Southwest: Recruiting chatbots improve productivity

The pandemic didn't stop the evolution of HR tech. MGM launched new sites to help employees, and Southwest Airlines measured the effectiveness of its recruiting chatbots.

The primary argument for investing in recruiting chatbots is that they free recruiters from routine tasks. Southwest Airlines Co. said that argument is not only sound but has the data to back it up. 

Southwest recruiting chatbots, which launched in October of last year, have conducted 1.1 million interactions with users of the site, answering questions from people visiting the job site. Each chatbot engagement with a prospect can last about one to five minutes. That works out to between 18,000 to 92,000 hours of work, it said.

Southwest also found that 28% of those who interacted with a recruiting chatbot clicked on a suggested job opening, said Sarah Steinmann, a talent acquisition specialist at Southwest and a speaker at the Phenom People conference last week. The firm is a talent experience management provider.

Out of the prospective job candidates who viewed a job, about 57% applied, Steinmann said.

A significant reason Southwest rolled out a recruiting chatbot was for lead capture, Steinmann said. People often look for specific jobs that aren't, at that moment, available. "We wanted to make sure that we had a way to follow up with those candidates," she said.

Creating a chatbot script

Before the HR chatbots, recruiters weren't able to get to all of the questions asked by job seekers, prompting them to look for answers on Facebook or at career forums, Steinmann said.

Southwest started developing its recruiting chatbots by first creating an FAQ "workbook" or a set of questions and answers for its chatbots. Material for questions came from interviews and emails from job candidates. They wrote answers to the questions and fact-checked them with various departments.

"This was a manual process initially," said Shannon O'Bryant, a talent acquisition specialist at the airline who co-presented at the conference.

Another step involved measuring how the recruiting chatbots performed. Recruiters and other experts were assigned questions to ask the chatbots to check the accuracy, O'Bryant said.

The alumni network

In a different industry, the pandemic created a separate set of needs.

At the end of last year, MGM Resorts International had 81,000 employees supporting its hotels, restaurants and casinos, mostly in Las Vegas. When the travel and tourism industries came to a halt, MGM was forced to furlough many of them.

Randy GoldbergRandy Goldberg

But this was also a critical time for Randy Goldberg, MGM's vice president of talent acquisition strategy, who also spoke at the virtual conference. The business wanted to help the employees as well as help MGM maintain connections with its workforce.

MGM immediately created a "micro" website to communicate with employees and help them with job placement. It developed partner relationships with firms that had a sudden high demand for workers, such as those in distribution and grocery. Eventually, the list of employment partners grew to about 40.

"It wasn't about trying to make sure we hold on to those employees so that when we reopened, we can bring them back -- obviously that's what we wanted to see happen -- but the most important thing was taking care of the employee," Goldberg said. 

In August, MGM launched Phenom's alumni network site tool, which provides information about jobs, application status and ongoing communications.

In June, MGM began reopening its businesses and bringing back its workers. The pandemic also created some new jobs. The hospitality company has hired 20 contact tracers and employs health and safety ambassadors who oversee the pool area, remind guests what they need to do and keep the business in compliance with government health rules.

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