Worker using their laptop to interact with a workplace chatbot.
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Chatbots in the digital workplace have clearly arrived. Danone, a $28.8 billion French food company, deployed the technology through the Workplace by Facebook collaboration tool, one of many examples of internal chatbots. 

Digital workplace chatbots will only get better, too. By the early 2030s, it will be one of the technologies that will be “fundamentally reinvented” in the digital workplace, according to a report by the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). “A seamless suite of tools, including apps to support specific roles and jobs, dashboards that integrate business data into meaningful outputs, and chatbots using natural language processing, will all simplify interactions with information and people, thereby enabling work to happen more easily,” DWG’s Elizabeth Marsh wrote in the report

Reality for 2018: Start Small

Forget the 2030s for now. What’s winning for digital workplace chatbots in 2018? Daisy Hernandez, GVP, product management of enterprise collaboration at SAP, doesn’t see chatbots as mainstream quite yet. For internal workplace scenarios, she said SAP focuses on HR and IT and the “frequently asked questions” because those are the “easiest ones to start with.” Those approaches, Hernandez finds, can get organizations early chatbot wins. If companies start too big and fail to realize success with digital workplace chatbots, they usually tend to abandon ship. So Hernandez’s message: start small. 

It's also important to recognize that determining your investment returns won’t be easy with digital workplace chatbots. “Internally it’s a challenge,” Hernandez said. “Looking at this from a macro level, from a company perspective, and how much they have to spend on developing and deploying and answering questions, I don't know what my ROI on that is.”

Nithi Vivatrat, founder and CEO of Intellei, suggested some ways companies can get victories with digital workplace chatbots.

  • If you're a nonprofit, for instance, build donor relationships through one-to-one chatbot conversations with each donor. Nonprofits are one example of an organization that may not have the resources to conduct these conversations in a timely manner. A chatbot can automate those conversations.
  • If you're an association, you'll need to hold each new member's hand when they first join and personally show them all the ways they can make the most of the membership. A chatbot could do that for the association and save resources.
  • “Avoid pretending to be human,” Vivatrat said. “The facade won't last, and no one likes to be tricked.”

Peter Yared, co-founder and CTO of Sapho, said organizations should consider what has been learned in the consumer sphere when it comes to chatbots. “Back and forth chats have not had any traction in apps like Facebook Messenger,” Yared said. “Simple questions that have simple answers have a lot of usage on Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.” How do you apply that to the digital workplace? Yared said questions like "What's my PTO balance?" and "What's Jane Smith's phone number" and "What's the status of the Acme deal?" make sense. "Book me a trip from San Francisco to New York" does not, Yared added.

So how are companies putting chatbots into action in their work environments? We caught up with some companies that have deployed chatbots in the workplace and discussed business objectives and current outcomes. 

Related Article: Top 14 Chatbot Building Platforms of 2017

Segment: ‘Just Ask Spoke’

John Pichay, HR generalist for customer data analytics provider Segment, caught up with CMSWire about his 285-employee company’s deployment of the Spoke chatbot. Integrated with Slack, Spoke handles HR, IT and workplace operations questions from employees. Questions that the Spoke chatbot can't answer get routed to a human being that monitors questions through Spoke, and responses filter back to the employee via email.

Segment deployed Spoke April 1. “At the time I was the only one getting asked questions,” Pichay said. “If people had questions about our benefits or perks or anything, they would reach me different ways. They would come up to me in person or they would Slack me or email me. They would find any way to contact me.” Naturally, Pichay is there for his employees as an HR rep, but the constant questions can be distracting. “There should be an easier way to answer questions and especially as we're getting bigger because that means more questions will be asked.”

Screenshot of the Spoke-Slack chatbot integration as used by the company Segment.

Segment and Pichay wanted automation and scale. Enter the chatbot, and now Pichay said his team gets fewer requests. Employees can go to Spoke for the answer and they can get their answers “immediately instead of me being a blocker,” Pichay said. The HR team constantly monitors routed questions through Spoke and holds each other accountable when questions go unanswered for too long. They can tag content they upload to Spoke as the bot learns to form accurate responses, and Spoke learns how to answer better each time it interacts with an employee and to whom to divert questions.

The prep work pre-launch for Pichay included uploading content into Spoke from the HR team’s existing internal Wiki through Dropbox’s Paper app, a robust resource of company information not always easily searchable. The Spoke bot now can direct employees to precisely the right links and sources of information. “It's basically a really good knowledge base,” Pichay said. “Our Paper docs are flooded with information. It's really hard to look for what you need. Now, whenever someone asks us for information, we can ask them if they have tried Spoke first.”

Related Article: 8 Changes Chatbots Will Bring to the Workplace

Ameex Technologies: HR Trying to Stay Relevant

Raj Piruthivi, director of digital transformation at Ameex Technologies, told CMSWire Ameex’s HR team had a challenge of staying relevant in this fast-paced technological world of Gen Z. “They expect,” he said, “the same user experience of Amazon, Google and Facebook Messenger in their enterprise systems.” The HR team decided to use Ameex’s own bot platform team to create a workplace digital assistant bot.

What were the challenges for employees that Ameex’s HR team wanted to help through the bot?

  • Judgement free employee feedback
  • Search people within the company
  • Search for skillsets within the company
  • Apply leave requests and cancellations
  • Leave/vacation totals and eligibility
  • Employee benefits
  • View job/personal details
  • View training schedule
  • View approval status
  • Approve requests from employee (In case of managers)

The bot platform team wanted a program that streamlined various HR activities, created an awesome employee experience with its two-way conversational design and one that made the employees feel empowered and having fun. “They wanted it all on-the-go, so our team decided to implement all these asks in Facebook messenger through our ‘workplace digital assistant’ bot with proper corporate authentication,” Piruthivi said. Ameex’s bot platform team worked with its HR platform solution partner to integrate their APIs into its chatbot to execute its employee’s HR requests.

Screenshot of the chatbot that Ameex Technologies uses for human resources activities.

“This judgement free chatbot is a super hit with our employees to have a humanized conversation with the workplace digital assistant bot,” Piruthivi said. The team handles regular transactional tasks and questions and value-added activities of HR. “Instead of remembering everything at once, our workplace digital assistant chatbot can answer the questions in real time, which results in faster decision making for the employees,” Piruthivi said. “This has resulted in lot of saved man hours, increased our productivity as well as brought in a much transparent interface to interact.”

What’s next for Ameex’s digital workplace chatbot? It’s working with its HR solution vendor to enable machine learning-based prediction modeling for enhancing employee engagement, attrition prediction, streamlining recruitment process, helping HR to schedule interviews and employees to update goals. “In the future the bot would use generative conversation to advise the employees and managers through voice and text in various channels like Alexa, Google Home and Slack, Skype, etc.," Piruthivi said.

USA Mortgage: Staying Competitive With Jane's Help

USA Mortgage began rolling out its Slack chatbot across its 70-plus offices to give its loan officers and support staff 24x7, mobile-friendly access to its mission-critical business apps. “The mortgage industry is an extremely competitive business and we need our team members engaging with customers, not spending their time sifting through reams of emails and documents,” Ron Mueller​, SVP of sales and marketing, told CMSWire. “Having Jane on board means that our employees can now find exactly what they need in matter of seconds instead of minutes or even hours.”

What’s the typical use case? So far the company sees Jane used heavily among both loan officers and in-office support staff who are working with clients to get loans closed. Jane allows team members to reliably access their information on the go, and at any time. “If they’re with a client, or working on a file late at night, they can ask Jane for information without needing to go into our digital mortgage app or any other apps,” Mueller said.

Screenshot of the chatbot technology of in action for USA Mortgage
Since USA Mortgage launched Jane in May, Jane’s match rate has improved from 74 percent to 85 percent. “I have some folks telling me that they’re saving hours a day with Jane,” Mueller said. “Over time this will mean they’re both able to spend more quality time with clients, and also complete more transactions over the same period of time, which will make a huge impact to our employees’ bottom lines and our own.”

In Slack, Jane appears as a contact like any other teammate would. The team has also integrated Jane with its most mission-critical apps: Encompass, its digital mortgage and loan platform; AllRegs, its compliance and regulatory service; and its payroll and benefits systems. “This means that instead of having to log into multiple different tools and interfaces, using multiple different usernames and passwords, our team members can now just ask Jane for whatever it is they’re looking for, and Jane authenticates with the correct system, gets them what they need, and sends it right back,” Mueller said.

Teachable: Making Vacation Process Smooth

Nick Rasch, head of people operations at Teachable, deployed a vacation chatbot through Zapier and Slack in January this year to help its growing team coordinate and stay on top of their upcoming vacation and time off requests. “Everyone at Teachable uses the bot to send vacation requests to their manager, who can approve or deny the request as well as see all pending and approved leave requests for their team,” Rasch said. “Once the manager signs off, the bot creates a calendar event on the appropriate team calendar and lets the employee know.”

Teams and managers can keep track of upcoming vacation, and it make requesting time off a one-off process. It has also cut down on people forgetting to put vacation on the calendar, as that's now automated and contained entirely within Slack. “The main consideration was making sure the chatbot was easier and faster than the previous process for vacation requests,” Rasch said. “We also wanted a solution that was easy to customize and add integrations to in the future.”

Screenshot of the Zapier-Slack chatbot used by the company Teachable

The bot integrates with Slack for communication, Airtable for storing and giving users access to the records and a dashboard, and Google Calendar for posting the automated out-of-office calendar reminders. “Since we built it using Zapier,” Rasch said, “it's very simple to modify or add more integrations in the future.”