How Sutherland Is Using a Chatbot to Improve Candidate Experience

October 26, 2017

Sutherland didn’t plan to create a chatbot—but it turned out to be the best way to improve the most human part of their hiring process: the candidate experience.

It all started last year, when they decided to really make candidate experience a priority.

“There’s a lot of friction in the hiring process, a lot of candidate frustration,” says Kelly Culler, Sutherland’s VP of a Global Talent Acquisition. “When we looked at it, we were significantly dragged down by drop-off rates.”

At one point in the candidate journey, a whopping 80% dropped off—mostly because they didn’t have enough information to move forward.

Sutherland wanted to patch these spots in the process as soon as possible, but human interventions wouldn’t be easy at such a large scale. That’s why they built Tasha, their new hiring chatbot.

“It became really obvious,” says Kelly, “that we could use a chatbot intelligently. We started out calling it a digital sherpa, because we thought of it as a hand through the journey—someone to take you on their back and take you to the top of the mountain, which is ultimately getting hired.” Kelly talks all about it with Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting, in this week’s episode of Talent on Tap.

A chatbot to guide candidates, nudge them back on track, and collect feedback

Sutherland’s chatbot Tasha acts as a point of contact during the early stages of the hiring journey: a responsive guide that gives transparency into the process during those trouble-spots where so many candidates tended to drop off.

As an omni-channel bot, Tasha reaches out to candidates through text message, email, or a dialogue box, based on whatever contact information she has available. From there, she can answer basic questions, invite candidates back to the process, and even schedule an interview.

“If at any point you had a question, you could ask Tasha,” says Kelly. “She’ll answer from her knowledge base, and we’re growing that knowledge base over time using common inquiries. If you hesitate at a spot, or you don’t complete an action—it might be your assessment, or scheduling your interview—she’s going to ask you why and prompt you to get back into the journey,” Kelly explains.

And if the candidates do want to abandon the process, Tasha will find out why and “parlay that information back into our process and our sourcing,” says Kelly.

Rather than replacing recruiters, Tasha only handles the most transactional parts of the process. She’s only used up to the point of the first interview, when the candidate is handed off to a human recruiter who takes it from there.

Business benefits of chatbots in recruiting: ROI and more time for recruiter training

For a large company like Sutherland, chatbots are a worthwhile investment—whether you build your bot in-house like Kelly’s team or use a vendor like Mya. It’s not hard to build a business case and win executive buy-in.

“If you’re any sizeable company, the numbers magnify so quickly,” says Kelly. “There’s such huge ROI on even automating one part of this process, from a savings perspective. Think about interview scheduling—the callbacks, the exchange of time and losses there…Think about automating that. The numbers are exponential, the cash register just rings over and over and over again.”

Rather than threatening recruiters’ jobs, it allows companies to reinvest in their talent. Sutherland uses that extra time and money to train recruiters on interviewing and sourcing skills.

Don’t wait to get your process perfect before making immediate interventions

Tasha is just getting started. Kelly’s team hopes to add more features in the future, like the ability to recommend other open jobs to candidates—but that didn’t stop them getting Tasha off the ground quickly.

“Start the interventions while you’re trying to fix other things,” Kelly advises. Of course, you’d like to resolve every problem in your candidate journey and perfect every part of the process, but it’s better to start sooner. “You just don’t have enough time,” Kelly says. “If you wait until things are perfect, you’re not going to see the change.”

Admittedly, Kelly says, that won’t be easy. “You will be uncomfortable with all the change happening,” she says, but if you “try to measure it the best you can,” and optimize as you go, you’ll ultimately make a bigger impact on the candidate experience.

Tasha has been a strong success story for Sutherland. Launched eight months ago, she’s already making a big difference: that 80% drop-off point is down to 62% just 2 months after an intervention was made, and Kelly’s team expects it to keep falling. It might not easy or comfortable to implement such a new technology so soon, but getting on the chatbot trend early can give your team a major competitive advantage.

Talent on Tap is a weekly series where Brendan Browne breaks down some of the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned each week for the latest.

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