Employee benefit provider Hodges-Mace has introduced five new avatars to join its artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistant Ben to answer clients questions.

Clients of Hodges-Mace will now be able to choose from six multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender avatars for their company employee benefit programs and employees will be able to choose which avatar they would like to interact with.

The new avatars include Liz, an African American woman; Ann, a white woman with strawberry blonde hair; Sam, an African American man; Jay, a Hispanic man and Tom, an Asian American.

The avatars use AI software from three software firms and rely on employee data collected by Hodges-Mace. The avatar software is written in HTML 5 so workers can access the information from a desktop PC or mobile devices.

Hodges-Mace has used avatars in animated storyboards since the mid 1990s and in 2006, it introduced the AI-driven avatar Ben. Using text-to-speech AI programming, Ben has helped HM clients sign up for new benefits, stay informed of new benefit offerings and answer questions like “How much do I have left in my HSA?” and more.

The avatars can answer questions in 30 different languages.

With the addition of the new avatars, HM is addressing today's diverse workforce.

“We’re trying to improve user experience. We've got a pretty diverse workforce out there and we have customers that want to try to make sure they can deliver to that workforce and represent them better,” says Kevin Andrews, president and CTO of Hodges-Mace.

Ben and the other avatars are designed to be used by the clients throughout the year and not just at open enrollment or when a new employee signs up for new benefits.

“It can be used for life events and for Q&As throughout the year,” says Andrews.

Ben and the avatars can also direct employees to new offerings that may get lost in the flood of information workers receive from HR and benefits administrators.

“One challenge that employers have is there is so much content that when an employee looks at a web page, a lot of times they don't read everything. Employers struggle with making sure that employees have all the relevant information they think is important to changes they're making,” says Andrews.

“For example, if I’m implementing a wellness program, unless an employee totally reads it they may skip the top area that has the content, PDFs or various links that help describe it. Ben automatically comes up and says, “Hey, this year we added a wellness program and if you participate you get $25 credit,”” he says.

In the past, Hodges Mace has customized Ben to address a client’s specific employee base. For example, one healthcare client requested a doctor makeover for Ben and an outdoor outfitter asked for a more rugged version.

The new avatars “give us a chance to go across genders and ethnic groups and work with people through multiple languages,” he says.