Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several implementations of chatbots in companies with 1000+ employees. Chatbots can be implemented for various departments, however, before embarking on this journey, be sure you know the pain points and how you will measure the success of the implementation.
In some cases, employees don’t feel as much pain as you think and really the solution may better benefit the people in support roles who are the recipients of the frequently asked questions on a daily basis - the same questions over and over and over, day in, day out - you get the point! And, the impact of constant interruptions cost organizations billions of dollars in lost productivity annually (https://www.peoplehr.com/blog/2016/05/12/the-real-cost-of-interruptions-at-work/). For the purpose of this article, let’s use the HR department as an example. We’ve covered the key checklist items before starting any project: Executive sponsorship, budget, business need and measurable value provided by adding a digital assistant to the HR Team.
Let’s move on to the first key stage.
1. Preparation: Set the baseline. Quantify the pain points.
Before starting the project, you need to quantify how many frequently asked questions are arriving in the HR support inbox; how many telephone calls the HR team is answering; and how many face-to-face questions they receive from employees (rough estimates are fine). The topics can range across many categories, including payroll, benefits, training, onboarding, filing a complaint, issues with co-workers or their boss and a myriad of human related topics. I know this can be a little tricky if the questions are coming through various mediums, i.e., in person, via telephone, email. Give it your best guesstimate!
Once this information has been gathered, use it as your baseline to see if the questions decrease as the adoption of the chatbot increases post-launch.
2. Client Kickoff: Training. Shifting the Paradigm.
Typically, people choose careers in Human Resources to help humans. They tend to be naturally caring and supportive and WANT to help employees. And as humans, we also think that if we just answer those 5 super easy questions, we can check it off the list and get to the meaty part of our job. But then those 5 questions turn into 10, 10 turns into 20 and those 5 that you thought would be easy to answer end up being much more complicated than you thought. And it’s 7pm and you need to get home and put dinner on the table.
At times, it can be very challenging to encourage the HR team that they no longer need to answer those day-to-day questions and instead transition that job to their new chatbot assistant. This takes practice. It’s hard to say no, especially when your default is to help humans and always say Yes. And it’s not only training the HR team, you also have to train employees to go to the chatbot to for their immediate inquiry.
And yes…the chatbot content is configured to fit your business and the technology has to be implemented, logos designed, naming the chatbot - that’s the fun stuff!
3. Implementation: Onboarding the Chatbot to your Organization. Give it a Persona.
The next step is to design the chatbot to enhance your company’s culture and fit your business. This includes “human supervised” training of the chatbot to know who your insurance broker is, who manages retirement, health insurance options and basically anything else that is included in your Employee Handbook and Benefits Summary (for example). You train your new hire - the chatbot assistant - by feeding them as many of those employee Q&A’s as possible, so that your chatbot assistant can grow “smarter.”
Chatbots “learn” and become more accurate when they ingest many different ways to ask the same question. The Artificial Intelligence world, these “questions” are known as utterances.
An utterance, which is found in spoken and written language as in a script, has several characteristics. These include paralinguistic features which is a feature of communication that doesn't involve words but is added around an utterance to give meaning.
In other words, utterances pertain to the spoken language, for example, ‘When can I enroll in benefits?’, ‘How much does the company match for 401k?’ or combined statement and question, ‘Tell me how to change my benefits if I am having a baby and will be taking maternity leave.’
This stage is critical, as it is preparing the chatbot to be useful to the employees.
4. Testing: Start small. Bring folks along on the journey.
Now that your chatbot…let’s call it “Chirpy” has learned all about it’s new employer, it’s time to start engaging the HR team and employees across the company to ‘test’ the Chatbot. This helps identify any gaps in knowledge and allows us to continue to tweak and train the Chatbot. It’s important to start small with a handful of HR team members. It’s equally important to engage a random selection of employees.
The chatbot can “live” within tools or browser pages that your employees use on a regular basis, like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Sharepoint, or intranet web pages. Testing of the chatbot is simply asking questions to your new digital assistant in these various new “channels” of communication.
Two “gotchas” can occur in this stage. First, HR team members will tend to get very specific with their questions because they are intimately familiar with the content. In some cases this can be counterintuitive because you start to over-train the chatbot. That’s why it’s important to engage employees from other departments, so that you can have a more realistic testing experience and results.
The second “gotcha” is tester fatigue. If you ask the same folks to keep asking the same questions over and over again, they will get tired, bored and simply won’t test. Find groups of 10 or so folks to test each week. Ideally you want testers to submit 100+ questions per day during this stage to get a good sample and train the chatbot really well.
I recommend at least 2-4 weeks of testing. Keep in mind, once you announce your chatbot to all employees and “go live”, the results are continually being monitored and training of the chatbot is ongoing. That’s the beauty with digital chatbots…they are constantly learning and evolving.
5. Go-Live: Launch. Announce. Marketing!
Have fun with this stage. Announce your “new hire” in a big way! Add a link to your chatbot in your email signature, add an email auto-reply to the HR support email address, that will direct employees to the chatbot assistant first. You can also make the announcement at your next Town All or All Hands company meeting. Buy a cake, have a new hire onboarding event and print flyers or photos introducing the HR chatbot, the newest member of your team. Highlight the benefits - accessible 24/7 and available on your mobile device. If you have digital signage in your office, leverage this medium to advertise. Be creative!
Post-launch, you’ll be able to start measuring adoption, understanding what types of questions are being asked and continue to train the chatbot. And, a key benefit is that you’ll notice getting time back to work on more strategic projects. Don’t forget to revisit your baseline measurement of FAQ's and see how the questions to the HR team are in fact decreasing. Ask for feedback from employees to see if ‘Chirpy’ is being helpful and answering the questions accurately or use automated chatbot features survey your employees.
Now that HR has chatbot support, what other departments would benefit from a new digital assistant? Also, check out Josh Bersin's Website for great insights on HR Tech.
For questions or to have a chat, you can reach me via LinkedIn.