‘Chat bots’ or ‘Messenger-bots’ have been around for a surprisingly long time- the first one was coded way back in 1966- but it is only since last year that they burst on to the scene as the newest and the coolest rock-stars of the AI technology brigade. Simply put, a chatbot is a software program that provides an automated, interactive interface by simulating the way humans have conversations. As compared to all previous ways of conducting business, it is a completely new way of engaging and interacting with services.
According to a study conducted by Comscore in 2015, almost 80% of smartphone users in the US list messaging apps as one of their ‘primary uses of mobile phone”. These chatbots are embedded in messaging apps and therefore do not even require a download for us to use them.
Because the platform has moved from a communication to a conversational interface, it allows for a greater compatibility with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools.
In the United States, a lot of businesses have embraced chat bots to provide a very unique engagement to their external customers across a multitude of services like, shopping online, buying plane tickets or getting food delivered. Even though not many have explored the idea of using them for internal business processes or for employee-facing activities, the concept has caught the fancy of some specialist technology and solutions firms as well as of some very forward-thinking CIOs; today, chat bots are steadily breaking new ground by entering into yet another exciting area- Human Resources.
In India too, the excitement around virtual HR assistants is very palpable, because its still uncharted territory. AI-fueled HR bots combined with intelligent back-end systems can provide for a very powerful user engagement. They can glide seamlessly over any existing communication system and can be a very simple way to get access to information without taking the ‘human interface’ route, while still retaining a human element via ‘conversational experience’.
In the vast expanse of any HR framework exist areas like Recruitment, Employee On-boarding, Leaves & Attendance, Compensation and Benefits, Exit Management etc. that involve a lot of high-repetition, administrative processes which can lead to significant fatigue and mindless drudgery for the HR team. Using chatbots to operate the employee customer-service function or to take over administrative processes, which can be easily automated, can significantly bring about cost and process efficiencies. Ideally, HR chat bots can be used in the following areas where transaction-time is ordinarily high:
1. HRIS : Advanced HR virtual assistants have already started playing a critical role in shaping personnel experience and how employees can gainfully interact with HR teams. Such HR chat bots can take over the complete employee service function, once the workflows, rules, legal procedures, compliances have been mapped in the back-end.
This will allow HR to reallocate resources to areas where they can provide more value. For e.g. a staff member wanting to know the status of pending reimbursements or the tax-forms he needs to fill, can just provide the chat bot his employee ID and it will instantly respond to his query. Eventually, instead of being seen as just a front-desk entity, HR chat bots embedded in HRIS systems will be seen as a very acceptable form of highly secure, self service-oriented, employee-delight platform of the future.
2. Leave and Attendance: One of the sore spots for HR and employees equally, leave and attendance is a sensitive issue for an enterprise, because it’s more of a hygiene factor. Ordinarily, an employee will send a leave request to his boss and wait for a revert before getting a confirmation. More often than not, approval is at the discretion of the team lead. Using a virtual assistant does away with the uncertainty factor.
As soon as you ask for a leave, the chat bot intimates the concerned touch-points within the system and generates an immediate response or gives a defined timeline within which the employee will get a reply. Similarly to understand the status of attendance, an employee simply has to ask the chat bot and it will throw up a grid of the employee’s attendance over the desired period. What would have taken at least 2 days in the traditional system has been managed within a matter of minutes.
3. Employee On-Boarding: Each time a new employee joins, the HR team member has to follow the same sequence and protocol of asking them to sign and submit the offer letter, provide investment proofs, fill up forms, etc. Having a chat bot manage the drudgery of such processes reduces the HR teams’ fatigue, frees up an enormous amount of time and at the same time, allows the new employee to experience something refreshingly new. The chat bot never tires, is hardwired to be accurate- so information errors are rare- and is most happy to be of service at any time of the day.
4. Exit Management : Managing exit formalities come with their own set of complexities. Multiple departments need to provide an NOC/ give approval before the employee’s Full and Final settlement is cleared. The employee too may need to complete an exit process, including an exit interview, filling up the feedback form, surrendering office equipment etc.
Charting all these processes within the AI framework of an HR chat bot would simplify the process immensely. All that the employee would need to do is to ask the chat bot how to initiate the exit process. He can then be provided step-by-step instructions to commence the entire exercise online, and the chat bot can keep triggering the next step once the previous step is fulfilled.
These are just a few examples of how HR bots can bring about a sweeping change in the way humans use technology. The potential is huge if artificial intelligence and machine learning can go beyond surface-level digital penetration. Chatting with an automated online software program that mimics human conversation in its interaction with a human to answer questions or perform tasks is probably what a regular work day could look like another 10 years from now. Till then vendors and developers can make hay till the sun shines.