The Case for Chatbots in Corporate Learning

Sam Hennessy Sep 28, 2017

Raise your hand if you love corporate training 

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Most employees hate the learning they get asked to do at work. Employees give corporate learning a net promoter score of -31. Even the learning professionals hate the software they use. They give that a net promoter score of -8. The vast majority of learning professionals don’t intend to move to a new platform. They don’t like what they have but they don’t see a better alternative.

The challenges facing corporate learning are not small. They are dealing with a workforce that is hungry to learn but can’t find the time and can’t find the content they want. Employees have given up on the learning platforms they have to use. They don't see any value in going to a system that makes it hard to find good content. And why would they?

Corporate learning departments need something that will go out to employees. Something that makes more effort to engage with them. This system needs to learn about their employees.

 

Hello, is anyone there? 

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Going out to the customer and engaging with them is something many industries do. A trend seen in sales and customer support is using chat and chatbots.

Intercom is a platform for helping sales and customer support through chat. They have shown wild growth for several years.

 

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This growth indicates that chat is delivering real results. Here are some interesting numbers:

  • Over half of consumers would rather text a customer support agent over other options (source)
  • Texting is the highest rated contact method for customer satisfaction. [Out of 100 - text 90, phone 77] (source)
  • 44% of people polled would rather send a text than stay on hold (source)
  • 75% of people polled said they like to have offers sent via text but not too often (source)
  • Using texting with a qualified lead can increase conversions by over 100% (source)
  • Some have seen response rates from text are 209% higher than those from phone calls (source)

Learning and development is an internal facing function. Is chat a good fit for an internal function? The option here also seems to be positive:

  • 79% of bosses support texting for business purposes (source)
  • 80% of professionals use text for business purposes (source)
  • Nearly 70% of employees think text should be used for interoffice communication. (source)

Slack is a communication tool that has made big waves in many companies large and small. While it now supports voice and video, the business was built on chat. Slack has a market value of $4 billion with 5 million daily active users.

 

Rise of the chatbots 

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Business is open to using chat internally and in more and more cases they are starting to use chatbots too.

Sales and Customer Support teams tend to manage incoming enquiries from their online chat service. Corporate learning departments are not built this way. They have a ratio of 15 per 1000 employees. Corporate learning departments need solutions that have a wide reach. A wide reach without draining real life human resource. They need chatbots.

There are already a few examples of chatbots being used to support learning. There is a now infamous case of a Jill Watson, a chatbot created at the Georgia Tech University in the USA. The students didn’t know Jill was a chatbot and none of the students suspected a thing. Jill was so successful, she got put forward for a teaching assistant award.

While that is a fun story, I don’t feel Jill is a good example of the chatbots we want for corporate learning. Jill could only answer direct questions. In the corporate learning world, we call this professional support. For example, if you don’t know the company policy on refunds, ask the chatbot and get a quick answer. After a few repetitions, the employee will have it memorised. Yes, they did learn something but this is a very narrow view of learning and equally narrow benefit. We also need to support someone when they want to get a promotion or want to move to a new area of the organisation.

 

Great but what if you don't have $1,000,000? 

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Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are amongst the best of what chatbots currently do. With these as the standard bearer, it can seem like chatbots are out of reach of corporate learning. The good news is most chatbots are not very sophisticated.

It’s important not to confuse what a chatbot is with technology it’s often found with. A chatbot doesn't understand written or spoken language. It will not learn who the person it’s chatting with is or their preferences. It’s not integrated into other systems. All these things are possible with chatbots but they all need extra work to put them in place.

 

Show me what ya got 

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We have chatbots that help with professional support using question and answers. Let’s explore how else a chatbot could support corporate learning.

Skills gap analysis is the process of evaluating the skills of people in an organisation. You use it to find out where people's skills currently are and where they should be. Organisations are liable if they have employees that don't have the skills to do their job. The paperwork in doing a skills gap analysis in the traditional way is overwhelming. So they don’t happen as often as they should. From the employee's point of view, they are a tedious exercise too. But using a chatbot you could roll out the questions little by little. Then deliver feedback in the form of insight based on the previous batch of questions. This will actually create a positive feedback loop. People will want to give good answers because they are now interested in the results.

Bite-sized learning is text or video that teaches something in under 5 minutes, like how to protect a spreadsheet. It's become popular in corporate learning and can be delivered in the chat interface. Harvard Business Review has created something close to this using a Slack chatbot. Every weekday it picks a random article from a curated pool and sends a summary to you via chat. This is a great example of being proactive.

Many people find repetition helps them with learning. A chatbot can be helpful here too. Once someone has taken a course, have the chatbot ask them some quiz questions. Do this over a few weeks. Then look to see if anyone keeps getting the question wrong. If they are then the corporate learning department can step in and give those people a little extra help. You can also get feedback on how good the course was. Two tasks, one seamless interface.

Communication with employees doesn’t need to be only with the chatbot. Take the above example, employees that need a little extra help. Have a chatbot get the conversation going. Once the employee has been identified as needing more help the human trainer can take over on the same screen as the chatbot.

We’ve gone through a few good examples here. I hope this has opened your eyes to some of the possibilities for your unique situation.

 

I love you 

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Can we make employees fall in love with corporate learning? TED had their 1 billionth view back in 2012. Serious adult learning videos on YouTube get billions of views. People want to learn. Chat and chatbots can’t solve every issue faced by learning departments. Nonetheless, chat is a powerful tool, it can help redefine how learning happens in corporations. At Filtered (where I have my day job) we’ve bet big on chatbots. We’ve gone as far as removing features from our globalfilter interface. We then have the chatbot deliver that functionality only when it's relevant. We get a less cluttered page and higher usage of our features. Win-win! You can have chat help you win too.

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nullThanks for reading my post, share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section or contact me directly at [email protected]

This post is part of a series that my colleagues and I at Filtered are working on. It’s broadly about how recommendations help us to make sense of all the content clutter, especially in learning. Have a look at our other posts here.

We’ve recently launched a free new tool to provide personalized learning experiences for L&D and HR professionals called globalfilter for L&D. It's an online recommendation engine with over 180 high-quality learning assets to read, watch, practice and apply for our industry. Click on the link above to try it out.

About Sam Hennessy
Sam is a PHP software architect, speaker, trainer, and author. He has worked professionally with PHP since 2000. Sam currently heads up software development at Filtered.
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