‘Alexa, tell work I’m taking a day off next week.’
If you’re not one of the 11 million homes who’ve purchased an Amazon Echo device, Alexa is the personal AI assistant who acts as the Echo’s brain and voice. And people love her.
She can do everything from play music, answer questions, deliver news and sports scores, tell you the weather and order items on Amazon for delivery. The more you use Echo, the more Alexa adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences.
Currently, employees can book time off easily on their mobile at a few touches of a button wherever and whenever. It won’t be long until employees will be able to book time off using Alexa, too. But we’re not there just yet.
The use of bots and AI in HR is, however, already happening – mainly in the form of chatbots.
Although chatbots are not new – they first became popular in the 1990s, with the rise of online chatrooms – they have evolved a lot since then.
Put simply, a chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users. Today they are combined with artificial intelligence to understand the meaning of what was said or typed. They can look at the phrases but also understand what specific words mean in a certain context, and they can utilize information from other sources. They are also built to learn and evolve from continual interaction with the user, recognizing patterns of behavior.
Chatbots for recruitment
The main area chatbots are already being utilized in by HR and People teams is recruitment.
Job seekers often have a myriad of questions during the application process and interview stage, so many companies are realizing the benefits of implementing a real-time online chat tool to handle the early interaction with applicants.
According to AI recruitment specialist Ideal, a recruitment bot can, in real-time, collect information from candidates such as their resume and contact information; ask screening questions about candidates’ experience, knowledge, and skills; rank candidates on metrics such as qualifications, engagement, or recent activity; answer FAQs about the job and the application process; and schedule an interview with a human recruiter.
This frees up HR’s time to focus on the onboarding process and creating great candidate experiences.
If done right, this can help candidate have better experiences going through the recruitment process – and help build an employer brand. It reflects the importance employers place on candidate and workforce experiences, and reflects the company as forward-thinking and innovative.
But HR and People leaders needn’t worry that chat bots are going to replace them – they should be seen merely as a complimentary tool in the recruitment process, particularly in large organizations where the hiring process can involve engaging with hundreds of candidates in a short time frame. It ultimately frees up time to concentrate on the candidate’s experience.
Chatbots as assistants
Speaking to Personnel Today, Adelyn Zhou, chief marketing officer of TOPBOTS – an AI research, education and advisory firm – predicts that intelligent bots in the future will act as virtual assistants in the employee onboarding process, by creating new employee profiles and helping staff answer basic questions about benefits, insurance, and company policies. Using technology like this then frees up HR and People teams’ time to concentrate on delivering great workforce experiences for their people.
In accounting, Sage is already using a chatbot, Pegg – a first-of-its-kind accounting bot which allows business users to manage their finances by sending messages from popular messaging apps.
Sage customers simply add Pegg inside Skype or Facebook Messenger and then ask it questions in natural conversation. They could ask ‘who owes me money?’ or ‘how much did I spend on lunches in July’ or ‘what did I earn last month?’ and Pegg will deliver the answers in real time, freeing up time for the customer to concentrate on their business.
Using AI to deliver better workforce experiences
As consumers embrace the likes of Alexa and other AI technology more outside of the workplace, it will only be time before they will expect to have similar interactions within work. But companies should only be thinking about bots and AI if it helps – not hinders – the employee experience.
Your people are your most important asset and technology like chatbots is only useful if it helps to create great workforce experiences. This type of technology has the potential to empower and improve an employee’s working life, but it won’t be the right fit for every business or indeed every employee.
Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Ben Sherman, summed it up perfectly when he spoke to Personnel Today, explaining that ‘AI is an exciting advancement that promises to make day-to-day life for HR much easier,’ but ‘no amount of technology can replace the simple comfort and reassurance that comes from speaking to another human being who cares’.