November 5, 2019
Smart assistants for the workplace are simply chatbots for employees. These chatbots allow employees to ask the chatbot questions about company policies and operations and get quick replies.
Smart assistants are also proactive, they can notify employees if something relevant and important happens. They can look at the aggregate of interactions with employees and use that information to suggest information or actions that might be relevant to the employee in question.
Smart assistants need to have access to the internal systems of the organization, as these systems are where the majority of the information they provide comes from. One important role of smart assistants is to abstract company systems so that employees can interact with these systems without having to log on or even know of the system’s existence.
A much neglected category of services for smart assistants in the workplace is employee enablement. Rather than just providing the employee with information, the smart assistant should allow the employee to do things they need to do. For example, book a meeting room, log an expense, reset a password or book holidays.
These chatbots can either interact with the employee through text or through a voice device. While at the moment the voice device is likely the standalone device such as a smart speaker, it is likely that in the future they will access the bots through always-on-headphones.
When communicating with employees through chat i.e. via text, the chatbot can also provide graphical widgets to make the interaction easier. It is often much quicker to click a graphical widget than to type a response. It is also possible for the chatbot to have two-way interaction with the companies website or intranet if that makes sense. For example, it is not efficient to fill out forms on a chatbot, but it is useful to have a chatbot guide the employee to the correct form and then provide guidance to the form filling activity.
There are a few chatbot companies pushing smart assistants for the workplace. Smart assistants for the workplace face the same challenges that regular chatbots face, how to create a useful employee experience. There is a tendency for many chatbot companies to oversell the capabilities of their chatbots and then not be able to deliver a product that matches the end customer’s expectations.
The first is to do with figuring out whether the use case in question is suited to a chatbot, or is better addressed through a graphical interface. For example, a long and complex form is usually better created as a graphical interface rather than a chatbot.
The second is ensuring that the design of the chatbot delivers the best customer experience. There are many factors that contribute to a great design, including deciding on the flow of interactions, deciding which features should be user initiative (use NLP) and which features should be system initiative (scripted), deciding whether the chatbot should escalate to a human and when this should happen.
The third is the technology of the underlying chatbot platform. There is admittedly still a lack of maturity in chatbots generally as witnessed by the fact that Alexa and Google Home cannot reliability respond to commands or questions beyond the first command or question. The innovation in this domain is happening extremely fast and therefore it is important to choose a chatbot platform that is an innovation leader in the underlying technology. Small differences in the power of the underlying technology can lead to big differences in the resulting customer experience for employees.
Important innovations such as natural language queries and much more powerful dialog management driven by small data are emerging. The paradigm of setting up intents that are linked to linear flows is about to change.
These new technologies allow chatbot developers to create a more intelligent bot that provides a much better customer experience.
At the moment chatbots perform very well for certain use cases, such as providing support on simple repetitive questions, the scope of use cases where the chatbot can add value is widening quickly. The main change from the employee’s point of view is that the chatbots will seem more intelligent as they will be able to engage in multi-turn dialog within the narrow scope of the topic in question.
Smart assistants are set to revolutionize the workplace by allowing employees to get instant answers to questions about operations and policies and to do operations without having to log into the underlying systems. This is especially because technology-savvy millennials are very comfortable using chat-based or voice-based technologies if they deliver productivity gains.
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