This story was first written for and published on HR Digital Today.
I often used to say that my team, by the sheer nature of their work as human resource generalists in a startup, were stuck with the unenviable job scope of an “internal customer service officer”. Being lean, we didn’t have the luxury of having more hands on deck, and as such, often had no choice but to compromise on our ‘employee service’. It wasn’t until much later that I realized this wasn’t a problem unique to startups — regardless of whether you were one in a team of 20 HR professionals, or the leader of a team of 1, the workload around HR roles today will leave you feeling overwhelmed and understaffed.
Interestingly, though many technologies have come up here and there in the HR space with products that streamline processes, increase savings, increase engagement, few of them have offered actual gains in productivity of existing HR teams, which is to say, while some of them have been value-adds, some of them cost-cutting, there haven’t been many that play in the space of augmenting what HR teams already do. With the increased uptake of artificial intelligence in the enterprise space, chatbot solutions have claimed to drive productivity and efficiency of the existing team. This is in close alignment to HR’s long-standing ambition of becoming true business partners instead of administrative cost centres, yet past the standard usage of chatbots as knowledge bases and recruitment companions, we rarely come across use cases that fully exploit the capabilities of A.I. today.
First of all, use chatbots to augment your team
Is there something you wish your team could do that they can’t now because they’ve run out of bandwidth? What is the one thing that would accelerate your standard HR processes, or the one best practice you read about that you want to implement, but can’t because it’s too tedious? Capitalize on those ideas. Don’t confine chatbots to simply taking over work you’re already tired of doing, but also open up the possibility of chatbots doing work or gathering data that excites you.
Use Case #1: Candidate experience surveys
As much as recruiters want to engage with candidates, it can sometimes be difficult to. With the number of candidates that cross our desks every day, we often find our hands full with simply scheduling interviews and executing on those, let alone finding out what the candidate thinks of their interview experience. Yet one of the gold standards that I’ve always strove to achieve is to make every recruitment journey one filled with learning for the candidate. What that means is that each of them is supposed to step away from the interview having learnt something, but how do we keep track of that?
Recruitment chatbots can often be customized to include a simple candidate survey feature. After each interview, the chatbot asks the candidate a series of questions, prepared by the HR team, to gather data on the experience and respond empathically. To handle such use cases, you’ll want to look for a chatbot product that has sentiment analysis capabilities and can handle simple form-filling. The chatbot leads the conversation with the candidate, for example, “Did your interviewer brainstorm together with you? What did you learn from that session?” If the candidate responds positively, the chatbot stores that either in an ATS or a simple spreadsheet. This would be functional for use, but a chatbot with sentiment analysis functionalities would be able to go above and beyond by responding with empathy, such as, “Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that you felt unprepared during the session. Would you like to tell me more about how we can improve on that?” At the end of the day, such a survey aims to give talent acquisition teams crucial, qualitative action points on how to streamline or enhance recruitment processes.
Secondly, let your chatbot handle non-textbook questions
Knowledge-based chatbots are old news, you know, the ones that allow you to ingest your HR policies so users can ask it straightforward questions like how many days of leave they have per year. What they really want to know (and what they are likely to hesitate before doing, but will still keep asking you) are answers to questions like “Do we get half-day off for Chinese New Year?” or “What time can we go home on Christmas Eve?”. Let your chatbot handle those questions with lots of tact and a little humour. Engage copywriters to make the conversational experience engaging and intriguing, even when it touches on prickly questions that you wouldn’t want to be caught answering in black and white — because everyone can read the employee handbook, but they’re going to keep coming back to you for answers to edge cases, and that helps no one.
Use Case #2: Onboarding Concierge
If your company has a global presence, you may have colleagues coming from different offices around the world, and then what happens? Some teams choose to leave them to figure transport, food and entertainment out on their own. Some teams redirect these employees in droves to HR, who isn’t always free enough to show them around, as much as we’d like to, and no, we certainly don’t know what great food there is in your vicinity.
Building a concierge feature on top of an existing onboarding chatbot will help to address some of these questions. Whether it’s integrating a local travel chatbot like Zumata or just crowdsourcing some of these recommendations from colleagues and putting them into a database, a concierge can help to keep employees engaged through a trusty chatbot, an extension of the HR team. While creating a database of such knowledge could take a while, there are two approaches that could catalyse that process: chatbots that have supervised artificial intelligence could possibly also ingest new suggestions from other employees that HR teams can easily filter for relevance and add to the database. Alternatively, the chatbot can sit and listen in to existing conversations between HR and employees to learn from responses. It’s a quick, organic approach to collecting data and supplementing your content, and with richer content, the chatbot’s utility surges as well!
Lastly, condense complicated processes into bite-sized ones that a chatbot can execute for you
There tends to be a correlation between the age of a HR team and how convoluted their processes are — with each new addition to the team adding their two cents to a process, a simple effort such as performance reviews could become so complicated that it barely justifies the time we spend on it any more. My mantra is “minimum effort for maximum impact”, and what tends to guide me in detonating unnecessary processes (a quarterly affair) is — what is this process trying to achieve, and what’s the shortest, most efficient way to get there? The solution may not be as elegant, but few outside of HR teams can appreciate the elegance of intricate processes anyway. What they can appreciate, however, are insights drawn from data-driven approaches, or transactions that now take less time to complete, or the convenience of simply being able to type a question and get a straightforward answer.
Use Case #3: Dipstick/Heat Checks/Pulse Surveys
Performance reviews don’t always have to be onerous forms and an exercise more in formality than anything else. The aim of performance reviews is to, ultimately, tell an employee how they’re faring, and most times the manager only gets notified of an issue once a quarter or by the time the annual review rolls around, they can only remember what’s happened in recent months, making the review ineffective at best.
Dipstick surveys (also called heat checks or pulse surveys) are simple, one or two question surveys sent out once every 3 days or weekly that aim to get a quick gauge of an employee’s motivation and level of engagement. After having come across the idea through Know Your Company’s methodology, it became a use case that targeted organizations that were scaling and beginning to experience “manager blindsiding”, a situation in which managers are surprised by departures, or employee unhappiness, because they “didn’t see it coming”. A simple question such as “Is there a promise you remember the company making that we haven’t delivered on?” or “Do you know what your team has been working on recently?” could kickstart a dialogue where employees can voice their questions before they become concerns, and HR teams can intervene by stepping in to help employees take ownership of the problem and solve it together with the company. After all, we’re not just bridges from management to the employees — it works the other way round, too.
Chatbots will become commonplace in the HR tech scene in the coming years, but as with all technologies, its utility is largely dependent on how imaginative we can be. The HR space is an exciting one for the technology because by nature, HR is a communication-intensive function, and the potential to disrupt those communications with conversational interfaces is immense. Quit confining chatbots to your conceptions of their limitations, and let chatbots show you what they can do. Your team will thank you for it.
Chelsea is Chief of Staff at Botbot.AI, an enterprise productivity solution that uses conversational interfaces to automate workflows and processes. Maven of all things talent and narrative, she aspires to bridge capital and social impact with technological solutions. Apart from her core role, she also has expertise in blockchain, venture-building and scaling business operations. Her tech vertical interests, while numerous, converge around HR tech, cleantech and enterprise automation. She is a big believer in agility & iteration (a nice way of saying she has no chill), collects miles and geeks out on productivity/philosophy in her free time. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.