Chat Bots Are the New HR Managers

Automating can make HR more personal
by Beerud Sheth

Chat bots will continue to transform virtually every business function, from marketing to sales to customer support. One of the other areas where we’ll see a major transformation is Human Resources.

HR teams have a very challenging job with seemingly conflicting objectives: keeping employees focused and working hard while also keeping them happy and satisfied. HR teams are often held accountable for employee retention and churn without the ability to manage them directly. HR is expected to have a finger on the pulse of a very large employee base while operating with a very small team. HR teams find their responsibilities are vast and the goals are high — there’s rarely enough time or resources to do justice to it all. A lot of their time is invested in managing routine processes, which impacts the focus on higher-priority activities. Teams have limited time left over to offer employees the individual attention they need when handling sensitive personal issues. Even more reduced is the ability to proactively engage with employees, to guide and mentor them through their career paths.

Chat bots can help the HR professionals by dramatically amplifying their capabilities. Chat bots can help HR teams stay on top of the substantial responsibilities and achieve the impossible goals they have.

Minding the Routine

Chat bots can streamline complex processes that involve coordination with multiple individuals. For example, recruiting activities such as identifying and screening candidates, scheduling interviews and managing the recruiting life cycle for candidates and hiring managers can be substantially automated with chat bots. Chat bots are very good at having simultaneous conversations with multiple candidates, hiring managers and HR managers to drive closure.

Unlike simple process automation, chat bots can also be embedded with a little more intelligence to know when to escalate a situation for human intervention. For example, a candidate with a counter-offer and a decision deadline can be handled differently from other candidates. Chat bots can also re-activate old candidate databases and continuously refresh them by engaging in a continuous conversation with candidates. In fact, a startup called RoboRecruiter, built on the Gupshup platform, has developed a chat bot for automating the end-to-end recruitment process, with amazing results and improvements in productivity. Chat bots that keep in touch with employees can also be particularly useful in managing internal placements for large organizations, as discussed below.

Routine processes often consume a disproportionate amount of the HR manager’s time, and this is another area chat bots can help automate. Employee onboarding and orientation, for example, is ripe for automation; new employees account for a higher number of HR queries that can be easily automated. Even regular processes such as attendance tracking, goal tracking, performance review, employee surveys, leave balances and more can be substantially automated. A company called QuickWork has built chat bots that are automating HR and related business processes for many enterprises.

To be clear, even though most companies use HR systems to automate many tasks, chat bots make existing systems much more user-friendly than before, dramatically increasing the usage and compliance. It’s a lot easier and simpler for a user to chat with an HR bot (e.g., just send a chat message like, “I’m calling in sick tomorrow” or “what’s my leave balance?” or “approved”) than to log into the HR system and navigate through a structured, form-based menu for even the smallest of tasks.

Access and Answers

Chat bots help HR become much more accessible to employees. They can provide instant, accurate responses to common queries. The more complex queries can be automatically escalated for human review and response. Automating the frequently asked queries frees up HR teams to personally handle the more complex ones, which enables them to respond and intervene quickly in sensitive situations. This is especially useful during phases of change-management when businesses roll out major changes in organization or strategy. These changes lead to a large number of employee queries in a very short time that have to be addressed very quickly to prevent issues from festering. The increased accessibility is particularly valuable to employees in remote locations, away from headquarters, who are deprived of the ability to have corridor conversations with HR teams.

Chat bots enable HR teams to engage with each employee on an individual, one-on-one basis consistent with their personal situation and issues. A chat bot can maintain regular, proactive contact with each employee throughout the year to detect any issues that need to be escalated for human engagement. Tools such as natural language processing and sentiment mining can help chat bots detect anger, frustration, de-motivation, exhaustion and related issues. Based on these observations, chat bots may pull in an HR professional for human engagement. Chat bots may also proactively recommend vacation time, clubs and activities, or other resources available within or outside the organization. Chat bots may, optionally, help employees be physically active and healthy by recommending and tracking their daily exercise routines.

Personal Connection by Bot

Chat bots can provide professional guidance and mentorship to each employee. Investing in the career growth of each employee is perhaps the highest ROI effort for HR teams and business organizations. Chat bots can develop customized learning and development plans for each individual. This can include both soft and hard skills that are required for professional success. Chat bots that are in regular touch with employees can help optimize internal placements in large organizations. Chat bots that come across good employees in unhappy roles can recommend other roles or teams to them. It’s better to transfer that employee to another team internally than lose him or her to another company. Chat bots can reinforce the culture of the organization by recommending appropriate developmental courses. Chat bots can assess employee skills and recommend courses and modules that employees can subscribe to. Chat bots can also connect them to mentors within the organization.

Chat bots can enable HR to become a source of competitive advantage for the organization. By tightly linking the organization from top to bottom and side to side, chat bots enable organizations to be more tightly coordinated and nimble. CEOs get full visibility into the organization and a stronger ability to steer it in the right direction. While sports teams surround their players with a phalanx of support, from personal trainers, conditioning coaches, counselors, doctors and physical therapists to support staff and admin staff — to optimize individual performance — such luxury is not available to most business organizations and their “players.” Chat bots can fill this huge gap by essentially becoming, to quite an extent, the friend, adviser, counselor, guide, therapist, strategist and more. Of course, it will take substantial technology for chat bots to be trained to their full potential, but that is becoming increasingly feasible.

Of course, there are important issues around privacy and confidentiality that must be addressed. However, HR conversations, by their very nature, tend to involve sensitive and personal information. These issues can be suitably addressed by providing users and organizations adequate control over their data. Organizations and employees will have to rethink the “social contract”: How much information stays private to the employee and how much is shared with the employer? Who has access to what data and how much of it can be used for making decisions? How do we avoid dystopian “big-brother” scenarios while optimizing individual and organizational performance? These are important issues that need to be thought through.

The challenges notwithstanding, the massive potential of chat bots to enhance individual and organizational performance is too big to ignore. The opportunity is undeniable. Essentially, the chat bot can be an always-on, highly engaged, extremely personalized companion — the perfect HR manager. HR teams that adopt chat bots will find themselves getting clo ser to successfully accomplishing the many impossible tasks and conflicting goals that their organizations place on them.

Beerud Sheth is co-founder and CEO of Gupshup, the world’s most advanced bot and messaging platform. It enables developers to quickly and easily build, test, deploy and manage chat bots across all messaging channels.

 

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