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Conversational AI and the Employee Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I was invited to contribute an article to the Collaboration Journal, a quarterly publication from the Collaboration Network, as a guest columnist. The Journal always features a variety of thought leadership articles focused on achieving better outcomes for customers and employees. They address topical business challenges within the context of the current state of the world.

I shared insights with readers from my over two decades in the conversational AI industry. I started out by talking about conversational AI tools being thrust into the customer service spotlight in 2020 as businesses dealt with COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions, and rapidly changing information. This created an increased adoption of, and preference for, digital self-service tools.

The key takeaway from my article wasn’t about customer service, however. While conversational AI tends to be associated with delivering easy customer self-service, I encouraged readers not to overlook its value for employee self-service, too. This technology is achieving impressive benefits for both customer-facing and internal use cases.

Why did I place my focus on using conversational AI for employee support? One reason is the important fact that your customer experience starts with your employee experience. Employees that feel supported and have the proper tools to do their jobs are going to be happier and more engaged. In turn, that means better products, services, and support for your customers.

The same growing customer base of digital natives who appreciate having 24/7 intelligent self-service options always available, also appreciate having those same types of digital tools offered within their workplace. This has been amplified by the switch to fully remote and hybrid working arrangements within many organisations.

Sophisticated conversational AI platforms provide options for creating fully integrated virtual agents that can deliver personalised information and support. These can be deployed on company intranets and microsites to support logged-in, authenticated employees regardless of their physical location.

Use cases for internal virtual agents range from supporting contact centre and live chat agents to delivering support for HR and employees’ day-to-day jobs. All employees, whether or not they are in customer-facing roles, can benefit from having access to self-service tools.

Virtual agents and chatbots have come a long way over the past two decades, and there are even more exciting developments on the horizon. Now is the perfect time to make conversational AI a key part of your employee support strategy.

If you aren’t a member of the Collaboration Network, I encourage you to visit the Collaboration Network website to request a copy of the Summer 2022 edition of the Collaboration Journal. It includes many great thought leadership articles on pressing issues such as the impact of the cost of living crisis, supporting vulnerable customers and employees, and scam prevention.

My thanks to the Collaboration Journal team for inviting me to be a guest columnist!

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 3: Supporting Employees

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

So far in this series we have discussed using chatbots, virtual agents and conversational AI to offer easy-to-use customer self-service (Part 1) and as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents (Part 2). In this third and final instalment, let’s explore how this technology can be used to deliver a positive employee support experience.

Organisations of all sizes and across all industries are being faced with difficult decisions as they work to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting employees has become more important than ever before and, at the same time, more challenging than ever before. With new regulations and policies around social distancing and quarantines, companies are suddenly faced with entire workforces working from home, reductions to just essential employees and the temporary suspension of in-person interactions.

Luckily there are digital tools organisations can put in place that will help employees navigate this ‘new normal’ and improve productivity and efficiency. AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents empower employees to self-serve when and where they need support. This both improves the experience for employees and reduces the pressure of staffing human-assisted channels, such as internal support desks and helplines, to deal with increased demand.

The flexibility of conversational virtual agent technology lends itself to a wide range of successful employee support use cases. Here are a few that are especially relevant to support employees in the current uncertain situation:

  • IT supporthelp desk requests, system access and password resets, application support – Employees transitioning to working from home will inevitably have questions, especially if they are using technologies with which they are unfamiliar. There are lots of entertaining stories about technical fails circling the internet, like this story of a boss accidently changing herself into a potato during a videoconference. Finding the humour in these very relatable situations brings us together and is important during such a stressful time. What is not funny for employees is when they can’t get the technical support they need to do their jobs. A chatbot or virtual agent gives them 24/7 access to self-service so regardless of when they run into problems, they can find information and step-by-step troubleshooting guides to help resolve their issues.
  • HR support company policies/procedures support, time-off requests, payroll questions, expense report assistance – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have put new policies and procedures in place for employees or made updates to existing ones. With so much new information – combined with new working and family routines – employees can benefit from a way to easily get their questions answered. Virtual agents remove the need for employees to search through an entire policy document for a specific piece of information by instantly pulling out the relevant content for them. The technology can also be set up with a handhold feature to guide employees through the completion of forms and HR-related requests.
  • Staff support documentation support, staff training, product guides, device/machine support – This third category covers a wide range of specialised use cases. Organisations are being faced with the challenge of supporting employees digitally – in some cases for the first time ever – and should explore how an internal-facing virtual agent may be able to help them do that. Everything from training programmes to product guides to documentation assistance lend themselves well to intelligent automated support. With options to integrate with Single Sign-On (SSO), employee profiles, knowledge management platforms and other backend systems, these tools can provide an extremely personalised experience for employees.

Take a look at this Customer Success Story from a large government department that has been reducing their internal service desks costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent for several years.

I mentioned in Part 1 that chatbots and virtual agents are not only cost-effective tools for providing digital self-service, but that they can also be deployed quickly with a high-level of performance. That quick timeline is hugely important for organisations now as they rise to the challenge of delivering quality service and support. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Do your homework – It’s natural during stressful, uncertain times to act on feelings of panic. Unfortunately, that can lead to decisions that aren’t thought out and ultimately compound the problem. Even if you are moving forward with a virtual agent project quickly, still take the time to do your homework. Make sure the solution you are selecting will work for your organisation’s goals and internal structure. A basic or off-the-shelf chatbot may sound good because it’s super fast to deploy, but will it be able to accurately and consistently answer the questions your customers, agents and/or employees are going to ask? A DIY solution may have an attractive price tag, but do you have the internal expertise and time to build a tool that will provide a positive experience for users?
  • Look at the bigger picture – Even if you’re starting with a small, very specific chatbot deployment you still need to consider how it fits into your larger digital strategy. Select a solution that you will be able to expand and can be integrated with other channels and systems (such as live chat, voice technology, personalised account information, ticketing systems, etc.). Even if you aren’t looking to create a scalable and robust tool right now, you want to have the ability to easily do that down the road. Failure to identify the role of a virtual agent in the overall customer or employee experience often leads to organisations wasting time and money on a project that they end up replacing. If you have an existing tool that isn’t performing well in the current situation or doesn’t fit with the new digital reality of your company, now is the time to upgrade it. The good news is, you won’t have to start a new project from scratch. And that brings me to my third tip. . .
  • Use what you already have – The best way to jumpstart the development of a new chatbot or virtual agent is to use data that you already have as initial training data. This may be live chat transcripts, call centre transcripts or existing chatbot projects. When you are selecting a vendor to work with on your project, make sure to ask if and how they can leverage your existing data to fast-track the development process and give the virtual agent a high level of accuracy from day 1.

If you are looking for industry research to help you with your business case or strategy, be sure to download the recently released ContactBabel report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service. It is a long report but provides valuable insights from consumers on their preferences and usage of self-service channels as well as use cases and results from organisations currently offering self-service options.

When you’re ready to get started on your own chatbot or virtual agent project, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.