What is a chatbot, and what does it mean in the context of Human Capital Management?
A "bot", which is short for robot, is an application that performs an automated task. A "chatbot" is an application that can hold an electronic conversation with a human. Chatbots are a fairly common example of the use of artificial intelligence as a substitution for human involvement.
Chatbots in the realm of HR add new opportunities for efficiency and responsiveness, but they can also create problems and frustrate users.
Chatbots in the workplace
One of the earliest and best known chatbots was ELIZA, a program released in 1999 that could simulate normal conversation. These days, chatbots are used for a wide array of functions, including the ordering of food, serving as a hotel concierge and even offering advice on personal health and finances. In the HR world, chatbots have been adopted as a substitute for human assistance with a myriad of employee questions, requests, instructions and communications.
The Boston-based start-up Talla has created a suite of chatbots to help acclimate new workers, according to MIT Tech Review, with plans to expand the bots' abilities to perform more extensive HR tasks relating to taxes and employee feedback Other interfaces can help people search out new career opportunities and work with recruiters. California's Loka recently launched a chatbot called Jane, which is able to communicate with employees in real time and answer any HR-related questions (benefits, healthcare, etc.) These bots are at the forefront of changes in the HR profession, which is becoming increasingly reliant on automation.
The pros of chatbots
While HR is still in the early stages of the chatbot evolution, many early adapters are experiencing substantial benefits. VentureBeat explained that chatbots are a great alternative to enterprise tools that are normally clunky or overly complex. Chatbots provide a simple and more intuitive approach to interaction with employees generally, and to the accomplishment of HR functions specifically.
Implementation of chatbot programs is usually not difficult. Most chatbots can be implemented quickly and easily if an internal communications system is already in place. Chatbots are also an invaluable source of data for managers and HR leaders. The aforementioned Jane, for instance, will track every question employees ask, which management can then use to ensure that the company is addressing employee interests and concerns and is developing appropriate policies and training programs.
Meanwhile, HR professional Ondrej Prochazka is excited for what chatbots can do for recruitment, namely, cutting back on the spam recruiters receive. These bots can help filter out the "junk," allowing recruiters to meet with only the best candidates.
As beneficial as chatbots might be, they're not without disadvantages. Asaf Amir is the CEO of the U.K.'s Chatsuite. Speaking with App Developer Magazine, he said that one of the most significant drawbacks is that not all chatbots are created equal. In his experience, some of the bots have excelled, while others may not have the scope needed to handle the functions essential to HR. While their effectiveness will probably improve over time, HR leaders must be careful to choose a program that meets their needs while not creating opportunities for embarrassment.
Though not technically an HR bot, ITBusiness.ca pointed to Facebook's messenger bot that was unveiled in mid-2016. Aside from issues with functionality – there were several bugs early on – the messenger bot raises an issue common among artificial intelligence technologies: they often don't have the ability to consider ethical implications. In one instance, that led another bot – Twitter's Tay – to make a series of offensive remarks. These programs learn from interactions with people, and that can sometimes pose a problem.
Finally, many people feel that no matter how evolved chatbots become, they will never replace human involvement. That's an important element to keep in mind, as bots should only be used to streamline the work of HR managers and enhance the employment experience. Ultimately, management must decide what role, of any, they play in a given workplace.