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Benefits and challenges of using chatbots in HR

Chatbots may save HR professionals' time, but using them can bring some challenges if HR leaders don't plan for those problems. Learn more about the benefits and drawbacks.

Chatbots can address some common HR problems. But HR leaders can run into roadblocks when implementing the technology if they don't plan for potential challenges beforehand.

Chatbots can help HR staff in various ways, including answering employees' questions and potentially improving employee and candidate experience. But HR leaders should make sure their organization has prepared properly for the technology by taking steps like creating a proper data structure for the chatbots and avoiding ramping up too quickly with the tech.

Here's more about the benefits and challenges of using chatbots in HR.

The benefits of using chatbots in HR

Chatbots can take over rudimentary HR tasks and can answer employee questions more quickly than a human. This means they bring a few benefits. Here are two.

Improved HR efficiency

Employees tend to ask certain questions that can eat up HR's time. Chatbots can address questions about paid time off, payroll, employee benefits and other straightforward topics.

Greg PridgeonGreg Pridgeon

Helping employees with questions about benefits or time off are particularly good tasks for a chatbot, said Greg Pridgeon, senior analyst for HCM at Forrester Research, a research and advisory firm headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.

Since chatbots can answer employee questions more quickly than an HR employee can reply to an email, chatbots can improve employee experience as well.

Improved candidate experience

Chatbots may help improve candidate experience by quickly responding to questions. Anxious job candidates likely appreciate a fast reply.

Adam FormanAdam Forman

Chatbots can also carry out other rudimentary recruiting tasks, said Adam Forman, leader of the AI group at Epstein Becker Green, a law firm headquartered in New York.

These include the following:

  • Asking job seekers about the type of position they are seeking.
  • Reviewing applicants' qualifications.
  • Scheduling an interview with the hiring manager.
  • Performing some onboarding tasks.

Chatbots can save recruiters time by carrying out these basic tasks.

The challenges of using chatbots in HR

However, using chatbots for HR tasks can be more complicated than it may seem. Here are some of the problems that may arise during implementation and after.

Insufficient data infrastructure

A lacking data infrastructure can prevent chatbots from functioning successfully.

Tim FlankTim Flank

A solid data model is necessary for chatbots to respond accurately to employee inquiries, said Tim Flank, senior principal of HR and workforce transformation at Mercer, a consulting firm located in New York.

Without the proper data infrastructure, chatbots may only give generic answers that don't apply to a specific organization or may be unable to answer the questions at all, Flank said.

Ramping up too fast

Complicated employee demands can lead to chatbots struggling at first to carry out requests.

The chatbots should begin by only carrying out simple tasks, Flank said. Answering easy questions from employees is a good place to start.

Then, once the tech has been performing well for some time, the chatbots can carry out more sophisticated tasks, like completing an employee's address change, he said.

Low adoption

The chatbots must function successfully from the beginning because, if the tech doesn't work properly, employees won't want to use it.

HR leaders should solicit input from end users on their experiences, Pridgeon said. One potential approach is creating a team of employees who share honest feedback about their bot interactions.

"Ensure that your end users have an early say in the process," Pridgeon said.

Another roadblock to adoption is a chatbot only providing links in response to an employee question. The chatbots must provide a more detailed response than, for example, simply sending a user a link to a benefits page.

"[A list of links] is not the type of engagement employees are looking for," Pridgeon said.

Too many company chatbots

Several different chatbots across departments can create confusion. For example, employees may not know whether they're supposed to message the HR chatbot or the IT department chatbot about an HR software problem.

Departmental leaders should coordinate and create a streamlined chatbot approach, Pridgeon said.

Reducing the amount of chatbots can be helpful, and if leaders determine multiple chatbots are necessary, employees should receive training about which chatbot applies for each situation.

Document retention issues

Many companies have a document retention policy that mandates a specific storage time for digital documents.

The organization's document retention policy should apply to chatbot conversations as well, Forman said. HR leaders should work with others to establish a storage location for the chatbot data and decide who has access to it.

Creating this policy before problems arise is crucial, he said. If, for example, the company becomes involved in litigation and leaders must access employee chatbot messages for the lawsuit, doing so is more difficult without a previously established storage policy for chatbot communication.

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