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Habanero innovation initiative – Chatbot, your workplace assistant

At Habanero, we are always experimenting with new ideas to push the boundaries of design and technologies to improve employee experience. We want to offer insights and strategies to help our clients make informed decisions and ultimately create better workplaces.                                                    

In this blog series, I would like to share the story of our on-going innovation initiative on chatbots. In this first post, I will give an overview of the problem space, the benefits of an AI chatbot, and what the research covers.

The reboot of the chatbot

2016 marks the reboot of the chatbot since its inception many decades ago. As consumer behaviors shift and artificial intelligence technologies progress, the opportunity to innovate in this space is more appealing than ever before. Major tech companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Google have been contributing to this momentum by coming up with their own Conversational User Interface (CUI) platforms. Numerous well-funded startups and businesses are creating their own frameworks and chatbots.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term chatbot, it is “a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you can interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from function to fun, and it could live in any major chat product”.

While chatbots are generating a mix of hype and promises in the consumer space, I believe that there is tremendous potential for chatbots to make a positive impact in the enterprise and increase job satisfaction.

The same old enterprise problem

Minus a few lucky people, I’m pretty certain that we have all experienced the frustrations and inefficiencies of dealing with housekeeping tasks such as finding information or filing expenses at work. The problem isn’t new, and until now the solution has always involved a myriad of business systems and third-party tools. The onus is on the employees to dig up information and go through complicated steps to accomplish tasks.

The time and effort that we spend on low-priority tasks could be better spent on more important work.

According to a report from McKinsey Global Institute, the average employee spends an estimated 20 percent of his/her work week looking for internal information or looking for colleagues who can help with specific tasks.

With our limited cognitive load, we can only do so much each day. The time and effort that we spend on low-priority tasks could be better spent on more important work. Little nuisances snowball into bigger inconveniences, thus negatively affecting our job satisfaction and keeping people from thriving at work.

The vision of the enterprise chatbot

There are different types of bots out there depending on the business objectives and development approach. For the purpose of the study, we are referring to the type of chatbot that was built with artificial intelligence, namely machine learning and natural language processing.

An enterprise chatbot integrates all relevant business systems and is the place where all tasks begin.

The vision of the enterprise chatbot is to be the origin of an operation by integrating all the relevant business systems into it, thus allowing users to access information and services directly in a chatbot-enabled messaging app. The bot will serve as a critical factor in enabling organizations and employees to be more efficient and productive by stripping down the user interface and simplifying the steps to complete a task. The AI engine is critical as it would allow the organization to instill the bot with enterprise specific knowledge and for the bot to learn and grow through interacting with users.

How organizations and employees benefit from utilizing chatbots

Driven by the desire to increase productivity and get to the results faster and more efficiently, below are some examples on where a chatbot can improve the existing scenarios.

Human resources

The chatbot can answer questions about an organization such as HR benefits, internal processes and policies. The conversational format and system integration with user profile can return information faster than navigating through the system or looking through a list of search results. The small size of the chat window will push authors to create short, to the point content.

Marketing and sales

It’s not uncommon for a company to have bits and pieces of their customer information scattered across different business apps. The chatbot can present a holistic view of a customer profile by gathering the relevant data across the integrated sources. This approach provides an easy way to learn, share, and edit information about a customer with your colleagues in the chat app. It also saves time and cuts down on disruptions from switching and logging into multiple programs.

Mobile

Chatbots reduce the inconvenience of switching between apps. This is a benefit that will be even greater in mobile devices. If implemented properly, the chatbot would become the go-to place for mobile workers to access relevant services on the device.

The range of enterprise use cases is extensive. The chatbot is not meant to be the end-all solution to business systems, rather it is an extension of them that streamlines processes, and improves data sharing and findability across the organization.

Why now?

In 2015, the combined number of users of the top four messaging apps exceeded the equivalent of the top four social media apps. Today chat apps are more than just text and GIF exchanges between people. Businesses are conducting transactions and interacting with customers in this channel to boost engagement and increase conversions. Progress made in neural networks, machine learning, and natural language processing has enabled people to realize ideas that were once thought as blue sky. The context and technologies seem to be in place but what about the user experience?

State of chatbots

Despite all the excitement going on, we are still in the early stage of the reboot. The present landscape of chatbots is like a double-edged sword. There are plenty of bot building frameworks out there that require minimal technical development to allow people to create their own chatbot. This democratization of technology has helped propel the momentum of chatbots into the mainstream. Unfortunately, as a result of this, the world is filled with many underperforming examples and very few stellar chatbots. Truth to be told, mistakes have to be made so we can take the lessons we learn and get better.

A chatbot experience needs to be tailored to the organization and its most valuable assets: their people.

In the enterprise space, the chatbot experience needs to be tailored to the needs of the organization and its most valuable assets: their people. It takes good planning and strategizing to set up a chatbot for success and scaling; and not end up as another business application that employees loathe.

The experiment

To better understand how chatbots can be positioned within the enterprise and define what makes up the ideal user experience, we conducted user research to validate our assumptions.

Initial research questions:

  • Are people receptive to using the chatbot when looking up employee benefits information?
  • What tasks can be best accomplished by the chatbot rather than using the existing internal systems?
  • What’s the ideal user experience when interacting with the chat bot?
    • What qualities make up a good assistant?
    • How should it behave?
In the next post, we will look at the methodology that was used to collect data and the principle qualities and personality traits of a great assistant bot.

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