EXCLUSIVE: Unilever chatbot to transform HR services in 106 countries


Employee Benefits Live 2018: Unilever has reimagined HR services using artificial intelligence (AI), with a chatbot to go live in 106 countries.

In the closing keynote session on day one (Tuesday 2 October 2018), titled ‘Reimagining the employee experience: adventures in artificial intelligence’, Keith Williams (pictured), reimagine HR services director at Unilever, discussed the development and use of chatbots in HR and reward and benefits.

Williams believes chatbots are “the future of everything that’s happening in HR.” He has helped develop Unilever’s own chatbot, Una, and talked delegates through the strategy and the lessons learned from the process.

“Una is a digital colleague,” he said, “and you contact her through Skype for Business, just as you would anyone else in the organisation, because that’s our internal communication tool. Una is there to help you no matter who you are.”

Discussing the business case for Una, Williams explained the chatbot was developed to remove the need for employees to go into a separate system for HR queries. She has the ability to provide information and carry out transactions using a conversation. “Una is an all-knowing colleague and you can ask her to do anything for you,” said Williams.

When finished, Una will be live via Skype for Business in 106 countries, and will be able to converse in 32 languages. One of the key challenges, said Williams, is making sure the chatbot understands the way people speak and the nuances within language.

“When you create a chatbot, it has the language understanding of an 18-month-old child,” he explained. “If it’s going to be useful, you have to turn it into having the language understanding of an adult, and understand people 95% if the time.”

Williams discussed the importance of building solid foundations of digitisation in an organisation before adding digital layers such as a chatbot. “Digitisation is about standardising business process,” he said. “It’s mostly about operational excellence and it imposes discipline. You have to do that digitisation first, and then you can do the digital stuff and put those technologies on top.”

Change management and a mindset shift are also necessary, said Williams. Unilever’s reimagining of HR services globally involved creating a digital experience for employees, he explained. “The day that a country has gone live, we switched off the HR telephone numbers and email addresses.”

The resulting change in the interaction with employees is a move from a “broadcast” to a “conversation that’s always on, with the employee at the centre,” said Williams.

“It moves from the process defining the experience, to the experience defining the process,” he added. “It moves from creating a process map to creating experience map.”