One of the growing trends in the technology space in general and HR technology in particular is the increasing use of Chatbots in various HR functions. The probability that you might be interacting with a bot while being hired or resolving queries or even completing transactions are high now. The fact that robots are replacing humans in human resource departments is a bit ironic & we look at separating the hype from the reality.

What’s a Chatbot?

Chatbots are fundamentally computer programs which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. They are supposed to simulate conversation with a human in a given context like customer service.

The reason that everyone is so excited about chatbots and AI is because it’s like a science fiction coming true. In 1950 Alan Turing imagined that machines would become intelligent enough to conduct conversations on behalf of humans primarily in a written format. Further experiments have finally brought chatbots to prominence especially in early customer interactions via websites. This use case in customer service is widely adopted by many companies. Soon enough people started to imagine use cases for HR and in no time we have a proliferation of chat bots in all HR applications.

So where can we use chatbots?

The major benefit of having a computer program answer questions asked by humans is it frees up humans from mundane and repetitive tasks. This means that for the bots to function effectively the process has to be well defined and various options easily laid out for the bot to execute the same. It’s essentially completing transactions via a robot by giving specific instructions which the robot can follow.
The other advantage of chat bots is that they never sleep, in HR shared service environment for a large global organization this would mean that employees can ask questions at any time of the day & still get answers they need. In a global environment this means that I can improve efficiency & effectiveness of my HR shared services centre manifold by identifying specific transactions that can be pushed to a bot. For an always on, hyper connected workforce accessing work via mobile device a chat bot is a handy assistant who can provide information and also complete some transactions for them.

Some of the use cases for application of chatbots in HR world are:

Providing quick & customized answers to a set of questions: whether it is providing answers to existing employees on various policy related questions or to help a potential candidate find the right job or answer questions about a job he/she has applied for, chatbots are currently deployed for these scenarios.

Continuous Feedback : By integrating chatbots with workplace messenger or collaboration applications, organizations are identifying moments to prompt colleagues and managers to give feedback to each other. These frequent feedback moments are then captured & analysed for patterns to help drive changes in behaviour.

Collecting employee data: Many a times certain employee data can be collected via chatbot interface, analysed for patterns and then asking follow up questions designed by humans. The chat bot interface gives HR a powerful, always on tool that helps them collect various information like pulse surveys on a more regular basis than earlier.

For other applications: Chatbots are now in almost every HR application; including providing career guidance, helping learn a new skill or language and even personal coaching.

But what are the problems with chatbots?

The chatbot technology in its current shape and format is still a new form of technology and comes with challenges of any such new technology platform. We all know of the Microsoft chatbot Tay going astray and hence use this technology with caution & a lot of testing.

If you are using multiple HR applications for multiple HR processes then having multiple chat bot interfaces who give different user experiences may not be a good idea for you. If you are using a unified HR system then using chatbots for simple transactional tasks first before moving on to more complex processes might be a good idea.

While most chat bots today are messenger based we are slowly making progress towards voice based chatbots too. Siri, Google Home, Apple Home Pad & Amazon Eco are some of the examples of voice based commands being received and executed. Use of these consumer technologies will soon become common place in chatbots in general & HR chatbots in particular to help employees and other stakeholders. While challenges of language and multiple pronunciation patterns remain to be discovered and solved in these technologies.

In Conclusion

In our opinion chatbots are similar to a new employee; they have a lot of promise & potential but would need a lot of training, grooming, and patience from us to help them achieve the same. There is no doubt that chatbots are and will continue to be an essential element of HR technology stack for an organization and will look to increasingly replace humans especially for repetitive & highly structured data oriented tasks. Remember that bots are a powerful tool when they are designed and deployed properly.