AI & Chat Bots – The New Outsourcing of Employee Relations?

AI & Chat Bots – The New Outsourcing of Employee Relations?

In 1999/2000, BP British Petroleum entered an outsourcing partnership with Exult (now Hewitt) to provide state-of-the-art HR delivery process. There were eye-catching claims about  the money that was going to be saved, the improvement to the service provided, and how this was the way forward for HR in the future.

During the course of the transition a number of unforeseen problems arose, the service to employees suffered and much of the lustre disappeared from the project.

Since then, there have been similar cases large and small, culminating sometimes to the eventual re-insourcing of the service, or parts of it.

My own very personal view is that you should never outsource anything that is customer- or employee-facing. But then that’s another story.

Accountants and some board-level strategists maintain that outsourcing HR leaves a business to focus on what it does best, which, in reality is shorthand for making the problem of managing people to go away.

I now see the very same thought processes forming as we approach the era of wholesale application of chatbots and artificial intelligence.

The other day, I encountered two problems with chatbots: one with a bank where the device didn’t recognise my card number, and the other where a payment I had made to a VoIP provider had gone astray. I also have an ongoing problem with a social media provider whose algorithm for some reason stops me posting about a company where I am the sole shareholder..

In all three cases, the companies concerned seemed to think that FAQs represented the best way to handle customer queries, and designed things in a way intended to make actual human contact virtually impossible

The current thinking seems to be that chatbots will replace humans as they can run 24/7 and cost relatively little, and that artificial intelligence will help us arrive at better decisions. If you make customer feedback virtually impossible, then obviously you are going to think everything is running peachy. Heads in the sand, everyone.

My concern is that larger organisations will succumb to the temptation of going the automated route on cost-cutting and “efficiency” grounds, reflecting this in the configuration of the HRIS technology that they deploy. If you are to go down this route, be sure that there is a way to bypass the machinery and call upon human intervention, especially when dealing with remote locations; without the ability to spot ongoing errors and correct them the resulting effect on employee relations could be devastating.

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I am a consultant specializing in the selection of HR & payroll software for a range of clients in many sectors in various countries, primarily UK, Europe and the USA. I came into HR for a background in Finance, and this analytical training has stood me in good stead. A few years after, I was asked to computerize the payroll, which was manual at the time, which, having successfully been accomplished, the next step was to find an HR system for the personnel records. The rest is history, as ever since then people have asked me to do things because I “knew about that stuff” and the whole arena of HR & payroll systems was an area of considerable trepidation for HR & payroll professionals, and Information Technology had very much occupied that space by default at the time. My philosophy has always been to act as an enabler with clients, lighting the way for them to arrive at the most suitable conclusions; that way, the client has ownership, and the knowledge stays with them rather than passing through the door after the project. After co-founding the niche HRmeansbusiness consultancy in 2000, I went on to build and launch the HRcomparison website (for comparison of HR, Payroll and Time & Attendance software), that was the first of its kind in the UK and currently features over 60 vendors. Currently I am working on a series of webinars and seminars for 2015 on HRIS topics and a book is already under way. Sharing Our Expertise and Making Worldwide Connections

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