Bots to improve employee experience

One of this year’s most talked-about tech trends is chatbots, which many believe will transform the way people interact with online services. These conversational interfaces have huge potential to deliver value inside the enterprise to transform the experience for employees. In a packed session at this week’s smileexpo17, Sharon O’Dea of Intranetizen gave an introduction to chatbots – what they are, how they work, and what applications they could have in the digital workplace. Alison Boothby was there for us.

Chat Bots


Whether we realise it or not, we come into contact with bots most days- often in a customer services capacity where their use is ubiquitous. There’s already a robot lawyer which can process appeals against parking tickets (DoNotPay) and asylum applications.  And within our own workplaces there are all sorts of opportunities to use bots to improve our employee experience.  But why are these seemingly simple text based exchanges the subject of so much hype and the object of so much VC money? The answer lies in our communication habits: we now spend more time in messenger apps than on social media and that is a huge turning point.  Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how users access all sorts of services.

Bots in the enterprise

In organisations with multiple user systems, scientists have proved that the complexity of just getting work done limits a person’s usefulness by 10 IQ points. Chatbots can help by being the bridge between systems designed by IT and those desired by humans.  Many of us are familiar with feature-packed and overly complicated enterprise software – bots can help to navigate this minefield, simplifying everyday tasks and improving useful output. It’s a compelling argument.

Take a typical organisation with all sorts of systems one would typically access on any day: email, an intranet,  ESN, Self-serve HR system, a learning management system, CRM, business applications, holiday booking, travel booking, meeting scheduler and more.  Many of the tasks we perform are routinely simple and can be automated with a conversational interface that makes it more human and frees up time to get on with more useful work.  Then there are plenty of tedious workplace tasks that can be simplified and made more enjoyable by bots. Think staff travel, room booking, restaurant booking, holiday requests, expenses approval, FAQs, self service IT support and the list goes on….

Sharon O'Dea talks about Bots at smileexpo Sharon explained: “Bots turn interactions into conversations. They put tools and content into the hands of audiences enabling interactions to be simple and seamless. It’s altogether a much improved employee experience.”  It’s an exciting time. So many of these routine tasks are done poorly within the enterprise currently so it will be easy to demonstrate real value of using bots internally. And they are amazingly good value.

Build or buy?

There are lots of tools on the market to help you build a bot whether you opt to train it yourself or venture into the world of machine learning and AI. It is certainly worth taking advantage of the expertise that is already out there and buy the technology. At the most basic level, something like makes the process easy. As long as you can create a flow chart, you can create a bot!

For starters working with a predetermined Q&A style conversation will reap results in many of the workplace situations noted above. Here is an example that Sharon used:

meeting room bot

For more complicated bots you would need to work with a bot framework such as Microsoft Bot Framework, or Amazon Lex but the overall process is exactly the same.

  • Start with user needs
  • Plan content and conversation steps
  • Develop personality
  • Buy or use a framework to build it
  • Test and iterate

It is important that your bot reflects your company culture and when scripting the conversation you do need to consider your brand voice, its tone and personality. In her workshop Sharon shared some great examples such as Bus Uncle and to demonstrate this point – worth a quick look in an idle few minutes…

Am I concerned that bots will replace humans in the workplace?  Not at all. They will enable us to concentrate on higher level and more complex tasks. The real beauty of embracing the power of bots is that by turning tedious processes into human style conversations it not only feels better, but also short cuts the processes and saves time. No one likes form filling much – but a quick chat with a bot seems pretty painless.