Chatbots in HR: Improving the Employee Experience

chatbotsinhr

After months of trial and error in building my chatbot prototypes, I finally finished my thesis for my master’s in Digital Management from Hyper Island, titled “Chatbots in HR: Improving the Employee Experience.”

What have I found?

  1. There is currently a lot of excitement and hype around chatbots that outstrips what chatbots can actually do right now
  2. Nevertheless, due to this recent surge of interest in chatbots, the developments in the industry are moving at a extremely rapid pace, with different chatbot products being built every day, in different industry sectors. Features and functions are being added and improved on at lightning pace
  3. Based on the testing of the chatbot prototype that I built for this thesis, there is a lot of potential in using chatbots in HR to improve the employee experience.
  4. Chatbots can free up time from the HR team, and in the long run, even help the HR function to move up the value chain
  5. If designed well, HR chatbots can create significant cost savings due to time saved in completing HR tasks (by employees) and answering queries (by HR team)
  6. In addition to providing friendly, instant information for employees, other areas of value-add for chatbots in improving the employee experience could lie in:
    • Helping employees to avoid embarrassment, or maintain their personal reputation, when they need to ask certain types of questions
    • Providing anonymity when employees want to read up on sensitive employee/company policies
  7. The most important issues that need to be resolved to make a customised chatbot for employees is the back-end integration with HR enterprise software as well as clear parameters over employee privacy and data collection. Some enterprise software vendors have partnered chatbot developers to create solutions for their software
  8. However, even without customisation, chatbots can still provide significant value in generic information services
  9. As use of technology increases in HR, HR leaders need to review the skillsets required in their HR team to enable the function to thrive in a new digital age

Read the full thesis here: Chatbots in HR: Improving the Employee Experience

 

I built a bit of bot!

I want to order screenshot

After a frustrating afternoon, I finally made a personal breakthrough.

I built a bit of bot!

I tried building a chatbot from scratch on my own using DIY blog posts as guides, but it was too hard because I don’t have programming knowledge, and those instructions start with setting up a server, when I was raring to have a go at building the bot itself.

So after hours of trying today, I decided to take a different approach and take a shot at using a chatbot toolkit. I chose to use wit.ai as it was recommended by a friend, and also the fact that Facebook bought it.

Following instructions from the wit.ai starter guide, I managed to write a simple yes-no response. On top of that, I also “trained” the bot to respond to variations of yes/no, such as “yeah”, “yup”, “nope”; similar to how a person might respond over WhatsApp or FB Messenger. This is the most basic of basics, but looking at where I started just a few weeks ago, with my fears and concerns, this is really a leap forward.

So here it is, a screencast of my efforts today:

 

Getting to the Heart (and Brain) of the Matter

Jonathan Briggs introducing Professor Calvert at the beginning of the talk
Jonathan Briggs introducing Professor Calvert at the beginning of the talk

I attended a fascinating neuromarketing talk at Hyper Island by Professor Gemma Calvert, Director for Research & Development at the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight at the Nanyang Technological University.

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience to marketing to uncover consumers’ subconscious needs, preferences and biases.

Three things that I found most enlightening that triggered some thoughts relating to my work in Learning & Development:

  1. People don’t do what they say they do
  2. Speed of an emotional response trumps the speed of a rational one
  3. A congruent multi-sensory experience has significantly more impact than one-faceted experience

People don’t do what they say they do.

Some standard marketing research tools may not be effective because of three things we know about people:

  1. They don’t always tell the truth
  2. They don’t think how they feel
  3. They don’t do what they say

In the case of 1. it can happen, particularly in Asia, when we don’t want to embarrass or offend the other party, or admit to a flaw or an undesirable behavior, or it is an uncomfortable or taboo topic that we want to avoid discussing.

Many also don’t think of how they feel. Consumers who are asked about how they feel about – or why they prefer – a product may make up an answer to rationalize an emotionally-led decision. In an agency environment, where everything moves extremely fast, a lot of colleagues move on instinct, especially in people / HR matters. Part of my job requires a lot of understanding of how people work, and I often ask leaders to tell me about what they look for in new hires, why they approach situations in a particular way etc. And I have discovered that quite a few find it hard to articulate their feelings and rationale for their behavior, even though they are extremely successful in their business, because they’ve never consciously thought of it.

Finally, many don’t do what they say, because they make up an answer to rationalize an instinct- or emotion-led decision.

In the area of Talent, this brings to mind the various surveys we do to detect the ‘pulse’ of the workforce: training surveys, engagement surveys, you name it. Employees may be overthinking their responses, or responding because they think that’s they way they should respond. So how accurate is the data we collect, and subsequently how effective and impactful is our talent planning as a result?

During the talk, Professor Calvert also spoke about Implicit Reaction Time tests, which are tests conducted at a speed that bypasses the conscious brain. These can be mobile or web based and are scalable. What if we applied this to our staff engagement surveys to uncover what they really think about the company? I wonder if results would be significantly different.

Speed of an emotional response trumps the speed of a rational one

There are two brain systems that control our behavior. One is Unconscious Emotion, which is very fast, involuntary and associative. The other is Conscious Thinking, which is slow, considered, and rule following.

In managing people, particularly in difficult and conflict situations, facts are important. However, managers often neglect to address the emotion behind it. So they may have addressed the situation, but may not have solved the problem. The team member continues to be unhappy even if the solution is the right one. Knowing that emotion drives our decisions, and that we rationalize them, addressing the emotion might be as equally important as discussing the facts and next steps.

A congruent multi-sensory experience has significantly more impact than one-faceted experience

The brain is built to integrate information coming in from different senses. Receiving sensory information that are complimentary to each other can be significantly more powerful than receiving it only from one source.

An example: Pringles taste 15% fresher and crisper when high frequency sounds were boosted in real time. So the crispness of the packaging enhances perception of crispness and freshness of potato chips.

Extrapolating this to the workplace, perhaps we need to start paying attention to the employee experience. In many companies, systems are not integrated, or are not viewed holistically, so employees do not gain a consistent message or experience in the company. If a company prizes collaboration, is collaborative working integrated into the infrastructure, rewards, and even the way training workshops are run? If a company prizes innovation, how is it encouraged and rewarded? How is innovation reflected in the corporate policies and the business operations, and not just innovation only for its consumers products or services? If a company wants to increase its digital revenues, how should its IT infrastructure change to support it?

How would making these changes impact performance in the workplace?