How tech is transforming HR in a hybrid workforce
For most of its history, the HR technology function has been more comfortable as an implementation partner than an innovator, handling technology enquiries from various stakeholders, collecting data and analytics, and dealing with system maintenance.
But this is starting to change, as HR technology budgets and expectations grow, says Gartner’s Group Vice President Brian Kropp, a man known for providing cutting-edge insights to the most progressive HR execs.
“With the widespread shift to remote work, HR technology leaders quickly had to address how to move a wide array of employee processes, such as performance management, onboarding and learning into a virtual space, sharply illustrating the increasing need to include HR technology input into workforce planning,” Kropp told Business Chief.
Pre-pandemic, business typically took incremental steps to rolling out digitisation programmes, according to Andrew Duncan, UK CEO at Infosys Consulting, with a phased approach over a number of years, and often held up by the involvement of too many stakeholders, lack of immediate ROI, and overcoming legacy systems and tech stacks.
“However, over 12 months into the pandemic, we have certainly seen organisations accelerate their HR digital transformation, as a necessity rather than a ‘nice-to-have’,” says Duncan, pointing in particular to the cloud, which, in an effort to maintain operations during the pandemic, has been “a winner of 2020 across all facets of business, including HR”.
And with hybrid expected to become the next working norm (Gartner projects that 48% of employees will keep working remotely at least some of the time post-pandemic) digital transformation of the HR function utilising the cloud, AI, big data, analytics and VR, is expected to accelerate. And fast.
Gartner says that around half of the organisations the firm has talked to are already investing in AI or planning to do so in the next three years. “AI has already proven it delivers against cost-saving expectations and is now evolving into more refined uses such as enhanced decision making, for example, not just by screening more CVs, but also by providing recommendations on which CVs to shortlist and why,” says Kropp.
And while there are those who argue that digitisation of the HR function will lead to loss of human touch, the opposite can in fact be true.
Using technology to support and engage people
Duncan believes that in the future we will see AI being used as an ‘intelligent co-pilot’, complementing and enhancing the existing skills of HR teams rather than replacing them.
“AI provides HR departments with an opportunity to improve the candidate and employee experience by automating repetitive, low-value tasks and freeing up time to focus on more strategic work,” says Duncan. He argues that with so many businesses looking at creating more flexible hybrid models of co-located and distributed work for the future, the focus long-term must shift from “how businesses can use technology to improve their bottom line to how can they use technology to support and engage their people”.
HR leaders should concentrate on using technology as an enabler for better employee experiences, working in the background to support greater workforce productivity and issue resolution.
For example, as a tool for augmented experiences, Duncan argues that technology can be a powerful enabler for connecting employees and teams who may not traditionally have face-to-face interaction in an office. He points to new videoconferencing platforms based on VR and AR which create stimulated environments for users from around the world to meet, communicate and interact in a more natural setting.
“Similarly, virtual connection-building tools, or internal talent marketplaces, can encourage contacts between individuals and teams, make personalised recommendations to link employees with like-minded colleagues or mentors, and support onboarding processes by connecting new hires with their team,” states Duncan.
We take a look at how digitisation of the HR function help both employees and organisations in the hybrid workplace?
Since COVID-19, more organisations are employing learning experience platforms (LEPs) to facilitate continuous education and help foster employee feedback and transparency, says Kropp. “LEPs look to deliver personalised learning paths, channels and collections that enable learners to easily organise, access and share relevant resources.”
When it comes to employee training, Duncan also points to personalisation, and mobile. “I’m particularly interested in the use of AI to both virtualise and personalise L&D initiatives, moving away from one-size-fits-all programmes and I anticipate increased development and investment in training platforms that learn your strengths, weaknesses, learning style and working preferences,” he says. “These insights can be used to automatically suggest suitable training courses and modules to match your role, as well as adapting the way your training is delivered.”
Duncan believes VR also has extensive applications for remotely upskilling employees. “Developing presentation skills can now be achieved using virtual meeting rooms, populated with realistic elements like lighting distractions and background audience noise. Solutions like these can give feedback on interpersonal elements like pace of voice, number of hesitation words and even eye-contact.”
Empowering and engaging employees
Listening to employees and the ways in which employers respond has never been more crucial, says Kropp, and this has given rise increasingly to tools like voice of the employee (VoE) solutions, which help foster employee feedback and transparency. “VoE solutions deliver insights with actionable guidance to help improve employee engagement, experience, productivity and performance,” explains Kropp. “The immediate, urgent and forced transition to remote work environments during the first half of 2020 has become an equally compelling driver of end-user demand. Organisations now want to use VoE to communicate care, listen to employee concerns, prioritise investments and quickly take action where necessary.”
Duncan says that in a hybrid workplace, without regular face-to-face meetings or the spontaneous interactions of an office setting, managers may find it harder to spot employees who are at risk for low productivity or thinking of looking elsewhere. However, “new AI-driven technologies based on workplace data offer employers the ability to identify employees who are struggling with motivation”, he says.
“Digital feedback platforms and collaboration tools make it possible to gain unprecedented insights into what matters to employees, whether via surveys, chatbots or virtual feedback groups and by engaging people in a two-way dialogue, leaders have the ability to deliver personalised experiences that support their individual goals and needs and improve the employee experience.”
Monitoring employee performance
Since the onset of the pandemic, according to Gartner, more than one out of four companies have purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, says Kropp, “many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated”.
Duncan asserts that all HR leaders should make it a priority to balance such monitoring technology with employee privacy, and that when implementing such tools, leaders should build trust with a governance framework around the metrics they want to use, the data they want to collect, and how they will safeguard sensitive information.
Both Duncan and Kropp predict that new regulations will emerge this year, and these will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees.
That’s not to say that monitoring performance can’t be beneficial. “By understanding data and behaviours that most closely correlate with workplace success and failure, managers can identify team members suffering from emotional stress and fatigue and proactively intervene to address issues like poor engagement and feelings of low inclusivity,” explains Duncan. “Simultaneously, they stand to improve work processes and create personalised employee experiences that create better engagement and outcomes.”
In the end, digital transformation will not be a cure-all for anything, says Duncan, but instead a platform for leadership to build their organisations of the future, “leading from the front and engaging all of their employees in the journey ahead, to shape that future ambition”.
HR Technologies Rising
Andrew Duncan, UK CEO, Infosys Consulting, outlines the trends and technologies coming into play in the HR space.
- Chatbots These will make waves in employee experience in 2021 and beyond, solving many simple HR issues, like updating personal information. We will inevitably see a rise in voice biometrics and natural language speech recognition that improves employees’ ability to self-service, and aside from internal use, chatbots also show promise in streamlining the candidate experience, handling initial applicant screening and scheduling interviews.
- Digital Twins As we emerge from the pandemic, more organisations will turn to digital twins to better prepare for unexpected shocks and to build an intelligent and resilient employee ecosystem. A digital twin with layers of workplace insights provides a shared picture for key leadership, letting HR leaders experiment with a number of key variables, testing different scenarios and contingencies across space management, employee utilisation and facilities. With a digital twin, HR can also pair staffing forecasts with real estate costs and uncover innovative ways to maximise operational expenses.
- Health Tech Employee happiness is now a corporate responsibility, and one with a significant impact on productivity. The pandemic has shone a light on the vital role employees play in business success, and talent is more confident in expressing their needs to employers. Consequently, we will see the concept of Health Tech making its way into HR, supporting and monitoring physical fitness and the emotional and mental health of employees, from virtual meditation classes to AI-powered therapists.
- Smart Building IoT Devices As we look to reassess our real estate portfolios for a post-pandemic future, including how much and where space is required, there will inevitably be increased investments in smart building IoT devices and platforms that focus on collecting real-time data. By taking a forensic approach to data capture across multiple sensors and sources, HR teams can measure how buildings are being utilised, including metrics like meeting room productivity and occupancy, and with these actionable insights, will be better able to use, optimise and prioritise building spaces while maintaining a safe and engaging environment for employees.
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.