together to enhance productivity.

Whether you like it or not, chatbots are here to stay. With the millennial generation expected to make up 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020, it is important that organisations embrace mobile messaging platforms, like chatbots, to enhance their workplace culture.

Having grown up with social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp and the ability to do almost anything via their mobile phone, from shopping to banking, millennials expect on-demand information and will no longer tolerate delays.

Why should the workplace be any different?

Juliet Hailstone, Senior Product Marketing Manager, MHR
Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya