Could the office be staffed by chatbots?

Sue Asprey Price
Source: Getty

Whether checking insurance quotes, ordering concert tickets, or seeing if your favourite trainers are back in stock, almost all of us will have encountered a chatbot in our daily lives.

Capable of providing fast access to information and offering pre-

programmed responses to minimise misunderstanding in communication, businesses have found that chatbots have cut customer service costs by as much as 30 per cent, according to BI Intelligence.

But they can also be incredibly annoying, with unsolicited smiling pop-ups trying to “close a deal” or interrupt your browsing.

Is this a sign of things to come?

Across the world, as the technology is enhanced, companies are bringing chatbots into the workplace.

Driven by recent advances in interactive text and voice technology, a number of the recent chatbot-based developments have been applied in HR departments. Intel, for example, launched Ivy in 2013 to answer queries around pay and benefits, while Unilever recently trailed CoachBot to help with team-building.

Chatbots are perceived as a supplement for human efforts, ensuring that employees throughout a business – from IT to the c-suite to marketing – are never left without access to information and are always able to have their burning questions answered.

Ultimately, the responsiveness of a technology that never clocks off has the potential to provide more timely support and improve the employee experience.

In a world of smart buildings, where sensors are used to track movement and occupants are able to personalise their surroundings at the touch of a button, chatbots represent one wave in the sea of technological development enveloping businesses the world over.

The key to successful adoption of all of these technologies within the workplace will be improving the experience of the employee – not irritating them.

Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are already helping companies drive financial and operational benefits.

A growing number of companies are also making chatbots a small, but increasingly significant, part of office life, as employees turn to virtual assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, or Amazon’s Alexa to help them complete work-related tasks.

Voice activated AI is becoming an integral part of many people’s homes. That same convenience and efficiency will become an expectation in the workplace. Automating basic tasks and processes can ultimately allow human employees to spend more time thinking and performing higher value or creative activities, while our indefatigable cyber colleagues can spend more time on basic and repeatable tasks.

As digital natives enter the workforce in increasing numbers, tech-enabled offices will be essential in attracting and retaining talent.

Although, at present, chatbot technology is still in its early stages, there are endless ways AI could be deployed in tomorrow’s workplace, assuming some key advances are made.

Developments in natural language processing and facial recognition, for example, could make future chatbots better at understanding their human colleagues – especially when it comes to humour. As chatbots’ capabilities improve, so will the way that humans interact with them.

A world of convenience is on the horizon. Advanced digital technology is already streamlining the working day, and we can expect this to continue apace.

The more this technology fades into the background as a seamless part of everyone’s day to day experience, the more sustainable its growth will become.

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