This article was updated on August 22, 2018.

The chatbots are coming. According to the Wall Street Journal, developers have created more than 30,000 chatbots that can communicate with human users — and in some cases pass for the real thing. Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing, organizations are invested in the market for its potential cost savings and the need for speedy social interaction is on the rise. Chatbots could become the newest employees for businesses of almost any size.

Here's what to know about chatbots in HR.

What Are Chatbots?

So what exactly are chatbots, and how can they help boost your bottom line? "A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface," according to Chatbots Magazine. Consider someone who wants to make a dinner reservation. Rather than calling the business directly or using an online form, a chatbot lets users simply message the question, "Do you have a table for two at 7 p.m.?" The bot either responds quickly in the affirmative and completes the reservation or in the negative and suggests alternate times. But this is just the beginning — advancements in AI and machine learning hope to mimic the natural ebb and flow of human conversation.

Venture Beat notes that chatbots were first developed in the 1960s to simulate conversation. The market has advanced significantly but still can't quite keep up with the subtlety and subtext of typical human conversation. According to Forbes, however, so-called "deep learning" efforts are helping bots advance to the point where they can determine context and intent from human speech or text and then provide an appropriate response.

For businesses, the evolving bot market offers huge potential. Instead of forcing users to wade through telephone voice prompts or wait days for an email response, bot-to-buyer interaction could provide satisfactory service on-demand and without straining resources. But what happens when businesses start "hiring" bots in big numbers?

3 Ways to Manage Chatbots in HR

So what would it actually take to manage chatbots in HR? Beyond the initial building or acquisition fee, organizations wouldn't need to pay salary or benefits. And unless the app goes down for some reason, there's no sick time here — ideally, onsite IT would serve as the resident doctor to get any bots back up and running. But that isn't to say no HR efforts would be required.

1. Job scope

HR leaders would need to work with HR pros and existing staff to determine the best use for chatbots in the organization. The most likely scenario here is to focus these bots on very specific services such as responding to common customer inquiries or providing immediate, entry-level social contact points that could then be escalated to live support personnel as needed. In effect, HR would need to design a kind of bot hierarchy that describes their area of expertise, potential role and desired outcome.

2. Permissions

Permissions are another key aspect of HR and chatbot interaction. In order to effectively serve customers, bots need access to specific data sets. For example, consumers are quickly frustrated if user-facing services don't remember their last order or have any of their account preferences saved. Finding the ideal balance would require a coordinated effort from IT and HR to determine exactly what data chatbots could access, what they could do with it and how access would be recorded and logged. This is especially critical given the increasing role of compliance in HR decision-making — data use and access must always be auditable on demand.

3. Performance reviews

Another aspect of HR required for effective chatbot use? Performance reviews. HR leaders would need to dedicate time and resources to regularly reviewing the performance of bot interaction and the overall satisfaction of consumers after any bot conversation. Just like human employees, the use of bots demands regular evaluation to ensure they're delivering high-quality performance and adhering to corporate policy. And while improving chatbot efficacy comes down to code tweaks rather than on-site retraining or mentorship, the principle remains the same — HR oversight is critical.

The bots are coming, and bringing potentially huge benefits. Effectively managing this new resource, however, will require a combined effort from HR leaders and IT pros.

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