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At the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is that most famous image: The hand of God reaching out to Adam, and vice versa. The most primal and profound moment of connection, immortalized and rendered in paint and plaster, it reflects so well the fact that the moment of connection is so important to us, as humans, as individuals.
The same is true in our day-to-day interactions when we’re out and about. We connect. Yet many businesses fail to understand that the most important moments of connection between an employer and a new employee occur in those oh-so-fleeting first interactions before they have become fully assimilated into the business. The first few hours and days during onboarding — when an applicant transitions to a new employee — define how a new team member perceives the rest of the company and as studies show, set in their mind how long they are likely to stay.
In a recent survey of more than 1,000 full-time employees, 86% firmly agreed that onboarding is important for their future success. 49% even went so far as to say that they’ve been tempted to leave a new job after a poor onboarding experience, such as unprepared managers or excessive paperwork.
Supporting employees when they need it most
When a new employee feels unwelcome, unimportant, or simply neglected, it can form such a poor impression of their employer that they never recover.
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So how can businesses do a better job of those essential first few days? How can a business reduce the stress on a new hire, make the onboarding smoother and more efficient, and, in effect, offer a more human connection?
As in so many other places in the business world, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is offering some solutions that successful businesses are already quickly adopting.
One of the biggest challenges to delivering a smooth and welcoming onboarding experience is simply that the people tasked with it are often already overburdened with other activities. Bringing on a new hire becomes a last-minute fire drill versus a hand from the corporate sky reaching out to form new connections. Individuals are too swamped with managing existing teams or dealing with myriad other processes to devote the time and energy to looking after the fledgling employee when, sadly, they likely need it the most.
The power of chatbots
Enter the latest round of conversational virtual assistants. Or, more colloquially, chatbots.
Inserting AI-driven chatbots into a process that is already lacking human warmth may seem like a poor idea. Yet, the approach can and does help to rapidly and effectively reduce stress, improve efficiency, and deliver a more human experience.
AI chatbots have some unique characteristics that make them ideal for the often slightly chaotic onboarding process when employees aren’t sure what information they need, often make mistakes, and rarely know where to go to get help.
Specifically, chatbots are incredibly patient, can be available 24/7, and never forget where things are stored or how to get access to the right information.
Imagine, then, a new employee who is struggling to work through a benefits enrollment process. For reference, a recent study showed that a poor benefits enrollment process could cause 60% of candidates to look for a new job. Rather than continue to pepper a beleaguered HR team with questions or requests to repeat information, chatbots can be trained to understand simple questions (through the process of natural language processing, or NLP) and either answer them directly or guide an employee to information that helps them.
Most importantly for the employee, there is no sense in “asking a stupid question” which can cause stress in an already stressful situation — especially at a time when they are motivated and trying to prove that they belong at an organization. It should be the organization fostering the sense of belonging.
Chatbots, it must be said, don’t judge. So if a newly hired employee needs to check the same information again, for the tenth time, at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, that’s OK. The chatbot is more than happy to help. And by enabling the employee to “self-serve,” to take control of more of the process by giving them a tool to help navigate the intricacies of enrollment and onboarding, they feel more confident that they made the right employment decision — with a far better overall experience to show for it.
Interestingly enough, the very process of dealing with repeated inquiries is itself valuable. By reviewing the interactions between new-hire and chatbot, HR teams can identify areas where confusion regularly occurs and address them pre-emptively. Simply put, the introduction of the AI tool not only reduces that employee’s stress, but enables the HR onboarding team to improve the information they provide. This in turn reduce stressors for future employees.
It should be no surprise then, that AI tools can improve the efficiency of onboarding.
AI as the “go-to”
Joining a company presents a slew of process and informational hurdles for a new employee. When are the meetings I must attend? Who is my point of contact for this process? Who else do I need to introduce myself to? What if I have problems with my equipment? And so on.
These problems tend to arrive at the manager’s door in a relentless, if well-meaning, tide of emails, IMs and sometimes panicked phone calls. However, once more, AI tools can not only act as a “go-to” for ad-hoc inquiries but actively shape and drive the onboarding experience itself. So, not only can they respond to a new hire, they can take over and drive the process when needed.
Imagine a new employee who’s just completed orientation training. An AI-based tool, already knowing the typical path for that role, can reach out and recommend (and even action) introductory meetings, confirm that the employee is onboarding well and recommend follow-up training.
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, AI-based tools can personalize onboarding to meet the needs and progress of that individual, while gathering information on the overall process so that, in the future, it can also be improved. At every step, AI assistants can respond as needed, and guide where necessary.
Creatures of connection
So then, can AI tools actually make the overall process more human? This is the most powerful and transformational benefit of employing AI-based assistants in those critical early days. Not to masquerade as AI-in-human-clothing but rather to act as a tireless and informed assistant. Simply by virtue of its existence, AI unshackles both HR teams and managers from time-consuming operational tasks.
By enabling a self-service experience, albeit one that is guided and structured, AI frees up people professionals to do what they do best: Connect. This allows them to have the time to check in, have personal conversations and be a partner and a welcoming friend. This is without seeing their meeting times consumed by questions about company holidays or details on healthcare benefits.
We are, at our core, creatures of connection. If new employees feel that there is a person with the energy and time to make connections, reach out across the void and bridge the gap with the vital spark of empathy, the experience of onboarding is transformed.
Rather than a time of stress and confusion, a new employee can gather the information they need, get access to the tools and training they will want, and begin to feel part of the very human enterprise that is, at its heart, every business.
Enabled by the latest technology, they find, like the figure of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a hand reaching out to them when they need it most.
Geoff Webb is VP of solution strategy at isolved
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