HR bogged down with questions? AI can help

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A user chats with Woebot, a chatbot aimed at helping users with anxiety and depression learn cognitive behavior therapy techniques in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, July 7, 2017. . Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Are employees flooding HR’s email with questions that could easily be resolved by reading a FAQ page? Two HR professionals advise delegating those mundane tasks to AI, freeing up HR to address more pressing issues.

Administrative work, including answering employee questions, takes up about 73.2% of HR’s time, according to a study by the Center for Effective Organizations. That doesn’t leave much room for evaluating workplace culture, researching new retention programs or recruiting — all equally essential HR functions.

“It takes about three minutes to answer a question, but when you consider how many of those are coming in you realize how much it can really bog [HR] down,” said Debbie Smith, vice president of HR at software company E2open — during a recent webinar. “We could spend that time on higher quality initiatives.”

To help redirect some of HR’s more tedious work, 20-year HR veteran Beth White programed a chatbot last year to specifically address workplace questions. She dubbed the virtual assistant — and her company — MeBeBot, which can be customized to answer questions specific to a company’s benefit program and policies.

“Our goal is to enable HR professionals everywhere to leverage technology to extend the knowledge of HR, and to put the focus back on our most important priority: our people,” White said.

Employees get frustrated when there’s too many digital platforms to access work benefits, she added. So MeBeBot is integrated with popular online communication tools like Slack, Skype and Teams that employees already use at work to make the application more accessible, White added. And being online, employees can access the program outside of office hours.

“You can get questions about your benefits answered when you’re at the doctor’s office,” White said as an example.

E2open is a customer of MeBeBot; the software company was able to save their HR department 184 hours of labor last year after introducing a custom chatbot, called Eva, Smith said. The HR department requested the chatbot be programed to answer basic administrative questions about benefits, taking time off and company policies. Since its induction, Eva has been answering around 300 employee questions a month, Smith said.

“We introduced Eva to the staff as the place you go for questions; now it’s the first place they go,” Smith said. “Now our [HR] staff is able to do more impactful things to run the business.”

Using the data it collects from employee questions and usage, MeBeBot is able to identify training topics employees need covered, and identify workplace issues that may threaten employee retention efforts, White noted. Going forward, she said she would like to explore how artificial intelligence can also support employees’ professional development.

“We can’t scale or grow without thinking about smart ways we can use technology to become more efficient,” White said.

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