With the use of chatbots in the Human Resources arena expected to grow in 2018, it may be just the tool to help your company improve talent acquisition, create a more connected on-boarding experience and boost employee engagement.

What’s a chatbot you ask? Well, “bot” is short for robot—and is a special type of robot that use artificial intelligence to chat with people. These are essentially computer programs that function as “intelligent assistants.” If you use the online collaboration tool Slack, you may be familiar with bots such as Captain Feedback, which helps you gather feedback from team members or Obie and Nilest, which helps guide you to find information pertinent to you. Another interesting bot, Lucy Abbot, helps facilitate conversations and is especially adept at communicating with millennials and members of Generation Z.

As business use of chatbots has become more common, HR is no exception. Recruiters are starting to use chatbots on their company websites and social media channels to engage prospective candidates in conversations as part of the initial selection process. For example, SGT STAR, a U.S. Army chatbot, assists with military recruitment efforts by answering questions about enlisting in the Army. And once a candidate is hired, specialized chatbots can play a critical role in the on-boarding process.

Cognitive computing—a term that includes the technology enabling chatbots—is already disrupting HR and other business functions. In fact, more than 65 percent of CEOs surveyed by the IBM Institute for Business Value believe that cognitive computing will drive significant value in HR and transform key functions including HR operations, talent acquisition and talent development. Major advances in artificial intelligence have enabled chatbots to learn on the job and become more human-like in their interactions.

“HR leaders will need to begin experimenting with all facets of AI to deliver value to their organizations,” Jeanne Meister wrote in Forbes, adding that these intelligent assistants can transform recruiting. “As intelligent assistants become more widely used in our personal lives, we will expect to see similar usage in the workplace.”

Here are some of the benefits you can expect when incorporating chatbots into your HR team:

They’re great at mundane, repetitive tasks. Chatbots are taking over the low level, low value, paper shuffling aspects of HR which allow HR professionals time to handle more complex strategic tasks.

They can respond immediately. Chatbots give immediate answers to frequently asked questions which will certainly make your employees happy and go a long way to increase job satisfaction. For example, Jane—a chatbot created by the app development firm Loka—provides real-time responses to frequently asked employee questions, such as, “Are we off on President’s Day?” and “What are my vision benefits?” Jane can also remind employees of certain key perks—such as a free weekly yoga class—that they may find useful.

They’re data superstars. Chatbots process data fast and offer a clear picture of analytics allowing company leaders to take action quicker and make better, more strategic decisions. The chatbot “Jane,” for example, tracks which questions are being asked most often. This data can help identify critical issues quickly such as an uptick in employee questions about how long it takes to process travel expense reimbursements and implement solutions to improve the process.

They’re always connected. Chatbots can connect via mobile devices and be available to employees wherever and whenever the need arises. Bots are available 24/7—so employees don’t need to wait until office hours to receive a response.

They help new hires with on-boarding. Chatbots can help with on-boarding and talent acquisition by scoring interview questions and providing answers to new hire questions. They can also present on-boarding materials and answer routine questions. Chatbots created by Boston-based start-up Talla help new employees navigate the big stack of paperwork they frequently need to complete when they start a job, as well as present videos and other required tutorials.

I view chatbots as helpful e-assistants that are always “on,” and learning more each day. They’re great at handling mundane, repetitive tasks and questions—and can even assist with recruitment, on-boarding efforts, and employee feedback.

But don’t worry about chatbots replacing HR professionals just yet. Case in point, Microsoft’s Twitter bot, Tay, made headlines earlier this year when it tweeted a series of offensive remarks. Even with the cognitive and technical challenges, chatbots can still free up valuable time for HR professionals to focus less on mundane busywork and more on strategic, high-profile projects. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Photo Credit: CollabHouse Flickr via Compfight cc

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