Art Papas of Bullhorn: 65 Percent of Millennials Would Rather Talk to Chatbots than Humans — So Why Not Let Them?

Anyone who’s been checking this series over the years knows I attend a lot of CRM industry events. And, as we’re in the midst of wrapping up the spring conference season, there have been a flurry of events this month, including Bullhorn’s Engage — the user conference for the leading CRM platform for the staffing/recruiting industry servicing more than 7,000 companies.


I had the pleasure of speaking with Bullhorn founder and CEO Art Papas during the conference, where he shared his thoughts on why he feels all the AI talk is just that — talk, for now. He also shares why AI and voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa will play a major role in CRM in the not-too-distant future.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full interview check out the embedded video and/or audio clips below.

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The Future of AI For CRMSmall Business Trends: I’m back (in Boston) for Bullhorn Engage. I’m sitting here with the CEO and founder of Bullhorn, Art Papas. Art, thank you for joining me.

Art Papas: Thanks Brent. Thanks for coming to Boston.

Small Business Trends: You know, it’s almost starting to be like my second home all of a sudden. I’ve been here a couple times already. Like I said, we’re here for Bullhorn Engage, this is my first time checking it out. I’ve been really impressed, but just for folks who don’t necessarily know about Bullhorn, give me a little bit of your background, a little personal background and tell me a little bit about Bullhorn.

Art Papas: Okay. I’m the founder of the company. I started Bullhorn in 1999, back right before the dot-com bubble crashed. I was originally the Chief Technology Officer and became the CTO about 2002. We are based in Boston, with offices all over the world, have about 600 employees, growing very fast. We are a CRM platform that really specializes and focuses deep on the staffing and recruitment industry.

Small Business Trends: What’s important in staffing when it comes to CRM?

Art Papas: Staffing firms, recruitment firms are an interesting business in that there’s no product. They build relationships with customers, then they go build relationships with talent, and they try to make a match. It sounds relatively simple, but it’s a two-sided sales process that culminates with a lot of logistics and a lot of back and forth; A lot of documents trading hands like, “Here’s a resume, here’s a job description, this resume is a fit for this job description.”

They manage complex projects for their customers. It’s a really big challenge and you end up with things like deep search and match requirements, in terms of being able to take a document and reflect it against your database to say, “Who might be a fit for this job,” or vice versa, “I have a great candidate, which customers would be a fit for this candidate?”

Then there’s just a whole bunch of deep work flow that happens after a sale is made, around things like time and attendance tracking and document management and on-boarding, contract management …

Small Business Trends: Where do you see AI fitting in when it comes to staffing and engagement? How does AI impact in what you guys do for your customers?

Art Papas: I’m a realist and what I’ll say is nobody is really doing any Artificial Intelligence, yet. Everybody says they’ve got machine learning, but the reality is, as a true computer scientist, the best stuff that’s going on at Google is, you can take a bunch of images and turn it into a binary, multi-dimensional array and map it back and call that learning. But it’s all just predictive algorithms. At the end of the day, that’s what the state of the industry is, but I do believe that it’s advancing.

I think that natural language processing has reached a point where computers can generally understand what human beings are trying to say. Especially in a case where you know what they’re most likely to say, you can “fake it ’till you make it” and do exception management.

Art Papas: I think for recruitment, where it’s powerful is that it’s … for a stat, 65 percent of millennials would prefer to talk to a chat bot.

Small Business Trends: That’s pretty amazing.

Art Papas: It is amazing and you think of how much in the recruitment process people apply to jobs and nobody ever gets back to them. Low hanging fruit is, to have a chat bot, if they prefer it anyway. The chatbot can actually do what humans don’t like to do.

Small Business Trends: Break bad news, explain why …

Art Papas: Yeah, yeah. Human beings avoid that stuff. I think there’s actually huge opportunity to improve the customer experience in this industry using technology. I get excited about it and my customers yesterday were pretty fired up about it.

Small Business Trends: That’s an interesting thing you just mentioned because most people look at how AI can free up people … AI lacks empathy and it frees up people’s time [from doing mundane activities] to actually use their empathy. But, what you just said, AI actually adds empathy because a lot of folks don’t get the response after they spent a lot of time looking for jobs. They’ve spent a lot of time filling in applications and then they hear nothing back. You’re saying that actually, using a chatbot in this case is almost like being more empathetic because you’re giving them a response where they wouldn’t get one.

Art Papas: Especially if you care about your brand. You really have to invest something and technology could be the answer. I going to invest something in making sure that everybody who interacts with my brand has a great experience, regardless of whether or not there’s a transaction today.

Small Business Trends: Let’s ask the one last question. The voice. You talk about that’s coming and how you are starting to look at that as well.

Art Papas: I have an Alexa, a Google Home, and I have Siri. My daughter says, “Siri’s dumb.” But, I’m sure the HomePod, it will upgrade looks. Alexa is super useful and so is Google Home and I think that we’re now at a point where that the voice user interface will become strong. It’s not going to replace text. You’re not going to be in a meeting and say, “Hey, Siri, send John a text.” No, you’re not gonna do that; you’re still going to text that with your fingers. Until we have a telepathic user interface, I think that’s pretty far away.

Small Business Trends: Facebook is working on that, by the way …

Art Papas: They are, and someday we’ll have it. We’ll know what neurons are firing and what the heck they mean. But, right now, I think voice will become … especially when people are driving and they want to say for example … “I just met with a customer, please add a note to the system, and set a follow-up task, and move the stage of the opportunity, and tell my colleague, and do this, and do that.”

It’s a virtual assistant in the home, it’s going to be in the office, too. It’s funny because we used to hire salespeople in the early 2000’s salespeople … and I was always astounded salespeople come in and say, “Do I have an admin to do my CRM notes?” “No, no, of course not, nobody’s going to enter data into the CRM for you.” Now, maybe we should find those guys …

Small Business Trends: Come on back, we’ve got something for you.

Art Papas: Yeah, talk to Alexa, she’s your admin.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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