The topic of conversational enterprise typically focuses on customer service in B2C environments. However, with the level of sophistication chatbots and virtual assistants exhibit today thanks to machine learning and natural language processing, companies are looking to deploy them internally to drive operational efficiency.

A virtual assistant is a software application that can perform tasks for an individual. Many people refer to them colloquially as chatbots or bots.

Integration with enterprise applications

Most of us are already familiar with popular virtual assistants programmed into our smartphones or speakers such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo (Alexa). On the enterprise side, we already see leading SaaS companies integrating popular messaging bots such as Facebook Messenger into their applications. Major ERP providers such as SAP and Oracle are developing virtual assistants for their user interfaces as well.

TechCrunch reports that Salesforce is on the leading edge of this trend. It continually purchases startups that help its customers automate tasks and aims to democratize access to AI for companies of all sizes that use its services.

Salesforce is known for designing SaaS solutions for salespeople, but is now expanding into customer facing tools. Last year, it introduced its chatbot, 'Einstein Bot', to help improve operational efficiencies in customer service. Businesses that use the chatbot can customize the way it interacts with their customers.

Einstein Bot can answer customer questions and query the fulfillment system to pull up order information. Like other customer service bots Einstein Bot helps tackle the high volume, repetitive questions and allows customer service people to focus on more complex, nuanced requests. This in turn increases operational efficiency, improves customer engagement and fosters higher job satisfaction for customer service personnel.

Salesforce also points to research about The State Of Chatbots, to discover user preferences and potential use cases, as shown below:

chatbots---virtual-assistants---benefits-and-use-cases

Project management

With advanced AI and cognitive computing capabilities, chatbots can track internal data and customer interactions to make inferences that can assist internal operations and project managers.

Large-scale projects typically span multiple internal departments across different geographies. Stakeholders often spend a lot of time tracking status updates from their counterparts, customers and vendors.

For example, a project manager in Los Angeles may need a milestone update from their counterpart in Bangalore, and might wait up to 24 hours to receive a response. However, if the relevant information is stored in internal systems, a chatbot may be able to retrieve a response instantaneously.

While bots may not solve major production delays or strategic challenges, they can certainly cut down on response time and email volume that can create arbitrary delays.

Accounting

While virtual assistants may not reach the more complex areas of accounting, they can certainly help automate repetitive, simple tasks. In their current state, virtual assistants will assume more of an administrative support role in accounting.

They can also help with simplifying workflows and cutting down on administrative tasks. People working in accounts receivable can ask a chatbot straightforward questions such as a customer’s credit limit, to query a D&B report or the status of a payment.

With further advancements in AI, chatbots will evolve beyond purely transactional tasks and be able to provide advice given accounting data stored internally.

Human resources

In the digital era, the hiring process is becoming increasingly data driven. With hundreds of applicants sometimes applying for a single position, a chatbot can help with the screening process by asking some of the preliminary background questions required for a given position.

This kind of automation would be a great help for companies that hire lots of seasonal or temporary workers, such as retailers and distribution centers.

Chatbots can also assist with fielding HR FAQs for employees. Some may even feel more comfortable asking sensitive HR questions to a chatbot versus approaching a manager.

Enrolling in benefits can be one of the most frustrating parts of HR. Employees often spend a lot of time trying to sift through the information and understand the requirements. Chatbot queries may help clarify some of the convoluted areas of enrolling in benefits.

HR might actually prove to be one of the most difficult area to implement chatbots, due to the personal nature of HR and legal sensitivity of the information shared. While they may help increase operational efficiencies, companies should proceed with caution.

Faster employee onboarding

Depending on the experience level and position type, it can take weeks or months to train a new employee. This costs the equivalence of their overhead plus the additional resources it takes to get them up to speed.

ADP found that the average US company budgets $308,000 annually for new employee onboarding. Big bucks, and a cost that chatbots could help to reduce.

Most questions new employees have typically regard locating information, systems operations or simple industry knowledge. Many new employees may hesitate when asking questions in fear of interrupting their new peers or bosses who are busy in the middle of other tasks.

With virtual assistants, new employees can get their simple questions answered faster, feel more confident in their new roles, cut the training time down and start adding value.

Self service for simple IT

Reducing tactical IT work is a big priority for many organizations. IT resources don’t come cheap. You don’t want your IT staff spending hours on end helping employees resetting passwords or figuring out task manager.

For non-IT employees, stopping work to wait for someone to come fix a simple problem can interrupt time-critical tasks. Similar to customer service bots, IT bots can help increase the job satisfaction of IT workers tired of running around hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del. They can spend more time working on larger, strategic projects and contribute their skills to higher value tasks.

At least one European bank is using chatbots specifically for identity management and knowledge management. More use cases will no doubt emerge.

Nearly all industries can benefit by implementing virtual assistants for internal use. Major consulting firms and tech journals routinely cite banking, hospitality, travel, healthcare and logistics as some of the best candidates for bot deployment.

Chatbots can eliminate some of the tedious and redundant tasks of every position from attorneys to customer service reps to accounting managers.

Companies should start looking - right now - at the kind of virtual assistants that will increase productivity in the near future, while potentially reducing overheads and improving overall employee satisfaction.