Aviation giant Airbus turns to chatbots to engage top talent
For a company that’s built an airplane with two internal elevators, pushing the envelope with technology is nothing new to Airbus. Founded in 1970, and now worth US$69 billion, the firm’s success comes down to innovation and acquiring industry-leading engineering talent.
But as digitization has overtaken almost every industry, the world-leading aviation firm hasn’t been immune to the wider effects of change of that impact business big and small, across the world.
Leaders in the aerospace industry can easily attract the best and brightest innovators in engineering and manufacturing, but today, with AI, programming, data, networking, and cybersecurity, becoming part of their fabric, firms like Airbus are competing “against every other company in the world” for digital talent.
That’s according to Dave Mills, who leads in recruitment innovation at the world-leading company based in the firm’s headquarters in Toulouse, France: “A supermarket, a restaurant chain, banking, insurance, everybody’s recruiting the same profiles,” he said.
At a time when Airbus saw a tremendous shift in the candidate market, Mills was the recruitment innovator who took on the challenge to find a revolutionary solution.
As the most “international aerospace and defense company in the world” — with offices in every continent around the world — the company faced a monumental task in ensuring a steady flow of talent engages with its brand and makes Airbus a firm career consideration.
Pressured to react quickly, Mills set out to create a new innovative strategy that would enhance the Airbus brand as a leading employer in the eyes of applicants; streamline candidate engagement, with applicants sending questions around the clock; and eradicate repetitive tasks, such as answering the same questions again and again.
The answer for Mills and his team lied in chatbots. With the technology becoming established in customer service among consumer-facing brands, he could see a similarity between customers and candidates — both now expect instant access to information and personalized experience. The same experience should be the benchmark for a career site.
“Traditionally, when candidates had a question, we would have a recruiter behind an email address who would respond,” said Mills. “However, it wasn’t instant. It took time. Not to mention resources.”
“Could we use a chatbot on our career site to interact with candidates, to be able to give them answers to their questions instantaneously, 24/7?”
The thought process led to the development of ‘Bessie’, a chatbot tool designed to modernize candidate communication and engagement. It started off tackling FAQs, working with a dataset of the most common candidate questions and the recruiters’ most common answers, generated by Mills’ team.
Following rigorous testing and development of conversational flow, Bessie was deployed to applicants on the English version of the Airbus careers site and since then has ramped up candidate engagement as a result of the personalized interactions it can offer.
Since the functionality was added, the Airbus careers chatbot now sees 12K+ interactions each month, answering 74 percent of questions automatically, while 60 percent of candidates ask questions outside of working hours.
In addition to this, the open, unfiltered and honest questions from applicants can help the Airbus team better organize listings to suit preferences and trends in how interactions take place or provide more clear static information — they are even be alerted more quickly to site bugs.
Not only adding huge practical value and efficiency to help cope with the demands of a competitive talent market, though, Mills said Bessie also helps convey the brand’s personality.
“You need to consider the tone and appropriate personality for your chatbot, as with any communication. In marketing, candidate personas are always given names, chatbots are the same.”
As an idea to promote the chatbot internally, Mills and his team held an employee-wide vote to name the new chatbot. The winning name comes from Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female to become a licensed pilot — and an early and inspirational aviator.
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