Article: Chatbots are the future of everything that’s happening in HR: COO, Acuvate

#TechHR'19

Chatbots are the future of everything that’s happening in HR: COO, Acuvate

In an interaction with People Matters, Jagan Jami, the COO of Acuvate, throws light on AI-powered chatbots and the HR industry −applications of HR chatbots, measuring benefits, and the challenges associated with implementation.
Chatbots are the future of everything that’s happening in HR: COO, Acuvate

Jagan Jami is the COO at Acuvate Software. Acuvate Software is a Microsoft Gold certified partner providing Intelligent Chatbots for enterprise, Intranet, Content, and Collaboration Applications. Jagan is a people leader and technology enthusiast with over 19 years of solving complex business problems through technology and innovation. Before Acuvate, he had an association with companies like Infosys and Microsoft and worked in countries USA, UK, Germany, Dubai etc. Currently, he is working towards growing Acuvate Software into a large enterprise. He is a digital business leader delivering successful go-to-market strategy, innovation, and operational execution. With his deep-rooted passion for building great technology and hands-on digital operational experience, he helps organizations in improving business efficiency.

In an interaction with People Matters, Jagan throws light on AI-powered chatbots and the HR industry, applications of HR chatbots, measuring chatbot benefits, and the challenges associated with implementation.

How are enterprises gearing up to leverage AI-powered chatbots? Who are the frontrunners of chatbots adopters?

Today, several enterprises across industries have already recognized the potential of chatbots and their business benefits in the areas of customer service, employee productivity and creating simplified workflows. 

In a recent interview, Keith Williams, HR services director at Unilever, mentioned that he believes chatbots are “the future of everything that’s happening in HR.”

Also read: Ray Wang on the employee experience 2025

Most HR leaders know conversational AI is a key technology for enhancing employee service in the future. They also acknowledge that employees are ready to adopt it for accessing information.

According to Mckinsey, Around a third of global companies with revenues over $100 million feel an urgent need to rethink and upgrade their current HR infrastructure. Self-service and NLP-powered chatbots will be essential to manage and support a large workforce spread across countries.

As workforces get more distributed and increasingly use mobile communication, more and more businesses will use AI to streamline HR processes and improve the employee/candidate experience.

Most companies who consult Acuvate understand the “why” of chatbots but are unsure of the “how” part - How to capture the right use case, How to choose the right vendors and technologies, How to develop a robust bot strategy etc.  

While some companies are developing frameworks in-house, some are opting for enterprise-grade chatbot platforms available in the market. 

Companies in industries like retail, consumer goods & banking can be viewed as the early adopters. And in most of the companies, it is the IT chatbot or the Intranet chatbot that is one of the first implementations we encounter.

With Chatbots offering inherent advantages over humans how we measure the benefits?

Benefits and RoI can be measured by tracking some business KPIs which the bot directly and indirectly impacts. For example, a direct KPI for an HR chatbot can be cost-per-contact or the number of HR issues raised per month. The indirect KPIs which often can’t be accurately measured can be Employee Experience, HR team productivity etc. 

It is highly important for organizations to establish these KPIs before actually deploying the bot and track them on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. This tracking also helps in adding new capabilities and features to the bot. 

What are the top considerations which enterprises may look at before evaluating chatbots?

The chatbot market is rapidly expanding and expected to grow at a CAGR of over 31% from 2018 to 2024. As more and more players are entering the market, organizations need to evaluate vendors based on their industry/function expertise. Some key capabilities to look for in a platform/framework are:

  1. Integration of AI, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning  
  2. Ease of Maintenance
  3. Cognitive Abstraction - This layer ensures you’re not locked down to any solution and helps you leverage any AI service available today and seamlessly change to a better service (if any) in the future

Since innovations are continuously happening in this space, organizations should also consider the technological maturity of the solution and the vendor’s capability to scale for new features.

What are the advantages and potential applications of chatbots for HR industry?

Chatbots offer a myriad of applications throughout the employee life cycle - right from attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention to separation. The conversational interface of chatbots enables self-service to users for all these stages. Bots can answer repetitive employee/candidate questions, qualify interview candidates, perform tasks like applying for leaves etc.

Some key benefits include:

  • Reducing cost-per-hire and improving employer brand during attraction and recruitment
  • Simplifying the onboarding workflow and eliminating unnecessary paperwork
  • Improving employee engagement and productivity for higher retention

Can you discuss some of the risks and challenges associated with chatbots? How can these be reduced?

Chatbot privacy and security are two areas which organizations should pay close attention to. Ensure chatbot solutions are compliant with GDPR or any industry-specific or location-specific policies and regulations. It’s also critical to ensure the chatbot provides information to users based on their authorization levels. End to end encryption, intent level authorization, user identity authentication, channel authorization, intent level privacy are some ways to enhance security and privacy. Apart from these, there might arise some operational challenges which can affect the success of chatbots implementation.

Setting the right expectations: Due to the excessive hype around AI in the media, chatbots are often considered as a silver bullet which can completely streamline all the business operations. However, this is not completely true. It’s crucial for chatbot vendors to set the right expectations for organizations. End users should be completely aware of what the bot can and cannot do. This can be achieved by

Identifying the champion user: If there are multiple groups/departments collaborating on the bot project, identify and thoroughly train one champion user from each department on the functioning of the bot.

Internal Marketing: Before rolling out the chatbot, employees should be educated on the different use cases, capabilities and benefits of this new technology. If employees are not well aware of the bot functioning there is a high risk of failure of the whole project due to low adoption.

Right time to market: Large companies have thousands of employees in multiple departments spread across different countries and languages. It takes time to consider the needs of all these business divisions and build for the right use cases. This prolonged wait for the bot might kill the initial enthusiasm. 

Deploying an enterprise chatbot in the shortest time-period possible yields better results and not miss the tide of new technology benefits. We recommend dividing the project into small chunks and start deploying the bot for use cases which can have the maximum business impact.

Build a minimum viable product (MVP) with just enough features to satisfy early users. This product can then be ramped up gradually according to the on-going business needs

Lack of expertise: Chatbot projects implementation and maintenance requires slightly different expertise than the traditional web / mobile application development. Lack of this understanding can cause confusion and mishaps in these projects. 

Here are a few steps organizations can follow:

  • Set up a defined Bot Development Lifecycle which has a step by step guide for implementing a chatbot
  • Identify the right tool & templates for mockups, testing, bulk training etc.
  • We strongly suggest “conversation user experience” designer role in the project. This role would be responsible for designing the conversations.

What are the most popular companies using chatbots already? Share some instances of successful implementations.

We have built various types of chatbots for Fortune organizations like Unilever, Britvic, Reckitt Benckiser, Grief, Seadrill etc. with our enterprise-grade chatbot platform - BotCore. We recently deployed a custom AI-Powered chatbot for a Fortune 200 Consumer Goods organization for users across 8 countries and 28 languages. The chatbot is integrated into the existing HR and IT related apps and can 

  • Answer questions related to HR/IT policies, leaves, insurance info, ticket status etc.
  • Perform tasks like raising an IT helpdesk ticket, applying for a leave
  • Send alerts related to the latest HR or IT news
  • Fetch information and documents.

Upon the implementation of the chatbot, the company reduced cost-per-contact by 20%.

Would chatbots replace mobile apps in the future?

This is highly unlikely and a widespread myth. Apps can’t be completely replaced. However, in the future, we can see enterprises investing more in the chatbot space compared to apps. In my view, chatbots complement the functioning of apps and enterprises need to strike the right balance between these two technologies for driving better business efficiencies.

Have tablets replaced smartphones? No. In the same way, mobile apps and bots will co-exist. For instance, consider the popular ride-sharing company Uber - users can book a cab either via the mobile app or the company’s bot in Facebook Messenger. Hence, assuming that apps will be replaced by bots is delusional.

Bots enable a hasslefree way of accessing information, whereas apps are about downloading and storing information. Bots offer a conversational user experience and apps represent visual experiences. These factors clearly demonstrate that chatbots may not replace apps with their distinct features but complement them.

Businesses can leverage both these technologies for better business growth. Also, bots require messaging apps like Slack, Skype for Business or Facebook Messenger etc. to provide a conversational experience. Chatbots give a new dimension of interaction to mobile apps and enhance the latter’s user experience.

To learn more on how organizations are gearing up to invest and leverage HR chatbots, join us for People Matters TechHR Conference on 28th February 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Register Now!

Topics: TechHR 2019, HR Technology

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