Using Chatbots to Enhance Pulse Surveys

A useful approach in HR is “always-on” listening. Of course, this idea only seems novel when you realize that organizations used to follow “once-a-year” listening — that is, when companies would run an annual employee survey to hear from employees. And that was about it until next year.

Today, there are various means for increasing the frequency of how often you listen to employees. You can have occasional online “jams” where workers ask questions, quarterly town halls, monthly pulse surveys, or daily scans of social media posts. Pulse surveys are particularly popular because they are cheap, easy, and can be deployed as needed to address top-of-mind issues.

One new approach to enhancing pulse surveys is to use chatbots instead of the familiar open-ended comment boxes. A traditional pulse survey might have an open-ended question such as “How do you currently feel about the workplace?” A chatbot can subsequently turn that single question into a short conversation.  It might look something like this:

Chatbot: “How do you currently feel about the workplace?”

Employee: “It feels like things are getting worse around here.”

Chatbot: “It sounds like you are unhappy with some things. Can you tell me more?”

Employee: “We have terrible support for our work-at-home technology”

Chatbot: “What else about technology concerns you?”

Essentially, the chatbot turns a request for a comment into a conversation that can lead to deeper insight into employee concerns.

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Now, if this leads to too many comments for HR to read through, then you can use natural-language-processing tools to look for themes.

This technology will feel cutting edge to many HR pros (though it feels almost routine to people working in AI). Companies like IgniteConnextion and Weeve.ai offer this technology, and no doubt other vendors already have or are working on something similar.

How well do such solutions work?

Well, many decades ago, the Eliza chatbot, which mimicked a psychotherapist, was seen as uncannily helpful by many people. Plus, a chatbot doesn’t need to be that smart; it just needs to give a few prompts to encourage people open up.

My advice is that if you are looking to get better comments from your pulse survey, then try out a chatbot. It’s relatively cheap and easy to do a pilot. Additionally, we’re in an era where technology is becoming central to everything HR does, so testing out new technology is important for future-proofing your department.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. Based mainly in Toronto and partly in Kuala Lumpur, he’s best known for his research on the latest issues in human resources.

He works with think tanks such as Talent Tech Labs (New York), Works Institute (Tokyo), Workforce Institute (Boston) and CRF (London). He’s collaborated with leading academics such as Henry Mintzberg (leadership development), Ed Lawler (“Built to Change”) and John Boudreau (future of work).

His books include The CMO of People: Manage employees like customers with an immersive predictable experience that drives productivity and performance with GrandRound’s CHRO Peter Navin; and Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau (USC) and Ravin Jesuthasan (Willis Towers Watson).

You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn

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