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Beyond the chatbot frenzy: Rethinking HR’s digital experience architecture

Jason Averbook, Mercer
Jason Averbook
With a career that spans over two decades in HR and technology, Jason Averbook is senior partner and the Global Leader of HR Transformation at Mercer, where he also is a leading figure in the firm's global generative AI strategy and services. He is the author of two books on the future of HR and HR technology. From 2018 to 2023, Averbook was co-founder/CEO of Leapgen, a company committed to shaping the future workplace. He also serves as an adjunct professor at universities worldwide, has held senior roles at industry giants such as PeopleSoft and Ceridian and is frequently quoted by top media outlets.

In the HR technology industry, there’s a growing excitement about chatbots. These digital assistants promise to streamline processes, enhance employee experience and reduce costs. However, before diving headfirst into the chatbot SOS (shiny object syndrome), it’s crucial to pause and reflect on how these tools are integrated into the broader organizational context. Specifically, we must address the pitfalls of siloed thinkingā€”and how this can affect the workforce experience.

The allure of chatbots

Chatbots, powered by generative AI, offer a compelling proposition. They can handle routine inquiries, provide instant support and free up HR professionals to focus on more strategic tasks; yes, we have promised this for 20 years, but this time, we are serious. The capabilities of these bots are continually expanding, making them more sophisticated and human-friendly. Yet, the rush to implement chatbot technology can sometimes overshadow the importance of thoughtful integration into the overall employee experience architecture.

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In many organizations, HR functions are divided into distinct areas like recruitment, benefits, payroll and employee relations. This traditional North-South siloed approach means each functional area deploys its own strategy and tools to achieve specific goals. While this can create deep expertise within each function, it often leads to a disjointed experience for employees. Itā€™s like a symphony where each musician plays their own piece perfectly but without listening to the others, resulting in a cacophony rather than harmonious music.

On the other hand, East-West thinking encourages collaboration across these functional silos within HR. This approach emphasizes creating a cohesive employee experience by integrating strategies and tools across all HR functions. For example, when an employee has a query, an East-West-aligned HR function ensures that whether the question pertains to payroll, benefits or career development, the response is seamless and consistent. This holistic approach is akin to an orchestra where all musicians are in sync, producing a beautiful, unified performance.

Centers of Excellence (COEs) have long been established to consolidate expertise and drive best practices within specific domains. However, the traditional COE mindset can sometimes be a double-edged sword. While it promotes deep specialization, it can also foster a siloed mentality where each COE focuses narrowly on its own objectives. In the context of chatbot implementation, this might mean developing highly specialized bots for different functions without considering the holistic employee experience.

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Designing for seamless change

To truly leverage the power of chatbots, it’s essential to design with a focus on change management and human experience from the outset. This means moving away from the mindset that new tools require extensive training and adaptation. Instead, the goal should be to create intuitive, human-friendly solutions that integrate seamlessly into existing workflows.

Generative AI plays a pivotal role here. By designing chatbots that can understand and respond to natural language queries, we can create an interaction experience that feels more human and less robotic. These bots can learn from interactions, continuously improving and adapting to better meet employee needs. This adaptability reduces the learning curve and enhances overall satisfaction.

The power of generative AI

Generative AI can make the chatbot experience special in several ways. First, it allows for more personalized interactions. A generative AI-powered bot can remember past interactions, anticipate future needs, and tailor responses to the individual user. This personalization is like having a personal concierge who knows your preferences and anticipates your needs, creating a more engaging and effective experience.

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Second, generative AI enables the creation of more sophisticated and context-aware responses. Instead of providing generic answers, the bot can understand the specific context of a query and offer relevant, actionable information. This level of sophistication reduces the need for employees to navigate multiple systems or seek additional support.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of chatbots hinges on the quality of the data they are built upon. Good data ensures that chatbots can provide accurate, relevant and timely information. It also enables these bots to learn and improve over time. Organizations must invest in robust data management practices, ensuring that data is clean, integrated and up to date. This involves breaking down data silos, standardizing data formats and establishing strong governance practices. Good data is like the fuel for a high-performance car; without it, even the most advanced engine will sputter and fail.

The demise of old-school intranets and portals

As we move toward more advanced digital solutions, the old-school intranets and portalsā€”often referred to as link farmsā€”are becoming obsolete. These static, cumbersome systems are being replaced by more dynamic and interactive platforms. Chatbots are a key part of this transition, offering a more engaging and efficient way for employees to access information and support. This shift marks the beginning of a new era, where employee experiences are no longer bound by outdated technologies.

We are on the cusp of reinventing the digital employee experience in ways we have only imagined. The integration of generative AI and chatbot technology is just the beginning. By focusing on seamless change, good data and breaking down silos, we can create a more connected and responsive workplace. This new approach prioritizes the needs and experiences of employees, ensuring that technology serves as an enabler rather than a barrier.

Before investing in chatbot technology, it’s crucial to think about the overall experience architecture. This means considering how the various elements of the digital ecosystem interact and contribute to a cohesive employee experience. It’s not just about buying bot after bot but about ensuring that these tools work together harmoniously.

An integrated experience architecture involves breaking down both east-west and north-south silos. Cross-functional collaboration is key. HR, IT and other departments must work together to ensure that chatbot solutions are aligned and interconnected. This collaborative approach helps to create a seamless experience where employees can access the support they need without unnecessary hurdles.

Moreover, engaging employees in the design process is vital. By gathering feedback and involving employees in the development of chatbot solutions, organizations can ensure that the tools being implemented truly meet the needs of their workforce. This bottom-up approach helps to bridge the gap between decision-makers and end users, fostering a more inclusive and effective digital transformation.

Using chatbots for a transformative EX

While the allure of chatbot technology is undeniable, it’s essential to approach its deployment with careful consideration and strategic planning. By addressing the challenges of siloed thinking and adopting a holistic, human-centric approach, organizations can harness the full potential of generative AI to create a truly transformative employee experience.

Designing for change, rather than imposing new tools that require extensive training, will ensure that chatbots become a valuable asset rather than a source of frustration. Let’s think deeply about our experience architecture before succumbing to the temptation of deploying bot after bot after bot, which will inevitably cause more frustration than success. Like building a house, without a strong foundation and thoughtful design, no amount of shiny new gadgets will make it livable.