Technology and Candidate Experience. When I first starting thinking of those words together, it didn’t make sense to me how the two might complement each other. Especially at a Company like Southwest Airlines, where we place such a high value on our high-touch hiring process and employee selection. We consider our employees our single greatest asset and strongest competitive advantage. Technology and candidate experience seemed to be in contradiction with one another.

As you can imagine, I travel often for work. One day, I noticed the customer traffic at the airport and the way they were interacting with our brand. I was astonished at how few individuals were standing in line at the ticket counter. Most walked directly to the kiosk for self-service. Some bypassed both, having done everything online before arriving to the airport. Why would we—a brand that so highly values Customer Service—want our Customers to bypass interacting with our incredible people? The answer was fairly simple: it is what works best for that Customer. Customers no longer need to wait in a long line just to get a boarding pass or check a bag. We allow them to serve themselves and get to the gate in whatever way is most convenient and comfortable for them. We don’t deter them from interacting with our people; we just give them the choice. In the last 365 days, we had over 113 million Customer visits who checked-in online or via our mobile apps. Over 40% of those checkins came from our iOS app. Now our people can shift their focus to travelers who need a little extra help or support.

I thought, if this works so well for our Customer experience, why couldn’t we do the same for our candidate experience? So about two years ago we began to explore ways that technology could support our talent acquisition mission and improve our candidate experience.

The first thing we had to do was focus on our career site. We aspired for it to be the primary place for candidates to access information when they need it. We knew it needed to be easy to navigate, personal, and have more transparent information on our opportunities and how to apply. We spent a year working on that, and continue to make improvements on a regular basis. We have much more in store for our site!

The efficiencies gained by technology allow us to focus on all of our candidates more deeply and with appropriate speed

Next, we began to focus on technology that could help make the talent acquisition team more efficient, while providing even more access to potential candidates. One opportunity we saw? Chatbots. Now, some of the most frequently asked questions are fielded by our chatbot, 24/7, and without requiring phone or email exchanges with our talent acquisition team. In the first six weeks after launching our chatbot, we’ve seen over 50,000 unique job seekers interact with the bot in 245,000 conversations. Not only has this helped candidates get answers to questions they may have, but it has also resulted in over 5,800 apply clicks from candidates interacting with the bot.

Next up—texting. As in, R U free for an interview this week? Pew Research trends show texting is the preferred method of communication among young people, and it’s Greg Muccio moving upward toward adults. Enabling texting for interaction between candidates and our talent acquisition team is a win. A Gartner research study showed that SMS open rates can be as high as 98%, with email sitting at only 20%. Additionally, text response time is only 90 seconds, while email can be as high as 90 minutes. This means scheduling an interview, notifying candidates about a status update or even just adding a dose of hospitality in the hiring process can be done more quickly and efficiently utilizing SMS.

Work is also underway to add an interview self-scheduling component, allowing selected candidates to set up a phone interview when it’s convenient for them and without a messy game of phone tag or email exchanges. All of these efforts, from an improved career site, to chatbot to texting and self-scheduling, create a space that allows candidates and potential candidates to learn about career opportunities at Southwest Airlines… on their own terms. This is crucial with the unemployment rate at an all-time low and most candidates currently already working. We must be able to meet candidates where they are and when it’s convenient for them.

So, what about those candidates who need a little more help? We’re still here for them, and now we actually have more capacity to focus on them! The efficiencies gained by technology allow us to focus on all of our candidates more deeply and with appropriate speed. Whether on the phone or in an in-person interview, we can better focus on the candidate, their skills, and their fit for the role and our Company. These technology enhancements allow our Recruiters to shift their time and resources to the core aspects of their job–finding the best candidate for a role.