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Why Chatbots Will Transform HR and the Employee Experience (for real, this time)

Chatbot proponents are the technology world’s equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. For years now, these proponents have been proclaiming that chatbots will revolutionize things like contact centers, customer service, online sales and human resources — to name just a few target areas.

And, as in Aesop’s fable, this revolution has never materialized.

While organizations have made significant investments in chatbot technologies over the years, early incarnations were simplistic, limited in scope and were just as likely to damage the customer experience as they were to help it.

Then, the rise of voice-based assistant technology (think Alexa and Siri) seemed to steel the promise of chatbots with their ability to interact in a human-like, voice-based manner. This development has led some to declare chatbots dead.

This pronouncement, however, has not stopped the chatbot glitterati from holding true to their beliefs and proclaiming that we are now on the cusp of their long-proclaimed revolution.

To the delight of true believers, a recent ServiceNow survey would seem to support the contention that, in spite of their lackluster history and the rise of voice-based assistants, we may finally be on the cusp of a chatbot revolution after all — at least when it comes to transforming Human Resources (HR) and the employee experience.

The Omnichannel Employee Experience

Part of the reason that we may be reaching the chatbot inflection point within HR, according to Deepak Bharadwaj, ServiceNow’s Vice President and General Manager of its HR Service Delivery Product Line, is that HR units are actively trying to align themselves to the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of their organizations.

As part of that process, they are realizing that a one-size engagement approach does not fit all and that they must create many forms of integrated engagement across all different types of devices — and that chatbots have an essential role to play in this so-called omnichannel experience.

“There are a lot of channels available to HR, including chatbots, an employee service center, a live interaction, a live chat, and even Facebook,” Bharadwaj explained. “When we think of omnichannel, HR needs to be able to support the full range of how the employee is interacting with them.”

The data from its survey shows that HR professionals have received the message and are looking to chatbots to help create this omnichannel experience. The survey of more than 350 HR practitioners found that 92% of them see chatbots as an important tool in helping employees find information and solve their problems. As you might expect, therefore, 75% of these organizations plan to have chatbot technology deployed by 2020.

Part of the reason for this upswing may be because more than two-thirds of the respondents feel that their employees are now comfortable using chatbots to meet their needs (perhaps Alexa and Siri have helped rather than hurt the case for human-like interaction!).

As organizations look to transform the employee experience, Bharadwaj believes that “chatbots will become a critical piece of how engagement occurs and needs are fulfilled.”

Getting Chatbots Right

While we may be reaching an omnichannel-powered inflection point, that doesn’t mean that chatbots are a panacea that you can just turn on to magically transform the employee experience. Organizations must ensure that they deploy chatbot technology strategically and focus on enhancing the employee experience.

Bharadwaj recommends that organizations start small, keep it simple, identify a clear problem that chatbots can solve and then focus on where you can have the most significant impact on the employee.

Moreover, he explains that it’s also important to use chatbots in one of the three primary areas in which they are most effective: delivering a piece of information, helping employees open a request and answering an employee’s HR-related question such as “can I take leave.”

To overcome the one-dimensional feel of the past, organizations must also closely interconnect their chatbots to underlying systems and knowledgebases to enable them to intelligently meet employees’ needs in a customized fashion.

“Organizations need to target the most high-impact areas and build out the knowledgebase so that you can tie together a cohesive employee experience,” Bharadwaj shared. “Then put it out there, get feedback and grow and mature from there.”

While applying chatbot technology in a focused fashion and connecting to the relevant data sources will be critical, there is one last element that is essential to enterprises enhancing rather than detracting from the employee experience: conversational design.

Conversational design is essentially the design of a chatbot user experience based on a conversational flow. According to Bharadwaj, this is the critical step as it ensures that organizations create the right kind of employee experience with this technology.

The Intellyx Take

Have we reached the tipping point in which chatbots finally deliver on their promise to the enterprise and transform the employee experience? Frankly, it’s still too soon to tell. We’ve cried ‘wolf’ before, so most industry observers are a bit reluctant to do so again.

Still, all the signs seem to point to an important and strategic role for chatbots inside of HR organizations in the very near future. The combination of employee acceptance of chatbots, the advancement of artificial intelligence, the availability and interconnectedness of enterprise data and the demand for better, on-demand access to information are all pushing HR to embrace their use.

Business and IT executives should, therefore, be taking a hard look at this technology and how they can apply it to enhance the employee experience and thereby create competitive advantage through improved productivity and engagement, lower turn-over, and improved job satisfaction.

But as they look to increase their investments and accelerate their chatbot deployments, enterprise leaders must also remember to approach them with the only focus that matters: enhancing the employee experience. Efficiency and optimization will, of course, be part of the process, but it will be those organizations who let the employee experience guide their deployment of this technology that will reap the greatest rewards.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. At the time of this writing, ServiceNow is an Intellyx client. None of the other companies mentioned are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.

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More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

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