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Employee UX takes center stage

How companies can put emerging technologies to work for their people

By Jeffrey Davis

  • Tools like AI make it easier for companies to take an employee‑centric approach
  • Corporate portals re‑emerge with an emphasis on measuring what works
  • HR departments focus on “moments that matter” such as onboarding, performance reviews, and promotions

For more than decade, Levi Strauss outsourced its HR help‑desk function, a decision intended to keep costs down at the 16,000‑person clothing company.

But last year, Levi’s started building a digital “knowledge base” packed with how‑to articles and other explanatory docs that it continually edits and expands. In addition to giving employees ready access to helpful information, the knowledge base lays the foundation for a future project: AI‑enabled chatbots that can answer employee queries.

“If you want to have chatbots, you have to have the knowledge,” said Elisabeth Shelby, knowledge management manager for HR at Levi’s.



The impact of AI on HR was one of the major themes at Knowledge18, ServiceNow’s annual user conference held recently in Las Vegas. Shelby and others spoke about how these new tools will reshape employee experiences and expectations. Overall, the technology promises to redefine what it means to be a strategic HR leader.

While past technological breakthroughs have led to increases in productivity and efficiency, “the state of work hasn’t really changed” for workers, said C.J. Desai, chief product officer at ServiceNow, in a keynote address.

Desai argued that AI has the potential to help companies capitalize on a key differentiator in the age of digital technology: employee experience.

“If we’re truly serving humans, the one thing they always remember is the experience,” he said. Digital technology enables automated self‑help and other tools that can eliminate tedious administrative chores and allow workers to focus on more meaningful, strategic activities.

The concept isn’t exactly new. HR departments have long tried to automate processes like employee onboarding. Companies pack internal sites with digital resources to help workers self‑navigate everything from 401k contributions to health benefits.

Strategically, though, these intranets have mostly been an afterthought. Employee portals have helped slash administrative costs. Few of them were conceived with employee experience as the critical element.

That’s changing, according to a number of HR leaders gathered at Knowledge 18. “An employee’s preferences in how they work, how they want to engage, is starting to influence how companies respond,” said Erica Volini, human capital leader at Deloitte.

AI can help by facilitating more individual experiences from workers. But AI systems need data to draw from and results to measure.

“Our employees tell us what’s working and what’s not working,” said Pat Wadors, ServiceNow’s chief talent officer. “If we capture those data sets and those moments and give them the information and the tools, they’re more joyful and more productive.”

That was part of the motivation at Levi’s. The new knowledge base replaces costly and often unhelpful calls to HR agents. Instead of talking to outsourced personnel to resolve questions about benefits or policies, employees look up the answers in the new self‑help system.

Levi’s didn’t set out to create just another HR portal. The new articles and other content answer basic questions and also help employees understand their options in depth. The company can also see what information employees are looking for, and what information best helps them solve problems.

“It lets us know what our employees really need instead of just guessing,” said Shelby. In turn, those insights will inform future automation programs.

In little over a year, the system has reached 40% overall adoption. It operates in 47 countries and has resolved more than 100,000 cases.

The Levi’s effort is indicative of a broader shift in focus among HR leaders to improve the employee experience. When asked in a new ServiceNow survey what would best define their role over the next three years, 56% of CHROs said “the ability to create a digital and consumerized employee experience.”

Organizations should focus on “moments that matter” when employees depend on the company’s support, said Deepak Bharadwaj, general manager of the HR business unit at ServiceNow. Those moments span the entire employee journey, from when you start to when you leave. Bharadwaj imagines systems that can predict an employee’s needs and personalize the response, the same way Google Maps anticipates where someone wants to go and the best way to get there.

“Your employees cannot be in their happy place if you don’t get these experiences right,” said Bharadwaj. “If you do, it presents an opportunity to differentiate yourself and build competitive advantage.”

Jeffrey Davis, a founding editor of Business 2.0 magazine and former executive editor at CBS Interactive, writes frequently about technology and business.

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