Chatbots might make HR even better, argues Hilary Bird.
The ancestors of today’s chatbots were clumsy attempts to mimic human conversation. Who can forget the frustration of trying to pay bills over the phone via automated services? The experience often left users pounding the zero key in desperate attempts to talk with actual human beings.
Thankfully, virtual interactions have evolved over the years. Many people now prefer nonhuman communication. Personal chatbot assistants such as Siri and Alexa not only help us pay the bills but they also help us find movies, music, and games suited to our personal tastes.
Google’s online dictionary defines a chatbot as ‘a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet.’ As is often the case with new technology, many initial manifestations of sophisticated chatbots were created for fun, but they’re now being used to enhance the workplace.
Woebot, for example, is a cheeky robot ‘therapist’ with a keen sense of humour that users can interact with at any time.
Easing irritation in communication is where chatbots shine. They are direct, impartial, effective, and easily accessible
Chatbots provide a level of comfort and, ironically, emotional distance that can promote efficient and relaxed conversations. Read on to discover how you can benefit from this kind of experience specifically in your HR work space.
Implementing chatbots as frontline recruiters
It’s not surprising that chatbots are finding their place in HR departments. Job interviews can be incredibly stressful for applicants. Much of that stress comes from that fact that humans are, well, human. Candidates know they will be judged on appearance, body language, and mood along with their professional credentials.
This is a win for both applicants and HR teams. A potential employee can have their interview in the comfort of their own home, cat on lap. HR can then assess the interview at their own convenience and even schedule a phone-based conference call for follow-up questions.
Chatbots are already winning people over in customer service fields. Unlike human employees, chatbots don’t give reactions like raised eyebrows or angsty voices. Instead, they provide honest, straightforward customer service.
That feature can be translated into the HR space as well. Chatbots are efficient at determining objective matches based on salary, job location, or hours, and they can also register contextually relevant conversations that flag specified keywords.
Saberr, for example, forecasts professional personality qualities for new hires. This feature can be useful in matching candidates with company culture or placing them on a team where their talents will thrive. The scope of first-stage chatbots can be incredibly helpful in hiring, but their usefulness doesn’t stop there.
Using chatbots for established work teams
HR teams may disagree with the sentiment that there are no basic questions. Put a little more tactfully, there are questions employees should probably remember but often don’t. This is where chatbots such as Jane come in handy. Jane answers operational questions, including the following:
- When is payday?
- Who is our medical provider?
- Do we have next Friday off?
- When is the company holiday party?
Handing off operational questions to chatbots saves you time so you can have more personalised interactions with your employees. Chatbots can also benefit bashful employees who may be reluctant to ask those common questions to a human supervisor.
Additionally, you and employees can easily reach operation-assistant chatbots like Jane on mobile devices so people can get answers anytime, anywhere. Forbes reports that 1.6bn people used chatbot-enabled messenger apps in 2016, and that number is steadily rising.
Mobile devices are a way of life for millennials of course, and mobile chatbots are also beneficial for the growing army of remote workers. Quick, direct answers from HR departments creates efficient communication across the board.
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Easy, clear communication — even when it comes from friendly robots — is an emotionally satisfying experience. Conversely, poor communication can be a morale killer. An employee who asks a basic question but doesn’t get an answer for days (or not at all) may feel resentful or undervalued.
Immediate answers, even if they are automated, help on a very human, emotional level. Fast answers to practical questions show respect for employees — as does feedback from upper-level team members.
This is another area where chatbots can be of service. Employee feedback and evaluation can be a time-consuming and difficult undertaking. Chatbots, like Captain Feedback, enhance the task by producing a steady stream of feedback over time rather than delivering it with the blunt force of annual reviews.
For example, an employee may have a gripe or problem with management that they may not be able to express until a quarterly review. But by using regular, small-increment feedback questions from a non-judgmental chatbot, a potentially festering issue may be nipped in the bud in no time.
Employees can even use chatbots to improve professionally or to diversify their skills through personal chatbot coaches such as Boldr. These chatbots give honest evaluations where the feedback loop is strictly between the chatbot and the employee. Self-motivated workers can benefit from coach apps, as can employees who may not be working to their full potential.
Letting chatbots make teams more human
Perhaps more than any other arm of an organisation, HR teams must be effective communicators. Ineffective communication in work environments can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration. A recent poll from National Post showed 87% of workers felt their leaders were poor communicators.
Easing irritation in communication is where chatbots shine. They are direct, impartial, effective, and easily accessible. Chatbots provide a friendly face while dispensing and collecting valuable data to help teams become more human in their interactions.
HR departments increase efficiency by outsourcing tedious tasks to chatbots and simultaneously devoting more attention to the complex, uniquely human issues that arise in every work setting. From recruiting to training to worker evaluations, chatbots are robotic mediators that take on grunt work without complaint.
As artificial intelligence continues to improve, chatbots will become familiar co-workers, happy to help and free of any urge to gossip.
About the author
With a BA in Interpersonal Communication and over three years experience at a tech startup, Hilary Bird is on a mission to understand how technology will continually reshape the way we communicate.