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How Automation and Employee Self-Service Can Improve Employee Experience

December 15, 2021 Employee Experience
scott clark
By Scott Clark

Today, as companies seek to do more tasks with less employees, automation has never been more important.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report from October 2020, 80% of business leaders indicated they are speeding up work process automation, and 50% said they are planning to accelerate the automation of repetitive tasks in the workplace.

Employee self-service is one area that is rich in automation opportunity. And the expansion of technology tools is providing a boost to enterprise efforts, starting with AI-fueled chatbots.

AI Chatbots to the Employee Rescue

Although many companies use chatbots to improve customer experience, others are using AI-based chatbots to enhance employee experience. As it turns out, employees tend to trust AI chatbots even more than they trust their managers.

A recent Oracle and Future Workplace AI at Work report showed that 64% of employees would trust an AI chatbot more than they trust their manager, and half of them have used an AI chatbot instead of going to their manager for advice. When respondents were asked what AI bots do better than their managers, 26% indicated that bots are better at providing unbiased information, and 34% replied that AI bots were better at maintaining work schedules, problem solving (29%), and managing a budget (26%).

Many companies are leveraging self-service tools for HR functions, as well as for internal processes, said Jesse McHargue, senior solutions engineer at Nintex, an automation and workflow management software company. “By now, most companies understand the value of giving their employees the ability to request time off quickly and easily, or get answers on benefits," he said. "But more and more are looking to provide better tools for internal processes like help desk and content creation for marketing and sales efforts.”

The speed and efficiency provided by automation enables employees to effectively handle tasks by themselves that otherwise would have required the involvement of other staff members. Self-service means users can interact with chatbots and find solutions without having to tie up IT resources, McHargue said.

“This equates to not every ticket being addressed by a worker," he said. "Think about how many times tickets come in when a user is locked out. Now think if it was automated and presented in a self-service medium like an intranet form.” 

The result of automation and chatbots is a more efficient process, said Scot Marcotte, chief technology officer at Buck, an integrated HR, employee benefits, consulting, technology and administration services firm.

“At the most basic level, AI chatbots do the heavy lifting of searching through all available HR data and content to provide contextually relevant answers,” he said. “More complex chatbots take it a step further — completing transactions and complex HR processes without users having to lift a finger.”

Related Article: VC Firms Fund a Chatbot Revolution in HR

Automation Simplifies the Onboarding Process

Take the example of new employee onboarding. The onboarding process begins the day a prospective employee becomes a new employee, and often doesn't end for months. By automating aspects of the onboarding process, companies are able to fine-tune the onboarding experience, eliminate human error and make behind-the-scenes processes more seamless. This allows HR staff to concentrate on engaging new employees.

An effective onboarding process is the first part of establishing a positive company culture, and streamlining the process through automation can help to increase employee retention. Additionally, automation can enhance and complement the efforts of HR staff.

“Onboarding is almost always a complicated and disjointed process. Rarely do all the pieces of orientation, IT procurement, HR processing, benefits enrollment and manager interaction come together seamlessly,” Marcotte said.

“Automated tools can make this a reality. The bots behind the scenes can assure disparate systems speak to each other, with workflows coordinated and approvals streamlined. Beyond reducing processing headaches, these tools can also be powerful engagement aids. Dialogue between managers and employees can begin even before day one — for example serving up total reward offer letters to deter new hires from bolting for another offer.”

Automating parts of the onboarding process also has benefits further down the talent management value chain. Talented people often get stalled in their careers, either because a manager is hoarding the best talent or the employees themselves aren't aware of career opportunities, Marcotte said.

“Now more than ever, we risk losing high potential employees — Hi-Pos — to what they perceive to be greener pastures," he said. "Predictive analytics can both identify areas of talent needed within the organization and identify Hi-Pos that may be ideal internal candidates. These analytics can be synched with professional development tools to pinpoint ideal learning and growth opportunities for our best and brightest.”  

Related Article: How to Reimagine Onboarding for Remote and Hybrid Workers

24/7 Self-Service HR Portals Improve EX

Self-service HR portals enable employees to do for themselves what used to involve HR staff, meetings and wasted time. Technology providers, such as Paylocity, provide self-service HR portals and HR Employee Self Service (ESS) solutions to enterprises, which provides employees with secure, 24/7 access to a self-service HR portal.

Employees can view paychecks, clock in and out, request leave, update personal data, and even collaborate and chat with one another. ESS also improves the employee experience for supervisors, as they can easily and quickly approve time-off requests and schedule changes. The benefits of automating the HR portal include a personalized experience through individualized action items and process workflows.

“HR portals need to be hyper-personalized to assure relevance for users based on their role, their needs and the context of what’s happening for them and the organization,” said Marcotte. “Next, they must proactively bring individualized action items to minimize the noise and guide users to tasks and opportunities relevant to them."

Automated workflows can also make it simple to complete end-to-end tasks with decision support tools in the channel employees prefer, Marcotte said. "This is where great chatbots come together with precision engagement messaging and robotic process automation to make life simple for employees and supervisors,” he said.

Related Article: How Automation Can Improve the Employee Experience

Digital Adoption Platforms Work With HR and Productivity Platforms

New digital adoption platforms streamline certain processes and allow employees to more effectively perform their jobs through automation. They overlay contextualized and personalized guidance and instructions across popular HR and work productivity platforms, such as Workday and Salesforce. Typically, this is done natively within the app to increase productivity and reduce training time.

There is no one-stop solution for using automation effectively and digital adoption platforms help close the gap between vendor promises and daily reality.

“We often hear HR and productivity platform vendors tout they are the be-all, end-all for employee experience,” said Marcotte. “They claim that everything an individual needs can be completed in their platforms. Even if one platform could truly handle everything from performance management to pension administration to wellness incentives to employee engagement, the reality is that organizations spread the wealth when it comes to HR service delivery.”  

Digital adoption platforms such as Whatfix can be effective automation tools as they enable companies to work with the tools they are already using. Most companies use multiple software tools to achieve their goals, and a digital adoption platform can bring them all together and help clear bottlenecks. Surveys show organizations typically have 15 to 19 HR technology platforms for a multitude of needs, said Marcotte.

“Digital adoption platforms that connect the dots, simplify the experience and create a personally relevant experience are the logical way to go instead of waiting for that single app to come along, and to avoid undoing all the investment made in a myriad of existing platforms,” he said.

Automated Tools Can Improve Security

Security is another area where self-service and automation tools can play an important role. Automated tools for security are not new in the IT industry. Companies have long used automated penetration testing software to test for network weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That said, automated security tools have typically been complex to use and implement, and can be productivity killers. 

The need for productivity improvement through automation has grown as remote work has become more prevalent, said Matt Warner, co-founder and CTO of Blumira, an automated detection and response platform provider.

“How these automation efficiencies are applied to organizations and their environments is paramount to realize any benefits," he said. "The odd part about automation is that proper implementation tends to be quite complex, which can result in either the benefits not being perceived by the organization or in damaging team productivity.”

Increasing operational speed can't be the only objective. Companies need specific goals to remove complexities and ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks of automated security tools.

“To ensure that automation can simplify and improve security, organizations should have specific goals in mind rather than a broad desire to be faster,” said Warner. “The first step is to classify known problems and slow components that have potential for automation. Automation should act as that reduction of effort for the slow parts of processes.” 

That doesn’t mean that speed is not important, or should not be a consideration, because automating manual processes is one of the biggest benefits of using automated security tools.

Automated detection and response platform enable the faster resolution of threats and stop ransomware attacks and data breaches, Warner said. Companies like his help IT teams block known threats automatically and provide contextual analysis and playbooks for easy remediation. "

This allows organizations to not only let their internal staff focus on IT and their day-to-day operational needs, but it also ensures there is a path forward,” he said.

The Challenges of Self-Service Automation

Automation can be useful for eliminating error, reducing redundancy and enabling employees to take on more vital and satisfying tasks, but it is not without challenges. Human interaction will still be required and automated tasks will need to be regularly reviewed by employees. Automated employee self-service tools are not a replacement for workers, nor will they solve every issue organizations face, McHargue said.

“Solutions like self-service tools and automation help augment teams and allow them to do more where these tools and capabilities cannot," he said. "Understanding this and knowing where and how a tool can help is key to any organization's success because everyone involved will know where the boundaries are and when the workload shifts from a tool to a co-worker. All too often organizations look to solutions as a cure-all and bring it into their teams with the expectation that it will reduce workloads significantly."

That may be true some of the time, it is critical that everyone involved knows what the solution does and what it does not do, McHargue added.

Keeping the needs of employees front and center is important to any automation or adoption of employee self-service tools. Even when automation seems like the perfect solution, it may not be accepted by the employees it is supposed to benefit.  

“Ensuring that you’re providing employees with the proper ‘experience’ is paramount to success," Warner said. "Otherwise you can quickly create a flywheel of effort for your teams supporting the self-service tools across the organization." 

Another challenge is that many tasks that can be automated actually shouldn't be. Employees must be comfortable with the processes they are constantly exposed to, and automation and even personalization can be overdone to the point where it becomes creepy.

“Some key challenges in creating a compelling self-service experience include resource capacity, internal expertise, change readiness, and to some degree, the creepiness factor,” said Marcotte.

“Every organization will need to weigh how personalized is too personalized. The more personally relevant an experience becomes, the more employee trust becomes a factor. Company culture, legalities and technology capability all play a role in evaluating these tough considerations.” 

Automation is not without its challenges, but it can be an effective tool for reducing time and costs, improving onboarding, creating self-service HR portals, speeding up security testing and many more tasks.

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