Recent discussions about Artificial Intelligence would have you believe that it’s a superior form of intelligence that is superseding ours and that AI-driven machines and programmes will outproduce and outperform humans as to make us redundant.
The reality is more complex. With the proliferation of chatbots, we’re not talking so much about automation as augmentation. There are definite limits to what bots can do, but they can give you vital support and information when you need it most and so boost performance and productivity.
Let’s look at five key ways chatbots work to increase our performance and productivity in the workplace.
1. Easing the load and liberating talent
A lot of work in any organisation is routine and repetitive. Chatbots excel at repetitive tasks which they complete faster and often more efficiently than humans. They’re supremely focused and don’t get easily distracted. Assigning high-demand, but low-level, work to a bot can free up time for the higher value work where human knowledge, intuition, and empathy really count.
Instead of being deluged by tasks the chatbot clears your way, allowing you time to make critical interventions. Chatbots can also create efficiencies by streamlining and standardising processes. The time and effort saved by chatbots can be more productively spent by human agents solving complex customer problems, closing deals, planning strategies, and providing vision and leadership.
This revised division of labour results in cost savings, increased customer satisfaction, better return on investment, increased productivity and enhanced performance. It can also boost employee morale.
2. Providing better customer service and satisfaction
Dialogue is a key feature of chatbots. They’re able to process natural language which makes them good at dealing with customer queries, especially since those queries are increasingly more likely to be communicated by messaging apps rather than phone calls.
Already many of the online interactions we engage in are with bots, not humans. Chatbots are always on and available 24/7. They can provide speedy, near-instant responses.
IBM has estimated that businesses spend $1.3 trillion on 265 billion customer service calls each year. This is critical work because losing customers is expensive and bad for business. Chatbots help businesses save on customer service costs by speeding up response times, answering up to 80% of routine questions and, critically, freeing up agents for more challenging work.
Chatbots provide other cost savings too. They cost a fraction of a human agent, they never tire, don’t need breaks, don’t fall ill, don’t switch jobs or go on extended leave. These are the typical advantages of automation. But chatbots are also adaptive and responsive, learning from their interactions with customers, building profiles and making recommendations.
3. Giving everyone a virtual PA
With a chatbot always to hand, you can regard them as a virtual personal assistant to whom you can delegate tasks and from whom you can request information – endlessly. And just like a human assistant the chatbot can learn your preferences and anticipate your needs.
Chatbots provide instant access to information when you need it. That means you don’t need to waste time trying to find it. They help you manage time better and make you more productive. Chatbots can book meetings, arrange travel itineraries, give you information on expenses, holidays, and other HR processes and procedures.
A chatbot can help you manage your working day reminding you of deadlines, informing you when a task is pending or complete. Project managers can use chatbots inside project and workflow management tools like Slack to keep informed of work status, tasks pending and manage the project schedule and all its dependencies.
Poor communication within organisations is a major cause of losses in productivity and poor performance. Chatbots open up a world of better, seamless communication between you and the organisation and within and between teams. With a chatbot at hand, there’s no excuse for not having the information you need when you need it.
Chatbots can assist with large projects too. Bots can run marketing campaigns, providing email shots, posting updates, running ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. Chatbots can provide research for marketing campaigns and even chase up clients.
4. Making training more effective
Training’s key goal in any organisation is to enhance productivity and driving performance. The problem is making sure it’s efficient and delivers the right impact. With their ability to provide information and take on the role of mentor, chatbots can really make employees more productive and give them the support they need to reach their performance goals.
Often training seems to be removed from work. It’s something you do in a classroom or at your desk instead of work. With a chatbot that needn’t be the case.
Consider the usual process for onboarding new employees and getting them up to speed. Often this happens in isolation. With a chatbot on hand providing training and support the onboarding can happen as and when the new employee needs it, so he or she can become part of the team straight away and learn on the job. A new employee is immediately more productive and starts to perform right away.
With chatbots, learning becomes an ongoing dialogue. A chatbot with access to learning that is chunked and packaged for quick access and intelligent searching and retrieval can target information for the individual learner. It also learns from its interaction with learners, so it can recommend training in the way a human trainer and mentor might. Material can be re-used in various contexts and for differing scenarios, making for a better return on investment for training.
The chatbot can provide feedback and data based on its interactions with learners. This means L&D departments have access to the hard data that allows them to discover where training really works. They can then base their learning resources on real learner needs and not on some notional idea on what they think learners need. Chatbots improve the communication between employees and trainers and provide the vital evaluation step that completes the training cycle.
Chatbots make learning personal, relevant and continuous. They help recognise and support individual performance. Chatbots can break the habitual cycle of learning and forgetting that complicates most training.
5. Anchoring learning in the workflow
Learning becomes more effective if you place it in the workflow, at a place and time when you need it. Having a chatbot accessible while you’re working makes that a real prospect. Learning sticks by engagement and relevance, so having a chatbot as a personal coach, mentor and learning buddy makes continuous and personalised support and learning at work achievable.
Training is often the domain of the classroom or in inaccessible documents or courses. Much of it is not directly relevant to the task at hand.
But what if it were? Imagine performing a task and having the information you need at your fingertips. That’s what chatbots offer. You could be on a sales or maintenance call and need to check something quickly. A customer may need specific information. With a chatbot, you have the answer with you all the time. It’s a step beyond old-fashioned job aids because a chatbot can respond to specific queries in real time and it’ll recall what you asked so it can refine the information if you ask a similar question again. Also, there’s no need to re-design your systems or acquire new ones: chatbots thrive inside existing applications.
This just-in-time, on-the-job performance support saves time, effort and ultimately money. It delivers customer satisfaction and builds employee confidence. Poor access to the right information hinders performance and productivity; chatbots enhance them by removing those access barriers. And they promote a virtuous cycle of learning and performance.
In short, you can hand over many everyday work activities to the care of your chatbot. They already have obvious relevance to key areas of an organisation: HR, L&D, Customer Support and Service, Project Management, IT and their influence is growing.
They save costs, provide efficiencies, increases productivity, and allows their human counterparts the time, space, and opportunity to improve performance.
If you don’t employ chatbots in your workplace, maybe it’s time you did.
About the author
Paul Healy has worked in the learning industry since 2003 in sales, learning consultancy, and programme management. He specialises in assisting companies with change management and innovation agendas.