Five practical uses for digital assistants in HR

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Virtual assistants can be used to automate many of the routine, time-consuming tasks that HR teams have to deal with on a daily basis, freeing them up to focus on more valuable activities. As such, they are quickly transforming the way HR teams work and have the potential to provide considerable value for organisations that implement them in the right way. Here are five key use cases that have emerged.

1. Recruitment and onboarding

The value of virtual assistants and HR chatbots starts right at the beginning of the employee cycle: recruitment and onboarding processes. Virtual assistants can handle the more basic activities such as screening candidates, scheduling interviews, updating the status of applications and answering common questions from candidates related to issues like benefits or holiday allowance.

They can also streamline the processes involved in getting new hires up and running – an area crying out for improvement as just 12% of employees strongly agree that their organisation does a great job onboarding new employees. 

With the average onboarding experience consisting of around 50 activities – such as signing documents and administrative tasks – new employees account for a large proportion of HR queries. This makes onboarding ripe for automation. Virtual assistants can address most of the queries new employees are likely to ask – such as office locations, wi-fi passwords and how to access key documentation – without requiring any human input. This helps to make the process an easier and more positive experience for new hires, ensuring that they are engaged from the get-go.

2. Request management

It’s estimated that HR professionals spend around 57% of their time on administrative tasks such as payroll, leave of absence management, and risk and compliance – that’s more than 1,000 hours a year! So, once employees have been onboarded, virtual assistants can help carry the workload for recurring HR-related administrative tasks such as attendance tracking, managing paid leave balances and shift changes.

They can efficiently track and respond to basic employee requests that have historically sucked up a large amount of HR professionals’ time, instead enabling them to dedicate more of their days to engaging with employees. Employees get their requests handled faster, while HR staff get a simpler and more seamless way of managing the various requests that come their way.

This is especially important for large companies with international offices, where the limitations around certain requests (e.g. the number of holiday days) may vary between countries.

3. Performance tracking and training

In terms of employee performance, virtual assistants can significantly streamline processes related to goal tracking, scheduling reviews and identifying areas for improvement. They can assess employees’ skills and collate and analyse performance data over time, thereby adding more value to the review process. Embracing data-based performance management in this way will lead to a more effective system, all enabled through data analysis.

This can then feed into the creation of personalised training and development programmes. With an in-depth knowledge of employees’ strengths and weaknesses, virtual assistants can support customised learning by sharing relevant study materials, suggesting training courses and providing proactive recommendations.

Any gaps or challenges in their development can be assessed, laying the roadmap for career progression. This translates into effective and meaningful learning that can help employees develop both personally and professionally – and can be particularly valuable for employees who work remotely.

4. Employee queries

When employees have questions or need help with a certain issue, virtual assistants can provide instant and accurate responses. Simple queries such as “where do I go to upgrade my healthcare plan?” or “how do I increase my payment contribution?” can be handled by the chatbot, with more complex queries automatically escalated to a human team member.

Using EBM, Tesco launched Tess, a 24-7 chatbot, allowing colleagues to ask questions and receive answers about learning and development, policies and systems at any time. Tess is integrated on every page of Tesco’s L&D SharePoint site so users can access her wherever they are browsing.

Speed is a key factor. Aside from simply replying, virtual assistants can ensure prompter responses, thereby improving the HR experience for everyone involved. They can also be augmented by the likes of natural language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis capabilities in order to detect employee emotions such as anger or frustration and immediately hand the issue off for human engagement if required. 

Finally, deploying HR chatbots and virtual assistants will drive employees to look up the answers to queries themselves. This is a key issue, with more than one-third of HR professionals saying that it’s difficult for employees to find key HR information on their own. However, intelligent bots can instantly present employees with data and information from multiple backend sources, thereby empowering employees to answer their own questions.

5. Moving on

Finally, there is the exit process, which can be a daunting experience for HR staff and employees alike. There is typically a lot of paperwork to be completed, and several different tasks to tick off. Chatbots can boost efficiency and reduce stress levels by helping employees seamlessly and discreetly navigate and complete the exit process when the time comes for them to move on.

How do I return company assets? When do I need to submit my exit survey? What is my notice period? These are all questions that virtual assistants can handle without any fuss or complications. These can be awkward topics for people to discuss with human colleagues, so having a bot in charge makes it a much easier process.

Ultimately, most HR teams in large enterprises simply don’t have the capacity to engage with each employee in the personal way they would like to. Virtual assistants can help bridge this gap by adding an extra layer of proactive engagement, as well as handling the more routine, time-consuming tasks so HR professionals have more time to concentrate on what really matters: people.

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