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Everything #HR Needs to Know About Bots

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Since this HR technology series has started, we’ve talked about enterprise resource planning (ERP), application program interface (API), cloud computing (aka “the cloud”), and many more. Bots (also known as internet bots or web robots) have become mainstream vernacular. But what are they really and why should human resource professionals pay attention to them?

bots, chatbots, bot, HR bots, recruiting bots, internet bots, Deepak Bharadwaj, HR technology

To help us understand more about bots, I asked Deepak R. Bharadwaj, vice president and general manager for ServiceNow’s HR Service Delivery product line, if he would share his expertise. Prior to ServiceNow, Bharadwaj was vice president of product management for Oracle’s talent acquisition and talent management solutions. He’s also held leadership positions at Taleo and SAP. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Clemson and graduated with honors from the MBA program at the Wharton School. And I’m thrilled he agreed to this interview.

Deepak, let’s start with a definition. What’s a bot and how does it work?

Deepak Bharadwaj, bots, chatbots, internet bots, HR Technology, ServiceNow[Bharadwaj] If you do a search for the term “bot” you will quickly find that bots are applications that perform repetitive automated tasks at a scale that is not humanly possible. Over the past two decades, marketers (and unfortunately spammers) have successfully used bots to reach many individuals simultaneously to accomplish their goals. Because of the advances in artificial intelligence (AI), we’re seeing a positive resurgence of bots.

Bots have become synonymous with chatbots – applications that can understand what you are trying to ask and then respond with the right answer just like a human would. The holy grail is for these bots to exhibit intelligent behavior that is virtually indistinguishable from that of a human.

How could a bot help human resources departments?

[Bharadwaj] Just like they do in customer service, chatbots have immense potential in providing service to employees across all departments including IT, HR, legal, marketing, and finance. Specifically within HR, there are typically three major types of conversations that a chatbot is likely to have:

  1. Retrieving system of record data such as “How many vacation days do I have left?”
  1. Answering a question based on knowledge base such as “What is the leave of absence policy in California?”
  1. Submitting a transaction such as creating a leave request and getting updates on approval status.

HR business partners and HR departments today are spending enormous amounts of time answering basic questions and fielding tactical requests from employees. A range of research studies from McKinsey to the HR Trend Institute put this number at 60-70 percent of the time.

HR departments have typically addressed these challenges by setting up service delivery models that can deliver service easier and faster for less cost. One of the key elements of these service models is case deflection – or the ability for employees to find answers to questions and address any needs themselves without having to go to HR. The primary case deflection approach today is to search for answers in what is typically known as knowledge base.

However, chatbots can help HR departments provide a more modern conversational experience to getting personalized answers and solutions thereby dramatically improving the case deflection rate and reducing the workload on what are typically known as Tier 1 and Tier 2 – the frontline HR support folks. Thus, HR can scale to support their employee base much more efficiently and effectively and truly free up personnel to work on more strategic initiatives.

Are chatbots a component in software or do they stand-alone?

[Bharadwaj] A chatbot needs to understand what you are trying to ask of it. This is typically accomplished by technologies that are a combination of conversational design, pattern recognition and natural language processing. IBM’s Watson and Google’s API.ai are two well-known examples of platforms that provide publicly available conversation services for chatbot applications. Conversation services can be stand-alone or included as a component in HR applications or a combination of the two. The conversation design itself may be part of the HR application, but the application may rely on third parties like Google and IBM for natural language processing services.

Once a chatbot knows what the user is trying to accomplish, it must execute the conversation. Sometimes it can be straightforward if you only want to retrieve data. The system knows who you are and easily gathers data related to your profile. It gets more complicated if you need to submit a transaction. The chatbot now needs to ask for a few pieces of information that go into the transaction and these data inputs will often vary depending upon the use case.

For example, a request for long-term disability leave may not need end data, but one for a short-term disability request might. Because the logic of what data fields to gather for different requests is deeply embedded in the application, chatbots performing these tasks are better off embedded in the application itself.

When answering questions based on knowledge base, chatbots must be part of the application that contains the knowledge base. These chatbots are the most complex because they must comb through knowledge bases and present answers that are relevant and personalized based on the user’s role, job type, location and a host of other criteria. While it is still early days for this type of technology, there is a tremendous opportunity for designing knowledge bases in an AI-first world.

Are there any downsides or challenges that HR pros need to be aware of when it comes to chatbots?

[Bharadwaj] HR departments must recognize the effort it takes to identify the types of conversations they would like a chatbot to have and then to create those conversations. One key question that HR teams often debate is whether to be transparent to employees that they are actually having a conversation with a chatbot and not a human.

Chatbots may not be the best paradigm for all interaction with systems. If you need to browse a catalog and visually inspect items before making a choice, a rich media interface works much better than a chatbot. HR must invest in service design and employee experience design skills if they want to offer employees an experience that integrates chatbots.

Last question: what do you see as the future of chatbots for HR?

[Bharadwaj] Most chatbots today have limited AI capabilities. They can either have a conversation on a programmed topic or they will bring in a person if they don’t know how to have a conversation. Expect next generation chatbots to learn on the fly. Every time a person needs to be brought in, a chatbot might ‘listen’ to how the human has a conversation and program itself automatically to have that conversation the next time it is called upon. Intelligent chatbots have immense potential in shaping the way we interact with systems in the future and this is just the beginning.

I want to thank Deepak for sharing his expertise with us. I know this is a lot to digest and it’s only the beginning of what chatbots can bring to our organizations. But chatbots aren’t a fad and they’re not going away. Even if we don’t have a chatbot, we need to start thinking about them. And we’ve inspired you to learn a little more about technology and HR, you can check out the rest of our series.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, NV

The post Everything #HR Needs to Know About Bots appeared first on hr bartender.

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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How to Leverage Company Benefits to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

One-third of organizations have increased their overall benefit offerings in 2016, according to a research report compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As recruiting and retaining top talent continue to become increasingly difficult for employers, robust benefit packages play a key role. When salaries and perks (think: free lunch) are nearly equal from company to company, employees are likely to opt for the company that offers the best benefits and greatest opportunities.

Medical and financial benefits aside, employees are looking for lifestyle and career benefits. SHRM reported that the top reason employers increased benefits in 2016 was to remain competitive in the marketplace—and the three biggest focus areas for change were in the health (22%), wellness (24%), and professional and career development (16%) categories. Robust benefit packages that include career development, health and wellness, and flexible working options provide a platform for employers to stand out. Nearly one-third of employees look for external positions because they desire “overall better benefits,” second only to higher compensation.

The type of benefits you offer speaks volumes on how you treat and support employees, which always manifests by way of your external employer brand. It’s not enough to say “we have great benefits,” because “great benefits” are now table stakes. Companies have mastered the art of talking about perks, from catered lunches to team building activities. Failure to talk about the real support and development opportunities you offer to employees might translate to missed opportunities. So how can hiring managers and recruiters promote employee benefits to help with recruiting and retention?

#1: Kick “industry standard” out of your vocabulary

When recruiters and hiring managers list their company’s benefits and summarize with the catch-all phrase, we offer “industry standard” benefits, it’s not enough. When all else—compensation, vacation days, and perks—are even, offering a standard benefits package won’t help your company standout enough to secure commitment from a top employee. Even though it might be tempting to default to a quick response, it pays to provide more detail about the benefits your company offers, in length, during the interview process.

And even more importantly than providing a laundry list of benefits (but kudos to you for that list!), explain how these benefits fit in with core company values. For example, if you offer flexible work arrangements and flexible hours, explain that these arrangements support your company’s value of work-life balance. If you provide a gym membership or showers at work, talk about how it enhances company culture or creates opportunities for employees to get the exercise they desire in a convenient way.. When recruits begin to see how your benefits support their shared values and interests, they’ll see the benefits you offer are much greater than “industry standard.”

Employers hoping to keep a competitive edge are offering more than the “industry standard” at every stage of the employee journey, including at severance – according to a recent study by RiseSmart. If you’re on the cutting edge of severance offerings, use those benefits to differentiate your company form the competition.

#2: Talk about goals in the recruiting and interview process

Before an employee is even hired, find out what they’re looking for in their employer and what their short and long term goals are. Ask questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and “How are you hoping your employer will support you along your career journey?” Employees, many of whom are seeking opportunities for career development and continuing education, need to know you plan to invest in their individual career goals.

A Career Builder survey found that 45% of employees, regardless of generation, plan to stay with their employer for less than two years. During their tenure, they expect to benefit and grow with each new role and and at each new company. It’s important to convey to prospective employees that you invest in each individual employee, regardless for how long they plan to stay in the role for which they are being hired.

#3: Amplify the employee voice

Remind employees early on that they have a voice to share about company culture and employee benefits. Glassdoor, for example, recommends employers invite new hires to reflect on their first few months at the company. Whether this leads to internal feedback or a public review, it can assist efforts aimed at creating a positive employer brand.

L’Oréal recently launched a #LifeatLoreal hashtag to encourage employees to share photos of their experiences at work. The campaign all stemmed from the idea that people would trust their peers on social media when it came to L'Oréal being a great place to work. Employees posted a wide variety of pictures, including snapshots of various benefits and perks in action—such as flex days and catered lunches. Encourage employees to share the experiences they enjoy the most on the social channel of their choice.

#4: Keep employees engaged with benefits

On average, salary is only about 70% of an employee’s total compensation. When employees don’t take advantage of the benefits offered by the company, it’s equivalent to leaving 30% of the total compensation package on the table. Employers who keep employees engaged with benefits are more likely to see benefits manifest as part of the employer brand. An employee is highly unlikely to leave a Glassdoor review that mentions a positive benefit if she has never actually utilized the benefit.

Try hosting monthly or quarterly Q&A sessions to discuss available benefits. When you roll out a particularly hefty benefit, such as a new 401K offering, or an update to parental leave policy, give employees ample opportunity to ask questions. You could also share success stories from employees who have taken advantage of a particularly niche benefit, such as an hour of free lawyer services, to showcase how the benefit is used and encourage other employees to check it out.

#5: Benefits are the forgotten negotiation tool

If you are a hiring manager or recruiter engaging with a candidate, think beyond salary, or equity. Everything is negotiable, from vacation days to health insurance choices. Savvy employees, especially as the war for talent continues to heat up, will use benefits as negotiation tools—but don’t shy away from doing the same thing on the employer side. It’s often easier to offer more benefits than to secure additional salary for an employee.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your full complement of benefits, including your severance benefits. Prospective employees may feel more comfortable about joining a company that will take care of them, in the event of a downsizing or restructuring event. You may want to consider offering perks like outplacement and career transition services to employees who leave voluntarily as well as those who are involuntary subjects of a layoff. Knowing that you are invested in their career, even after they leave, will help you create a workforce of dedicated, engaged, and satisfied employees.

The world is small and everyone is connected. When you invest in employees, it leads to a positive employer brand. In the new Employee Relationship Economy, former employees will someday become vendors, customers, brand evangelists, recruiting references, or even boomerang employees. In a world where the employee/employer relationship is no longer finite, it’s important to convey your full support for employees’ career endeavors at every stage of their career journeys -- beginning early in the recruiting and interview process.

In every recruiting conversation, highlight your dedication to each employee’s career. When you frame up your organization’s benefits in context of how they fit in with the employee’s journey, it’s easy for the candidate to see how your company would support his journey. Communication about employee benefits can go a long way in the recruiting process—and will have a direct impact on your employer brand. If you offer much more than “industry standard,” you should be screaming it from the rooftops. Your current and prospective employees deserve to understand just how committed you are to their personal and professional journey.

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