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Chatbots for work – how they could make a big impact inside organizations

Sharon O'DeaSharon O'Dea·
chatbots

One of the most talked-about tech trends this year is chatbots – or conversational user interfaces – which could transform the way people interact with online services.

But while the hype focuses on their role in customer services, I believe it’s inside organisations where they could make the biggest impact in the immediate term. With a little planning and some investment in tools and content, turning interactions into conversations can improve employee experience and deliver savings at the same time.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are services that allow humans to interact with machines using conversations. They’re powered by rules and artificial intelligence to deliver services and content.

Bots have huge potential to streamline the digital workplace, improve the user experience and boost productivity, by acting as a bridge between systems and interfaces designed for – and by – IT and those designed for humans.

What makes bots so attractive, and means they have such huge potential, is that they bring your communication and online services right into the devices and apps your audiences are already using. In fact, while people have an average of 33 apps on their phone, 80% of their phone time is spent in just three apps — one of which is likely to be their messenger app of choice. People are now spending more time using messenger apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Line than they are using social networks.

Chatbots for work

Inside the enterprise, making content and services available in this way could transform the user experience for employees. In most organisations people are expected to navigate myriad (often awful) systems to get work done; an employee might be expected to go into one system to book leave, another to read the relevant leave policy, and use email to ask for the time off. This forces users to switch between multiple user experiences and designs to perform even simple tasks, increasing cognitive load and slowing users down. Each system- or context-switch has a “cognitive cost” which neuroscientists suggest is worth up to 10 IQ points.

Chatbots can resolve all of that by doing all the hard work behind the scenes to keep things simple, clear and clean for employees. A chatbot can manage tasks across multiple systems, and turn these interactions into conversations, to return just the information the user needs.

There are tons of applications for chatbots in the workplace, in HR, communications, IT, and facilities. And they can simplify and streamline simple tasks like expenses for employees, allowing them to get on with things they’d rather be doing. Where there’s a defined process, I believe they will make a huge difference to employees.

Bots for internal communications

They can also help with delivering relevant content to users. News organisations such as the Guardian have chatbots which deliver a daily bulletin of stories to subscribers and allow them to ask for more on topics of interest without having to browse the site. This same approach could put internal news stories into the hands of users who may not be able to access a traditional intranet.

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Similarly, making long documents like FAQs or employee handbooks accessible via a chat interface makes their content easier to navigate and read. Users simply ask a question and get an answer, through text messaging or a messenger app.

These could be linked up with HR systems so they can personalize the information or service. So if you ask how many days leave you have, it will return your allowance and how many days you have left, with perhaps a link to the relevant policy or form.

It doesn’t have to end there: if the question can’t be answered using rules, the chatbot could pass you over to a real person who can answer your question. Chatbots don’t replace expertise, but in mopping up simple repetitive queries they can free up those experts to focus on higher-value work.

How can I build a bot?

It’s possible to develop a very simple bot with almost no coding at all, using online tools, while bots which really delight the user – and deliver the kind of experience that makes life easier for employees – are well within the reach of the average developer.

Bot frameworks from Microsoft or Amazon give you the tools to build a bot using AI and natural language processing, as well as a platform to run your bot from.

Making your bot a success

Chatbots need to do more than simply – and quickly – provide information to users. For chatbots to really work, and to have good levels of adoption and use, they need to feel like real conversations.

The chatbot needs to project a personality in order to provide an engaging experience for users. It’s an extension of your brand, engaging in a conversation, so it needs to talk in your brand voice. Feeling realistic and even funny helps users overcome their reticence to talk to a computer; it’s not about pretending to be a real person, but rather being a realistic entity.

Crafting a personality – with a purpose, matching characteristics and a suiting tonality – is a critical part of chatbot creation.

The future

We need to design our digital workplaces for where people are now and where they will be next year or the year after – and that’s using messenger.

Turning interactions into conversations brings online content and services right into right into your users’ hands and pockets.

By creating a single user interface to content, communications and countless third-party applications, bots can improve the employee experience, making interactions with complex systems to become simple, easy, and seamless.

Bots aren’t difficult to build. And they’re getting easier all the time as off-the-shelf frameworks mature. But making a bot that works isn’t just about the tech, but crafting the content and tone too.

Bots do the hard work to keep things simple for your users – making them happier and more productive. And that’s why I believe the future for digital internal communications will be in conversations.

 


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